Tim O’Reilly: Kindle needs open ePub-style standard to survive
February 23, 2009 | 9:40 am
"Unless Amazon embraces open e-book standards like ‘epub,’ which allow readers to read books on a variety of devices, the Kindle will be gone within two or three years." – Tim O’Reily in Why Kindle should be an open book, in Forbes.
The TeleRead take: It’s hard to tell how things will shake out, but Tim persuasively summons up a little history—Microsoft’s failed attempt with the Microsoft Network publishing platform. By contrast, O’Reilly got on the Web early with the Global Net Navigator and in time was well rewarded for the experience it gained with an open approach.
The point is, closed standards are a pain in the rear for e-book-lovers and other users who inevitably will want hardware or content that isn’t compatible with MegaCorp’s system. This disillusionment is a little akin to decaying Web links. At first, people buy into Mega’s plans and think that its proprietary product line will endure forever. Only later do the hassles emerge.
E-book lessons from Oprah’s past
Remember how Oprah touted Gemstar e-book readers some years ago? But then consumers rebelled against a limited choice of books. Even now, following her backing of the Kindle, Oprah fans are finding that many O-blessed books are missing. Last I knew, she wasn’t doing a K version of her O magazine. Her fans may also have been put off by the complexities of the technology, to which proprietary formats can add.
While Jeff Bezos can talk of offering every book in E, he’s jeopardizing his own version by aiming for exclusives. What happens when other giants step in and start bidding wars—not just for temporary exclusivity but in time for the permanent variety?
The score that really counts in book-selling
More importantly, Jeff should also remember that the most meaningful score in the book-selling isn’t market share but healthy growth of earnings. Closed standards like the Kindle’s will slow down the rate of e-book adoption, as people find that his supposedly universal solution isn’t one at all.
What’s more, with Kindle-type DRM, all kinds of nasty issues emerge, such as the inability of readers to own their books for real. Jeff was smart enough to set up a music store without DRM. He should consider the the same for e-books, using social DRM, if need be, in place of "real" DRM. Publishers could still have the option of using DRM, but I suspect that market pressures would encourage back off from this consumer nightmare. DRM is especially nasty in that it turns nonproprietary e-formats into proprietary ones.
(Via Electric Book on Twitter.)