So the twitterverse exploded a bit ago with the report that Amazon had talked to publishers about submitting ePubs instead of the traditional mobi/AZW format to the Amazon eBook store. This quickly became “OMFG AMAZON IS GOING TO ALLOW EPUBS ON THE KINDLE”. Let’s back up here just a second, and take a closer look at what the report actually says:
It seems many publishers have been told by the company that in the near-future, they should be submitting their books to Amazon in EPUB format and not exclusively MOBI. They also went on to let us know that Amazon was indeed planning something BIG and that soon the Kindle ereader will have the full capability to read ePub books.
Is this possible? Sure…all it would take is a quick software patch and every Kindle in the land could read ePub files. The questions we should be asking, though, are: What does it mean for patrons and for libraries? Why would Amazon do this?
The second question is easier to answer: If true, Amazon is almost certainly positioning themselves for the release of their Android Tablet. There may be good reasons to move to ePub as a result of that, including support for much more complicated media types. The article linked above says:
MOBI/AZW is known to have similarities with the ePub data structure and has most of the code embedded into its format
which is not quite true…both are markup languages, but ePub is a much more modern filetype, and is a combination of open standards (XHMTL for content, XML for structured metadata and such). If Amazon does have a tablet up their sleeve, moving to ePub could be necessary for those plans.
The first question is harder, but the answer is, almost certainly that ePub don’t mean shit to libraries or to patrons. Why? Our good friend DRM. It is extraordinarily unlikely that Amazon will replace their own DRM with that used by the library industry (and by others in the eBook world), Adobe Digital Editions. If you aren’t familiar with the various DRM used in the industry, I’ll refer you to my previous post on eBooks, Filetype, and DRM.
So what this means is that while the Kindle might get ePub abilities, it almost certainly won’t get Adobe DRM capabilities. There is no chance that Amazon is going to give people the ability to purchase books from Barnes & Noble and load them onto their Kindle…which is what it would mean if they did turn on Adobe DRM compatibility. So you still won’t be able to load non-Amazon DRM’d ePubs.
Given an ePub-ification update to the Kindle, you should be able to load and read ePubs without DRM. This is almost completely meaningless, because if you had a collection of non-DRM ePubs you wanted on your Kindle, you could just use Calibre to convert and load them.
So for libraries & patrons, the ability for the Kindle to use ePub is a non-issue. It doesn’t give us any ability that we don’t already have. The only advantage here is to Amazon, and only if they are positioning themselves for a new device that needs ePub. Let’s not get too excited about this.