AuthorKSBrooksIsn’t Amazon supposed to offer us a smooth e-book experience? Well, the ride is getting bumpier. Amazon has now rolled out yet another propriety e-book format or quasi-format, the KFX one. The positive is that KFX will mean better typography for books available in it. But not all titles will be, and meanwhile the change will torture small publishers hoping to keep up.

“I write children’s picture books," complains K. S. Brooks, an award-winning author-photographer shown to the left, "and each time they make a technology upgrade, my files become obsolete and then people leave bad reviews for the books (which is the only way I find out that I need to redo my files).

“My files still work great on the old readers, “ she says in a comment in The Digital Reader, “but it’d be too confusing to customers to have a different version for each reader. The tools they give us to make new books generate files so large that the delivery charges are astronomical. It’s getting to the point where it’s not worth making these into eBooks anymore, which means losing a huge audience.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to reformat my books from the changes they made last winter. Sigh. Thanks for the update, though; at least this time it won’t be a surprise…”

Yes, Amazon does let you convert from ePub to its formats. But complexities remain for people like Ms. Brooks.

With her and other format victims in mind, Amazon should abandon its proprietary approach and go for ePub, the multi-company industry standard. I doubt that a sales disaster would ensue for the company. Its customers are accustomed to buying books there, and even in the wake of agency pricing, they would still make out better than elsewhere and enjoy a bigger selection. Then as now, they would also benefit from more customer reviews and other positives compared to choices elsewhere. Even the market for Amazon hardware could still flourish. Fires and E Ink devices could still play up Amazon offerings.

As a replacement, ePub would not be perfect. Still,  as creation and rendition technology improves, it’s going to get better for publishers and uses alike. The evolution of ePub is far, far more transparent than what happens behind the scenes at Amazon. The company’s switch to ePub needn’t be a burden to owners of existing Kindles. Amazon could still distribute the old proprietary formats and perhaps update the firmware of already-available devices.

I know. Amazon is Player #1 in the e-book world, and the question arises, “Why should we care about ePub?” Even Baen, famous for its direct distribution, has become all too reliant on Amazon and subject to its whims, as expressed in the giant’s terms of use. Might this, however, be possible fodder for an ant-trust suit if Amazon won’t switch to ePub?

The company’s defenders almost surely would reply, “Don’t even think about punishing Amazon for its success.” Regardless, the criteria for determining anti-trust violations in the United States is whether consumers have suffered. If I were Jeff Bezos, I would remember that when you harm people like Ms. Brooks, you may also harm the American public at large by reducing the diversity of titles—both from small publishers and self-publishers.  Even more importantly, the line between consumers and publishers has blurred. Self-publishing is a booming business. Authors are not just producers. They can be also be regarded as consumers in this DIY era. The Justice Department should consider the new landscape of publishing. If the U.S. Justice Department won’t act, maybe the European authorities can. We are not just talking dollars and cents in discussing format (or, for that matter, the related issue of DRM). We are also talking literary heritage. Regardless of my admiration for Jeff Bezos and colleagues in many  areas—ranging from innovation to customer service—I do not want Amazon or any other single company to own it. I also believe that, at least among nonDRMed e-books, there would be more competition in the e-book reader marketplace. Proprietary DRM is as consumer-hostile as proprietary formats. But let’s at least get the format issue out of the way.

I’ll conclude with two details. No, I am not a lawyer. But as a lay person I’m very happy to promote serious dialogue from a legal perspective about Amazon and e-book formats. Second, I’m hardly a Basher, given that Amazon claims so a high percentage of my gadget dollars and given my hardly secret fondness for Kindle hardware, regardless of such issues as limited font choices and lack of text to speech in recent E Ink Kindles. I actually would side with Amazon on the agency pricing issue. In raising the issue of anti-trust action if Amazon won’t do ePub, I am absolutely not out to harm  company, but rather to work toward an e-book marketplace as friendly as possible for consumers. If Amazon can make the ePub shift on its own without any government intervention, that will be an optimal solution.

It is not time for anti-trust action right now. But it could well be in the future if Amazon does not embrace an established multi-company standard and simplify life for K. S. Brooks.

(Paragraphing of Brooks quote changed.)

