Down the open road

I’ve seen a couple of comments recently discussing the fact that if Amazon continue to take an ‘Apple’ stance on their formats, while managing to have a large share of the market, it could sound the death knell for open formats. (See An American Editor and the final sentence of this Bookseller story).

It seems to me that whatever else, we need an open format for trading ebooks. I don’t own a reader, but if I did, I don’t think I’d buy a Kindle, i) because I want to be able to read epubs since that’s the current industry standard and instead the Kindle uses mobipocket (ii) because I don’t want to be limited to not just buying, but also downloading, my books through Amazon, & (iii) and this is purely a personal opinion, having seen our office one, I don’t like the design of it, particularly the fading in/out of the pages when you ‘turn’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with the distribution of ePubs freely and without DRM security attached except where the titles are out of copyright, but I do agree with everyone using the same file format.

Leaving out the issue of DRM, it’s like .wma vs .mp3 for music. I can open my mp3s in iTunes and in Windows Media Player, but I can’t open the .wma files in iTunes and it’s really, really frustrating. Because I don’t want to spend extra money on a conversion and yet I use iTunes to catalogue and listen to my music files. I do this because I use my iPhone to listen to music, and so being able to access all my music, even that which hasn’t been purchased through the iTunes store, is convenient.

In the same way, say I buy a Sony eReader. Now, I’ll probably buy my books through Sony’s store. But it might just happen that I want to be able to download a copy of On The Origin Of Species (being the ex-History of Science post-grad that I am, this is the first thing I downloaded as a test on my iPhone in Apple’s Bookstore), which I can get for free in a variety of places. I want to be able to import that file onto my eReader and take it on the tube with me. But if I have a Kindle, I can’t do it. I can only do this if I download it through Amazon. And this is bad. Many people who buy a Kindle now, with the launch of the UK store, may well end up with a library of ebooks that they find can’t be exported elsewhere. They will have been tied into Amazon without their knowledge. Obviously, this is what Amazon want, but I can’t imagine it’s what the consumers want.

Imagine if you bought an entire bookshelf, only to be told that they have to stay in the house you were living in when you bought them. What’s that, you want to move house? Fine! But you can’t take your books with you.

We need an industry standard format, and we need to fight to keep things open.


~ by kymethra on August 10, 2010.

6 Responses to “Down the open road”

  1. You have some incorrect information in your article. You can download books from other sources than Amazon and read them on the Kindle. Sites like and allow for access and download of free public domain books in formats perfectly compatible on the Kindle. I know the latter site actually has a directory that can be loaded on the Kindle which can be searched and used to download the books directly over the Whispernet service. In addition, books from Smashwords and ones made available by authors like Cory Doctorow can be downloaded and sent to the Kindle with no problems. Finally, even the text documents used by Project Gutenberg can be downloaded and converted using free programs like MobiPocket Creator or Calibre and easily loaded onto the Kindle through a USB cable.

    The problem rises with books protected by DRM schemes (like what is used by many library ebook services). DRM is a headache for any of the eReaders, and has problems being transferred from one brand of reader to another.

    • I’m happy to be corrected on incorrect information, the whole point about this blog is that it’s a new experience for me. I’m not holding myself up as an authority. I still think that we need a standard file format though. Talking about using converters is fine if you know what you’re doing, but an ordinary user who just wants to buy and read ebooks won’t be pleased to find out they have to do a whole load of extra work on the files they ‘own’ in order to use them on anything other than their Kindle.

      • Sorry if I came across abrupt. I was just clarifying a point.

        I agree on a standardized format completely. My wish is to see Ebooks become completely device and platform agnostic so it wouldn’t matter what people preferred to read on, it would be available.

        I also understand the need for DRM in order to ease the minds of publishers and creators that their creative works will be protected. The problems rise with current device-centered DRM schemes. In order for EBooks to be as flexible as their print counterparts, people need to be flexible with them. I would like to see a user-centered DRM scheme, which would allow the reader to access the ebook on any device they own, regardless of platform, but prevent copying or limit transference to other readers.

      • I’m beginning to think that DRM needs applying by the publishers, rather than the retailers, to allow for easy transfer between devices. So the files need supplying to the stores already with DRM applied and perhaps allowing the file to be ‘unlocked’ on a certain number of devices, rather than being tied to a specific device.

  2. I find it a little disingenuous for you to object to the Kindle based on the open format argument, when the iPhone you embrace has a native music format that is at least as closed as the Kindle format. Not sure why this doesn’t bother you and the Kindle’s format does.

    The format used by the iTunes Store is a closed file format with a very heavy dose of DRM.

    As was previously mentioned it’s perfectly possible to import other formats into your Kindle, and it’s no more work than it is to rip a file from a CD or upload a file to your iPhone.

    Also, “The Origin of Species” is available for free (along with a lot of other books) and is an instant download for the Kindle. In the less than the time it took you to read this post you could have downloaded. Hardly any work at all. You might even be able to download it while riding the Tube, although I’m not so sure there.

    Good science requires good research. You should know that.

    • Talking about good science, you seem to be making assumptions about me based on faulty evidence, given that you don’t know anything about my music collection (the majority of which is not purchased through the Apple store, nor converted into mp3 using iTunes), my use of the iPhone, or my knowledge of free downloads.

      First of all, I am not ‘objecting’ to the Kindle, I’m expressing an opinion. And my opinion holds, hmm…, about no weight at all when everything is added up. The whole point about this blog is that I’m learning. I’m bound to make some mistakes along the way. However, as valueless as it is, I am entitled to hold an opinion. And I was just reacting to some comments I read elsewhere. I don’t quite see how this is disingenuous, but please explain it to me.

      Secondly, I chose to use the Origin of Species as an example precisely because it is free and available from many, many sources. The fact that I mention downloading it on my iphone is nothing to do with it. I only downloaded it because I wanted to see what a book looked like on the phone, not out of any loyalty to Apple. I also have the Kindle and Kobo apps on my phone too which I’ve tried out. You might call this ‘research’.

      There are two issues: DRM and format. I was commenting on format. No matter what you say, my comparison with music still holds. I don’t believe Amazon should use a different file format for their ebooks from the format everyone else is using. DRM is another issue, which I’ll probably post about on another day, but don’t worry, you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to.

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