Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kindle throws us a cookie

This morning it's all over the ebook blogs and forums I visit: Amazon has said they'll be opening up the Kindle to library ebooks later this year.  There is already a lot of confusion as to what this means — some people are assuming that the Kindle will support epub files, but I don't think that will be the case.

As some background, the Kindle only supports Amazon's ebook file type.  That means that you cannot read DRM'd epub files on the Kindle, but conversely, you also cannot read ebooks bought from Amazon on any other device — the file format is only supported by the Kindle and their apps for computers and smart phones.  (Books without DRM can be converted into another file format, but most ebooks these days have DRM on them.)  In other words, Amazon has designed an ebook reader that locks you into a relationship with them.  Virtually the only way you can get ebooks is to buy from them, and the more you buy from them, the less likely you'll be to ever switch eReaders — if you do, you'll lose all your books.

Because of file compatibility issues, library ebooks — which are DRM'd epub — have been inaccessible to Kindle users.  Now Amazon says this will change later this year, but they haven't given details on how it will change.  Some people are assuming that like the Nook, the Kindle will start supporting Adobe Digital Editions and epub, but I rather doubt that.  Like Books on the Knob, I think it's more likely that Amazon is working with OverDrive to put out ebooks in Kindle format.  This essentially means that libraries will have to buy their ebooks in two different formats, which of course means they'll be able to afford half as many ebooks.

No telling when this will happen, of course.  Amazon is just saying "later this year," and we've all heard that  one before, right?

In any case, this doesn't change my opinion of Amazon or the Kindle.  I think the Nook is still a much better reader (not to mention it doesn't look like a big calculator) with more features than the Kindle.  And if Amazon does what I'm expecting, and only opens up the Kindle to library books and not all DRM'd epubs, then this is really just a band-aid on a much larger problem.

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