Update: This article is also being discussed on The Passive Voice. –  CM


  1. I think readers are just plain old redundant to bowsers while offering severely constrained specs that differ from one to another. Sure, same with browsers but way way up on the feature chain compared to browsers.
    And what about the next-generation EPUB+WEB? Why wait for yet another overly-complicated spec?
    I have developed an alternative and recently published 4 new samples.

  2. @Mike: Big thanks for your perspective. It would be wonderful if e-book and Web standards could get closer and if publishers and readers had to deal with fewer complexities. But for now, plenty can be done in terms of improvement of creation tools, etc., so that more happens under the hood. More standardization within the ePub world would help as well.

    As we are both aware, standards are as much about inter-corporate politics as about technology.

    Who knows, even with your proposed changes, similar chaos might yet develop. You might think, “Hey, we’re talking about hopefully widely used Web standards.” But tech companies can be endlessly ingenious in coming up with proprietary impurities.

    At least ePub exists now. And if Amazon adopts it and does it right, maybe that will encourage others to do the same. If not? A friendly nudge from the feds might go a long way.

    By the way, some of the work paving the way for ePub took place at the National Institute of Standard and Technology. I know because I attended a major NIST gathering where the feds just may have given the e-book industry too much leeway.

    If Amazon won’t do ePub, then it’ll be time for the feds—through the Justice Department and possibly otherwise—to show more interest in the e-book standards issue.

    Detail: For me, at least when reading books, e-readers and e-reading apps have it all over Web browsers in terms of features and convenience (leaving out the DRM issue—separate from the format issue).

  3. I see two issues in your post. First, your claim that epub is the industry standard format. Mobi was there first by several years. Mobi books are the vast majority of ebooks sold. Mobi is the format read by the vast majority of ereaders sold. I think mobi IS the industry standard format. Kobo has been smart enough to support it in their devices. Nook hasn’t been smart about anything. 🙂

    The other issue is the idea that this has anything to do with anti-trust. I can’t see the connection. Like you, I’m no lawyer. I’m easily fooled in this.

    I think the problem with Amazon’s being so large in book selling is a problem of potential danger. Sure they’ve done things you don’t like and they’ve done things I don’t like. They’ve probably done things they don’t like. That’s life! But so far they’ve done far more good than harm. They just might be one of the best things that ever happened to books. They just might be one of the best things that ever happened to our culture.

    The problem is that that much power can easily be abused. One answer to that, at least for the time being, is competition. Kobo doesn’t seem interested in competing in the USA even though they’re doing fairly well elsewhere. B&N can’t cut it. There’s been talk of them getting out of ebooks and if they do that’s the time to start being scared of Amazon.

    The solution isn’t to beat up on Amazon for doing a good job. The solution is to make sure they have competition. I have no idea how to make that happen anymore than the hippies knew how to find that love that was all the world needed. But if we spend more time talking about that and less time talking about beating up on Amazon maybe someone will think of something. Maybe not. But generally people who seek solutions find better solutions than do bullies. 🙂


  4. At some point in the history of any given DRM’d title, the copyright that justifies that DRM expires. Assuming the DRM is promptly removed by those who installed it initially, is the resulting eBook readable? Has harm been done if that freshly liberated KFX file is only readable on a specific platform, one that may require readers to spend money in order to read a public domain eBook?

  5. @Barry, @Frank, @Chris: Regardless of our differences, I appreciate your caring so much about the e-book format issue (and being civil about it). TeleRead at its best. I’m trying to get away from this computer for some badly needed exercise, but meanwhile let me offer a few rebuttals.

    Barry: From a standards perspective, the issue isn’t just the prevalence of an e-book format. It’s also who settled on it. I see this as a matter of the public interest. And as I’ve noted, it isn’t just about cash, but also our literary heritage and about diversity of content. As noted, my intent isn’t to harm Amazon. Instead it’s to make sure that it does not own the publishing industry. You yourself appreciate the usefulness of competition. I see ePub as one way to promote it.

    Frank and Chris: Not everyone knows how to remove DRM (and perhaps even more importantly, it’s against the law in most cases). Chris is very very right about Calibre being free. But as he’d be the first to recognize, not everyone will feel comfortable with it–or perhaps even with other conversation software. I don’t even know if Calibre at this point can deal with KFX, although my guess is no. In effect KFX might be serving one of the functions of proprietary DRM and further binding content to proprietary devices. As for the copyright issue in regard to books in the KFX format, I don’t think we want to wait Bono-long for legal stripping of DRM.

