A Kindle Conversion: Why The EPUB Argument Stopped Mattering

Amazon made what appeared to be some fairly big opponents in the earliest days of the Kindle.  All they had to do was decide to go with a closed format.  Unlike some companies who might have decided that a strong DRM scheme was plenty of protection, they made sure that Kindle owners were locked in by consciously failing to support the industry standard eBook format.  It struck many people, myself included, as manipulative and more than a little bit condescending.

Thinking back, many of my earliest complaints about the Kindle revolved around the EPUB format.  I was ideologically supportive of the Nook in a very strong way as a result.  They might have wanted to lock in customers via DRM, but at least things like outside purchases and library books would work if the user wanted to make the effort to access them.  MobiPocket format was already too outdated in many situations.

Oddly enough, in principle the objections remain to this day.  The difference is that now customers aren’t expected to buy into an unproven platform with no guarantee that success was ahead.  Keep in mind that the Kindle was not the first E Ink eReader.  Sony was already doing a fairly good job of fizzling out by then and has been taking a back seat in the field ever since as a result.

My own change of opinion regarding the importance of the eBook format conflict stems from purely practical matters.  We have reached a point where there is literally nothing you can’t do with a Kindle that can be done on another device.  Library books are plentiful, no author or publisher is likely to boycott the Kindle platform in favor of the competition, and on the off chance that you find a DRM-free eBook you want on your device you can convert it for free with Calibre (a practical necessity for the eBook enthusiast in case you haven’t adopted already. Google it!).  In a situation where the format itself offers no particular advantage inherent to itself, there is no longer much reason to cling to it.  There is a reason you don’t see much use of HD-DVD anymore, or Betamax before that.

As we move forward into the next generation of formats, HTML5 forms the underlying structure.  Kindle Format 8 looks to allow for as much, or as little, formatting as the person producing a given publication desires as a result.  This will improve Amazon’s ability to present their media equally well on practically any size display, which makes sense given speculation regarding future Kindle Tablet options.  Nobody else seems to have really adopted an equally versatile approach yet, and even if that happens it won’t necessarily change anything.  There is only so much you can do in order to essentially show off text in an attractive manner.

What it all comes down to is that customers will go where they get the best experience.  EPUB might be better than Mobi, but with the Kindle providing the better hardware and Amazon backing their product with strong infrastructure and a great book store that didn’t matter enough.  It’s one more format war down.

Addressing Kindle Platform Lock-In As Formats Evolve

One of the biggest concerns when deciding which eReader to go with is the DRM.  If you get a Kindle, then that means that you can’t read your purchases on a Nook, a Kobo, or pretty much anything else that happens to be competing with Amazon.  The same is true of Barnes & Noble and, to a greater or lesser extent in varying ways, to everybody else.  This isn’t news, and it isn’t necessarily a problem that can be addressed right now.  The only way we’ll see a change is if somebody realizes that DRM-free eBooks are great enough to not cost publishers money.  Not going to hold my breath there.

What happens when the Kindle moves on from its current, already somewhat dated, proprietary eBook format, though?  We have to assume that the technology will evolve, as will the formats available, and that in time Amazon will want to give up on backward compatibility for their eReaders.  Should we just assume that this is another opportunity for retailers to sell us yet another copy of our favorite things?  That sort of logic annoyed me enough over the course of the VHS -> DVD -> BluRay cycle, especially since I got an HD-DVD player as a gift along the way.  It doesn’t really fit with books in my mind. What we buy in an eBook is not necessarily analogous to video or audio.  You don’t have to worry about reproduction quality in a text-based medium, generally.  There is no reason, therefore, that we should have to repurchase our books, having acquired the digital copies once already.

Believing as I do on the topic, I wondered how to avoid the cycle.  DRM is specifically meant to keep you from copying or converting what you purchase, after all.  Theoretically, if your favorite platform dies off, you’re just out of luck.  Realistically, though, why would a company move to a new format and DRM scheme?  Generally, and call it cynical if you must, because the old one does not control customer interaction as well as it used to.  Once the DRM can be casually broken, it isn’t worth using anymore.  This line of thought led to an experiment.

Sure enough, all of the books I purchased from the old Sony Store when I first bought an eReader are still there.  Even Sony doesn’t use BBeB anymore, though.  A quick search provided me with details on how to remove the obsolete DRM and convert my old books into a Kindle compatible format.  There are even scripts available that made the batch of just under 100 eBooks take just a few minutes.  Sure enough, the text is the same as it would be if I bought the book again.

My advice to anybody who genuinely who is worried about their purchases being rendered obsolete is to think the problem through.  Short of a complete end to the use of electronics, it is fairly clear that eReaders and Tablets aren’t going anywhere.  So far none of them, as far as I know, has been audacious enough to suggest that you shouldn’t be able to side-load your own files onto your device.  It probably wouldn’t go over well for whoever tried.  Get yourself a Kindle, a Nook, or whatever suits you best.  Make backups if you are afraid of the service just abruptly disappearing one day.  Don’t worry too much about the end of the line for your chosen platform, though.  There is always another one and it only gets easier to switch as time goes on.

Learn how to open BAK file.