image Check out Barnes & Noble teams with Google Android for eReader, in Net World, where among other things NW contributor Tony Bradley argues for ePub in effect.

“The proprietary Kindle format is a handicap though that will turn off many users who are waiting for the dust to settle on the ebook standards so they don’t get saddled with obsolete technology like a Betamax video tape machine or an HD DVD player.”

Fictionwise, owned by Barnes &Noble, is moving in the direction of ePub as a core format for its eReader program. Will the hardware reader branded by the parent company (photos) follow? I suspect so. If that happens, Amazon’s Kindle format will appear to be more and more of an oddball approach.

“Now,” Bradley concludes, “if we could just settle on a standard ebook format and get the cost of the devices down around $100 I think the eReader would hit critical mass and make bound paper books obsolete.”

Details: I wish Bradley had discussed the problem of proprietary DRM turning ePub books into those with proprietary formats. Still, it’s good to see him so keen on format standardization. He talks of “Kindle vs. ePub vs. whatever other ebook standard might enter the competition debate.” But for now, I’m not sure if “whatever other” is that big a factor. Maybe that’ll change if Apple comes up with a proprietary standard for its tablet. But remember, third party programs for the tablet will still make it possible to read ePub books on it.


  1. I couldn’t agree more. It’s certainly Kindle vs. ePub vs. multi-drm-flavored ePub. Even multi-drm-flavored ePub won’t be a problem if, first, device manufacturers are allowed (ie no insane licensing fees) to implement support for a flavor of drm by the flavor’s creator, and second, the device manufacturers actually offer support for new drm-flavors via firmware update. I wouldn’t suspect that the number of drm flavors will be very numerous, fortunately. Right now, it looks like just Adobe, B&N… and if we’re lucky enough to have Amazon join the ePub crowd, Amazon’s drm flavor. 3 isn’t too bad, and would cover the major players.

  2. Three DRM flavors?
    If only.

    My expectation is that we’re going to see maybe a dozen DRM’ed mutants of ePub because it is the “obvious” way to enforce territoriality. Think of it as a way of region-locking content (Like DVDs).

    A universal DRM means universal pricing and universal distribution (once consumers get wise to the ways of IP-spoofing). So, my expectation is the publishers (who are antsy about Amazon’s model of a universal reader with region-specific catalogs) will seek to balkanize the market through the hardware side, with different DRMs for different regions, much like the HD video market has been broken in two; one disk standard for China and one for the rest of the world.
    All it takes is a slight modification to, say, Mobile ADE, to get it to look for a territory-specific flag/key.

    I expect we’ll see the first region specific DRM’s come out of China, then one for India, Korea, maybe Japan, probably France and western europe…

  3. To leap ahead a bit, we need not only open standards unencumbered with DRM, we need a formatting scheme that is smart. By that I mean one that allows what is displayed to be as attractive as possible given the limitations of the device. I love reading on my iPod touch, but what I am reading isn’t as pretty as even the cheapest mass-market paperback printed on yellowing newsprint.

    Once, when I was visiting the Library of Congress, I came across two displays on opposite sides of a hallway. One was a medieval manuscript of the Bible, the other was an early edition of Gutenberg’s printed Bible. I was doubly amazed. Both were not only beautiful works of art, both looked remarkably similar. If the labeling on the two displays had been switched, I’m not sure I would have noticed.

    Gutenberg had matched the quality of the best hand-made manuscripts of his day. We need to do the same. Ebooks really won’t really arrive until the devices and the book formatting standards allow an ebook to be at least reasonably close the the visual standards of a well-done printed book.

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