    Everyone: Let’s remember that books are in competition with video games, movies, TV and other media. Let’s make it as easy as possible for consumers to use them–whether or not the vendor is Amazon. We must not end the format wars by letting Amazon enjoy even more domination. As I see it, we need action rather than simply hoping that someone else will successfully step in, now that Kobo and B&N have disappointed us. The more time passes, the less likely that is to happen, with Amazon so entrenched.
    As for Amazon doing more good than harm—well, for me the situation is very mixed. But, yes, props to Amazon for introducing the Kindle and improving it over the years. Sony had a chance. It blew it—in part by showing insufficient backbone against publishers protective of old business practices and old infrastructure.


  6. @Chris: Yes, Calibre is a good option for the DIY set. It will even strip some kinds of DRM with the appropriate plug-ins. For the rest of the population, it may fall to organizations such as the Gutenberg Project to remove the no longer legal DRM, convert to ePub and straighten out the things that didn’t convert nicely. My suggestion that DRM might be removed upon copyright expiration by those who initially applied it was tongue-in-cheek. We have only to look at the case of the purported rights holders of the song “Happy Birthday” to understand how hard they work at stretching “time limited” rights into perpetual rights.

  7. Barry, Mobi was developed for hand-held Palm device and hasn’t been improved much since then. It’s of no use where there’s any complexity to the layout. Think of it as like an old DOS computer from the 1980s. Last time I checked, it could not even right-indent text.

    The best hope for an Amazon competitor is Apple. The company has a huge share of the mobile device market. it’s the second largest ebook retailer in the U.S. It’s iBooks reader is one of the best at following epub standards. Publishers who use InDesign (another industry standard) can easily create both fixed layout and reflowable epubs from their print versions. They don’t need to use proprietary Amazon software or take risks with conversion software. Creating an compliant epub book a simple export that takes about a minute.

    The one hitch, as David has discussed elsewhere, is whether Apple will create iBooks apps for non-Apple platforms. I can understand why Apple might not want to take that plunge. The iBookstore exists to sell iPads not ebooks. I can also understand why someone who’s only partly in Apple’s ecosystem might not want to buy ebooks that they can only view on their iPhone when in a year or two they may not have an iPhone.

    But I still think it’s in Apple’s interest to create Windows and Android versions of iBooks. A company as all encompassing as Apple can’t leave gaps in what they offer, gaps that offer a foothold for competitors. There needs to be an iBooks for Android and Windows for the same reason Apple created a version of iTunes for Windows. Many, many people simply aren’t going to give up their Windows machine in the foreseeable future.

  8. This is from a readers perspective. I have had a Sony reader and a Nook. In my opinion the Kindle is the best ereader as far as buying, and downloading books. Buying books for the Sony was especially painful, I used it in the beginning to download books from the library, but when downloading books to the Kindle became possible, I abandoned by Sony reader. Nook was not much better, but maybe that was partly because I had the first Nook Color.

    I’ve always wondered–who pays for the DRM? Is it the publisher or the retailer? I felt that the reason Amazon developed mobi and their various other formats was so they could either collect the DRM “tax” or not have to pay it to Adobe. I think it would be great if they just got rid of DRM. Calibre is very easy to use. Maybe if DRM was gone, I might occasionally venture out of the lovely walled garden that is Amazon.

  9. I don’t know how compatibility issue force them to switch to a “better” EPUB format (which I’m sure they would change).

    The issue is really, newer devices need to properly support the old formats; that’s the complaint, right?

    (If all the devices don’t support EPUB properly and exactly the same, it’s not going to help Ms. Brooks).

  10. As for who pays for DRM, we readers pay for it. I’m pretty sure Amazon spends a lot on DRM and on the support issues it causes and passes that cost on to us consumers, probably with the usual markup. I don’t actually know this but I’d bet on it.

    I think the mobi format has changed a lot. It’s even changed it’s file extensions and what it’s called. When we talk about mobi we’re really talking about any books from Amazon, as I see it.

    I’d certainly be in favor of everyone using the same format. When DRM hopefully goes away that’ll make a lot of sense. At present it only matters to those of us who use Calibre and other programs like it. However, my guess is that single format wouldn’t be epub. It’s much more likely to be mobi. Not because I prefer one or the other. I don’t know enough about their structures to have any opinion on that. But because it’s what most people read today, at least in this country. And it’s what most devices can read.

    Unfortunately the only way that’s likely to happen is if Amazon becomes the only game in town and that’s something I’m hopeful won’t happen. Just guessing, but I’d be surprised if Amazon wants that either. Then they’d face a lot more anti-trust pressure than they already do.

    Here’s an interesting idea: what if Amazon began selling Kobos and books formatted for them! I’m not predicting this or expecting it but it might be a smart move for Amazon. I’m not sure how smart it would be for Kobo but who knows. 🙂

    As for being civil, this is fun stuff for me. I enjoy your blog and I’m glad to have a chance to comment now and then. You may not always agree with me but you’re still young and there’s plenty of time for you to learn. 🙂


    • @Barry: Well, I enjoy having you as a commenter–and, hey, what’s the point of a comments section without different views? As for Mobi vs. ePub, most formats geeks would favor the latter. Chris is right. Fascinating idea about Amazon and Kobo. I doubt it’ll happen, but it’s a fun what-if.

      As for still being young—well, I’m not 90 but not 23, either. In my newspaper incarnation in Ohio, I covered the aftermath of the Kent State shootings, banging out the stories on an old manual Underwood. Site goes back to the 1990s. Chris is in his 40s. So glad to have his viewpoint and others from different age groups.


  11. If this relatively minor format change causes a problem for small publishers, why do you think that the remedy is forcing Amazon to make a much larger change that would have devastating impacts on far more Amazon suppliers and customers?

    The benefits seem fairly nebulous even when you wave away the complication of DRM. And since DRM is supported by some very powerful players, I don’t see it going anywhere, which is unfortunate.

    Please explain how you think this sort of transition could be managed. It’s not enough to say that the world would be a better place if Amazon used epub. If that’s your preferred solution, you should explain how to get from the world today to that goal in a way that the ensures a net gain to society as a whole.

    **Nothing seems impossible to the one who doesn’t have to do it.**

    There will be enormous switching costs. As a software developer for over 30 years, I’ve been involved in many format, platform, and hardware transitions. This switch involves all of those things in a very distributed environment. The number of affected people is in the millions.

  12. I have no objection to e-pub but would prefer it without DRM so that I don’t have to deal with Adobe Digital Editions which can be painful I have Kindles and a Kobo Glo HD so have the best of both worlds, and I adore all the font options on the Glo.

  13. @William: Amazon’s change to ePub would go smoothly. The company could continue sending out different formats–to protect people with older device. Recent devices might be upgraded through firmware. New ones could work with ePub. Remember, Amazon has been tweaking its formats, so change is nothing new to it. As for the positives of ePub, indie writers and small presses would no longer be taken by surprise when things were more open. I’ve already quoted Ms. Brooks on this issue.

  14. I’m surprised you didn’t want Apple dumping its own format, I mean if you can get everybody ‘but’ Amazon agreeing to something you’ll have an actual reason to complain that Amazon’s being slow on the uptake. (Not that I see them (apple or amazon) leaving the format all the e-readers they’ve sold work with …)

  15. @Allen and @KS: Thanks. Replies below.

    Allen: What applies to Amazon should apply to Apple. Absolutely! At least Apple’s e-reader software can read standard ePub, not just proprietary variants. Furthermore, Apple isn’t as major an e-book player as Amazon.

    KS: Appreciate your dropping by, and, yes, I think that if all possible, new devices should properly support old formats, in addition to ePub. In reply to your thoughts expressed in The Passive Voice comments section, I do hope you’ll consider the advantages of ePub vs. a proprietary approach. Greater transparency would result from a nonproprietary approach, and you could better keep up with changes on the way.


  16. @David

    Your comments strike me as being made out of complete ignorance. I don’t mean that as an insult. All of us are ignorant about many things. I don’t know how much you know about the differences between Amazon’s formats and the various flavors of epub. I have spent a good deal of time understanding the intricacies of ebook formats. I have written software that produces epub files from various inputs. I have spent a lot of time studying the Python code in Calibre that transforms various ebook formats to other formats. I’ve written code that can successful create .mobi files from scratch (this is a non-trivial task). Outside the ebook arena, I’ve been involved many projects that required converting documents between various formats and distributing content to many different types of devices.

    I think I have a good understanding of the complexities involved in this change. You say “Amazon’s change to ePub would go smoothly”, but your proposed solution simply forces most of the complexity on to small publishers, the people you want to help. If Amazon continues to send their current formats to old devices and sends epubs to new devices, publishers have to continue to support the old formats. There are more old Amazon devices on the market than anything else. And publisher will have to support whatever distinctive features are in the new Amazon-flavored epub format. Because Amazon would have their own flavor of epub for the same reason that there is Apple-flavored epub, Kobo-flavored epub, etc. The spec is totally inadequate for maintaining an ongoing ecosystem of content and devices.

    This doesn’t sound like a solution. It sounds like making the current situation worse.

  17. Well- the various formats, the interchangeability between them, and Amazon’s conversion process and proprietary formats undoubtedly add complexity.

    But for better or worse, “harm” to consumers is not “the” criteria for anti-trust, but *one of many* criteria that must be demonstrated– and the harm that must be demonstrated must, quite obviously, exceed the level of mere inconvenience. And the harm must also include a real barrier to any other companies creating a competing product that offers consumers a better option– a barrier which does not just equate to “most people are using Amazon, they’re popular.” Basically, the current situation with e-book formats is kind of a hassle… but in no way illegal.

    • @Kibosh: If nothing else, if Amazon keeps changing its proprietary formats, especially while keeping the DRM proprietary, it is making life difficult for rival makers and potential makers of e-reader hrdware. Not to mention developers of apps that could complete with the Kindle’s reading software. I’d love to be able to read Amazon books with Moon+ Reader Pro—a far, far superior app compared to Amazon’s own. Moon+ can, grasp, even do all-bold, which I and zillions of other want as an option for optimal readability. Thanks to proprietary technology, the public is losing out. Same for the ability to enjoy Amazon-format books via TTS on E Ink machines. While it’s true that harm to the public is not the only criterion for anti-trust action, it really, really counts. I challenge Amazon to tell us in detail why it should NOT be the target of anti-trust. See for an overview.

      Meanwhile here’s one idea. Perhaps if Amazon does not wise up, should be forced to separate its content operations from its e-reader and app operations. Yes, shades of what Justice hoped for in the Microsoft case, in regard to Windows vs. apps. What a shame for MSFT shareholders that Justice didn’t prevail. Now Microsoft’s own people have smartly become less Windows-centric. Perhaps Amazon’s leaders need to be less format-centric.

  18. @William: Via the old, I was indirectly responsible for the creation of the ePub standard. The e-book establishment said nonproprietary standards at the consumer level would be impossible. At the time, formats like Palm’s reigned supreme. But OpenLeader leader Jon Noring and I went directly to to publishers and explained what a mess had resulted. We were actually getting some traction when the predecessor of the IDPF finally woke up and preempted us with their own standard, ePub.

    It’s far from perfect and doesn’t resolve the DRM issue, but it’s one step closer to nirvana. Congrats on your CV. But I’ve got history on my side.

    As for legacy formats for older devices, I’ll leave it to the format geniuses at Amazon to provide them—from ePub or other source formats submitted by publishers of all sizes, including small and independent ones now suffering far, far more complexity than they should have to endure. But for optimal results, especially across many different platforms, yes, the future is ePub. Sorry about that. Get used to it.

    > Because Amazon would have their own flavor of epub for the same reason that there is Apple-flavored epub, Kobo-flavored epub, etc. The spec is totally inadequate for maintaining an ongoing ecosystem of content and devices.

    If need be, let’s REQUIRE Amazon to stick to the specs and not do a variant. That is where anti-trust muscle might be needed. But in Amazon’s shoes, I would just make the change without any nudge from the feds—or perhaps from the many government agencies at different levels that are buying Amazon’s products. Amazon already wants to position itself as a major player in the K-12 market. Fine. But it needs to play by the rules and be more standards-friendly.


  19. @David – thanks, my pleasure. My eBooks are also available as ePubs (I only have 1 out of many children’s eBooks in KDP Select), but unfortunately, those don’t seem to get anywhere near the exposure and/or sales that Kindle eBooks do.

    FWIW, I agree with Chris’s comment on TPV – I think the excerpting caused some issues. Thanks for taking up the cause. 🙂

  20. @KS: May the day come when people aren’t saying, “Just go out and get a bunch of devices to see if they display your books right”! I thank you for pointing out the problem even if our solutions differ.

    Meanwhile, yes, it would have been nice for TPV to pick up more on why I am NOT an Amazon basher. Except for the first Kindle, I’ve owned every model ever made. And I never stop singing praises of Amazon’s exemplary customer service.

    One additional thought: Some of the techies defending the current mess may be profiting off it and watching out for their own personal interests. Or they may simply hate the idea of a standard format reducing the value of their knowledge of the nuances of the proprietary formats.

    Alas, their interests are not the same as those of writers, publishers and other content people.


  21. To be clear, I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in defending the current situation. I would love to help solve the very real problem described here. I want an actual solution, not handwavium from a pundit. The only good thing is that the absurdity of this proposal is surpassed only by the utter unlikelihood of it being implemented.

  22. @William: They said the same thing about nonproprietary book formats—that nothing would happen. It did. No, ePub isn’t the perfect solution. But it exists—not just in the Amazon-dominated U.S. but, even more so, outside. While I realize you have invested a great deal of time in mastering the nuances of proprietary formats, lots of other people would rather just get on with reading and writing.

  23. @David Thanks for the chuckle. No kidding. I’ll just keep an inventory of every eReader ever made in my R&D lab, which is adjacent to my champagne-filled hot tub that I bought with the pile of money I made giving away free eBooks. 😉

    You and I agree on most everything – and I don’t have, nor do I offer, any solutions.

    I’ll just keep producing ePubs and hope my iTunes sales pick up. 🙂

    All my best,

  24. @David,

    You seem to be missing William Ockham’s point; you seem to think that he’s saying that it’s not possible for Amazon to do what you’re suggesting, to which you are correctly reponding that of course it’s possible.

    I believe that he is instead trying to say that even though it’s possible, it would not only not improve the situation that you lament in your post, but it would make the situation worse.

    I think your biggest mistake is treating ePub as a single standard, rather than a standard with multiple historical versions, plus dozens of commercial implementations. Even the relatively standards-focused web world has to content with multiple conflicting implementations of layout, style and scripting engines, which means that web designers need to create a single source with layers upon layers of tricks to cause the source to render correctly on each different display engine.

    At least in the ebook world, each format is specifically tied to, and predictably viewed in, a specific set of readers. The publisher’s job is debatably easier in this case, because the single source document doesn’t have to display optimally in every single device, they just need access to a suitable converter to send the correct format to each specific device. If you think the one-format multiple-device situation would improve the situation for publishers and/or readers, you really need to explain why this is so (ie- what specific mechanisms make it so), rather than simply asserting as such and assuming that everyone will share your pride that everyone is now using your standard.

    Best regards,


  25. @Troy: Thanks, but “my standard”? Heck, ePub is the one that major publishers and tech companies adopted. The big egos were at Amazon. People were expecting it to get behind standards. Instead Jeff Bezos and friends focused on their proprietary Mobipocket—which, by the way, they bought rather than creating it themselves. Mobipocket didn’t triumph because it was so terrific. Amazon’s marking muscle and other factors counted more. Readers lost out.

    As for different books displaying differently on different machines, there are ways to adjust to this—just as good Web tech allows pages to be optimized for different visitors. The trick is to give content creators the right tools to achieve this with minimal effort. By focusing on one standard, rather than scads of them, the industry could make genuine compatibility happen. Such a scenario would improve, not worsen, life for publishers of all sizes.

    Best right back,

  26. David- the argument for antitrust action over “bundling” a la Microsoft is not a completely crazy one, although you must know that the circumstances are very, very different– Windows was the primary operating system across the vast majority of different hardware systems, whereas Kindle is not that by any means: there are other systems, there are other formats, and there are other means of both production and distribution of both apart from Amazon. The provision of device, software, and content *could* eventually be monopolistic, but it hardly seems that at present– but it certainly could get there, and this case is by far the most reasonable one you’ve made. (And btw, while you’re technically correct in that the initial antitrust remedy was overturned on appeal in the Microsoft case, IE was still forced to be unbundled from Windows under the settlement terms– it wasn’t exactly a loss for the DOJ, just a different remedy.)

    Harm to the public certainly counts– but it must be harm *that is the result of behaviors that meet the tests for antitrust action.* In other words, the public must be “losing out” *because* the company is acting illegally– the public losing out, alone, doesn’t cut it. That said, as I noted, you haven’t even actually demonstrated anything that rises to the threshold of “harm.”

    Playstation won’t play Xbox games; Xbox games won’t play NES games. Developers (writers) have to separately code for each of these platforms (formats), and there is no interoperability, and absolutely no transparency– and all the formats are entirely proprietary. This is also the case with the software that runs every cellphone you’ve ever had. Since, contrary to your apparent belief (“I challenge Amazon to tell us in detail why it should NOT be the target of anti-trust”) the obvious burden of proof in an antitrust case is not on the defendant but on the prosecution, I invite you to explain why the situation with ebooks is any different from any other multi-platform content-providing software.

  27. @Kibosh: Many thanks for your further thoughts and for at least conceding the possibility of a monopoly in the future.

    Of course, in the area of e-book formats, Amazon’s defenders are saying that Kindle-related formats are the de facto standard. If nothing else, that suggests some kind of dominance. Meanwhile, accurately or not, it is said that Amazon controls about two thirds of the market for both e-books and printed books online.

    As for Amazon app software vs. a true OS, remember that the company supplies the dominant e-reading app not only in the Android world but even in the iOS one—Apple’s own turf.

    Of course you go on to say that you feel the company must be shown to have acted illegally in achieving this dominance. I’ll leave that to lawyers to decide and hope that some public interest types will jump in.

    Meanwhile I’ll continue to make the case for harm to consumers because of the dominance, and I’m a prime example, as someone who has futilely begged the Amazon juggernaut to offer an all-bold option as well as text to speech in E Ink Kindles. Amazon is limiting my choices.

    If nothing else, Amazon has acted coercively and punitively against consumers who defy its wishes—somewhat like Microsoft building its OS around its browser in the past and inflicting it even on those who did not want it. Kindle owners cannot even install customized fonts. That’s how forcefully Amazon has tried to control the public, by way of programming and threats to yank away warranties. Adventurous owners risk bricking their e-readers.

    At the same time, due to ownership of devices as well as the accumulation of e-books in the Amazon format, customers have limited choices. Time for standards and interoperability!

    Those, in fact, are my real goals, as opposed to harming Amazon, the source of so many of my own gadgets over the years. It’s unfortunate that The Passive Voice did not reproduce my essay in full to provide more context—I’d have gladly granted permission.

    As I’ve emphasized before, I would rather that the government NOT have to launch an anti-trust suit against Amazon. But as long as Amazon has been so controlling, on issues such as ePub and fonts and the adamant refusal to provide TTS even in top-of-the-line machines, I’ll explore the anti-trust angle as a layman and hope that the right lawyers can follow up.

  28. Actually, the fact that illegality has to be demonstrated is black letter law. I don’t say I “feel” it, because my feelings are irrelevant– I’ve read it in the case law. You can do the same, if so inclined. “Amazon is limiting my choices” by not providing those choices on its own device isn’t anti-competitive, unless they’re the only device, and are creating barriers to entry to other device makers, or format makers, etc. I think you don’t understand anti-trust all that well, but that’s okay– not many do, it’s not covered well in media, and frankly not used as much as it should be on *actual* cases of monopolistic power. Amazon isn’t one of those cases, and the fact that it might be in some theoretical future is a silly basis for an anti-trust case, unless you have a time machine that will take you to the 9th Circuit circa 2064. If you do, I’d stop worrying about monopolies and go find out which stocks are booming at that point– you can create your own real monopoly, and stop stressing about fictional ones 😉 And with that, I bid you adieu.

  29. @Kibosh: Thanks but I don’t just feel that Amazon has bullied consumers and used its format/DRM as a tool in anti-competitive ways—I know it. Anti-trust law is evolving. Even if public interest lawyers find they cannot make a case now, this may change in the future when Washington is more vigilant about protecting consumer rights. Antitrust law is a little like copyright law—shaped not by nature but by humans reflecting either their interests of those of their employers. In the future, judges and courts and legislators may not be so corporation-friendly on these matters. I’m a capitalist myself. But clearly something smells when, between copyright-related restrictions and lack of strong enough antitrust efforts, consumers cannot even own e-books for real. David

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