Category Archives: Media

ePub don’t mean shit

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.

Smart discussion on Kindle/Overdrive announcement

There’s been a ton of discussion around the web about the Kindle/Overdrive library deal over the last week, but this thread over at Librarything is full of some real gems. If you haven’t read it, go there and take a look.

Amazon to Launch Library Lending for Kindle Books

Kindle Library Lending

The online library world is abuzz today with the announcement of Kindle Library Lending, which promises to finally bring the ability for libraries to check ebooks out to patron’s Kindle (or Kindle software-driven devices). The announcement itself is full of promise and light on details, including such gems as:

Customers will be able to check out a Kindle book from their local library and start reading on any Kindle device or free Kindle app for Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone. If a Kindle book is checked out again or that book is purchased from Amazon, all of a customer’s annotations and bookmarks will be preserved.

Translation: Amazon will be maintaining notes and details of the book you read on their servers, and providing a way to purchase said book as a part of the library experience.

Amazon is working with OverDrive, the leading provider of digital content solutions for over 11,000 public and educational libraries in the United States, to bring a seamless library borrowing experience to Kindle customers. “We are excited to be working with Amazon to offer Kindle Library Lending to the millions of customers who read on Kindle and Kindle apps,” said Steve Potash, CEO, OverDrive. “We hear librarians and patrons rave about Kindle, so we are thrilled that we can be part of bringing library books to the unparalleled experience of reading on Kindle.”

This appears to mean that Overdrive will be the library-facing partner in this enterprise, and I’m guessing that the checkout experience and user interface will be Overdrive driven. This is (IMNSHO) a disappointment, as I’d much rather deal with Amazon directly (even though I’m sure they would not rather deal with libraries…thus, Overdrive).

Bobbi Newman, as always, has a thoughtful post up about this, and asks a couple of questions for which I’m going to guess the answers. She asks:

Will libraries be forced to add a third ebook format (which will only spread their already thin money thinner?)

If yes

  • Will I be allowed to borrow library ebooks in epub and pdf format on my Kindle?
  • Will owners of other devices (such as the Nook or Sony) be allowed to read Kindle books on their device? (the press release reads as “no”)

I would find it VERY hard to believe that Amazon is going to convert all of their proprietary files into a new format just for libraries…so yes, I believe strongly that there will be yet another format. I also find it hard to believe that Amazon will suddenly decide to embrace Adobe DRM…which means that there is little chance that library books via Overdrive or another vendor that are in the epub or pdf format will start working on the Kindle.

As to the last question…I believe very strongly that if Barnes & Noble and Sony decided to allow Amazon DRM/filetypes on the nook or Sony reader, Amazon would be thrilled to provide them with books. But that’s probably not going to happen either. For a reminder of all the intricacies of the filetype/DRM issues here, see my post on eBook Filetypes and DRM.

I have requests out currently for answers from Overdrive and Amazon on the following questions…if either of them get back to me, I’ll make sure to post it here.

Will the Kindle Library Lending functionality require the use of the Overdrive Media Center Console?

Will the functionality require a “buy this book” link in the Overdrive catalog?

Will the KLL functionality require the library patron to be physically in the library, or authenticated via IP address, or will they be able to access this remotely? Or some combination of the two?

The press release mentions that Whispersync will be enabled to remember page numbers, which implies that patrons will be able to load Kindle books that they check out onto multiple devices…what will the mechanism for this be? If I check out a book, and then load it onto my Kindle, my Kindle DX, my iPod Touch, and my iPad, will that count as 4 checkouts, or one?

Currently, the Overdrive ebook model works with Adobe Digital Editions and ePub…I am assuming that the Kindle books will remain in the standard .azw format, and use Amazon DRM. Can you confirm this assumption? If so, can you describe the process by which patrons will check out a book using this service?

What will the limitations on the KLL catalog be? How does it compare to the overall Kindle ebook catalog?

Will publishers be able to opt-out of allowing Library lending in the same way that they can currently opt-out of other features of the Kindle?

What is Amazon doing to ensure the privacy/confidentiality of library patrons?

UPDATE


Overdrive finally posted to their blog about the issue, and I just received a callback from Overdrive marketing. While they weren’t able to comment a large number of things, I did get confirmations on a few details. On the Overdrive blog post, they say:

A user will be able to browse for titles on any desktop or mobile operating system, check out a title with a library card, and then select Kindle as the delivery destination.

The exact quote that I got from the Overdrive marketing department was that the books would be “deliverable to Kindle” and that did include any Kindle and Kindle app.

The blog post also says:

Your existing collection of downloadable eBooks will be available to Kindle customers. As you add new eBooks to your collection, those titles will also be available in Kindle format for lending to Kindle and Kindle reading apps. Your library will not need to purchase any additional units to have Kindle compatibility. This will work for your existing copies and units.

When asked about the potential catalog non-overlap (what happens when a book available via Overdrive isn’t available on Amazon), the answer from Overdrive was that they hadn’t looked fully at the catalog overlap yet. But it sounds like the Kindle compatibility is simply going to be there for your existing books as an additional option…well done!

MASSIVE SPECULATION AHEAD:It sounds to me like Overdrive will be providing the ability to checkout a book and click “deliver to Kindle”, much in the same way that Amazon currently does when you purchase a book. If I’d been thinking for half a second, I’d have realized that’s the ONLY way they can do it and support Kindle Apps. None of the Kindle apps that I’m aware of allows for any sort of side-loading of content…all the content that is in them can ONLY come from Amazon directly. CORRECTION: Kindle App for iOS does allow side-loading via emailed or web-linked files of the appropriate filetype (mobi, azw)…but no tethered side-loading. You can obviously plug your Kindle directly into your computer and throw a random PDF on it, but you can’t do that with Kindle Apps. They have to deliver these to you via Whispernet…there’s no other choice.

Back to the blog post!

The Kindle eBook titles borrowed from a library will carry the same rules and policies as all our other eBooks.

One answer that I’d really like from Overdrive is relating to this piece. On the phone call, I asked if a publisher limited the number of times that a book could be downloaded (which some do), whether this would effect the number of devices that I could have said book delivered to. The official statement was that they didn’t have that information right now, but that whatever the solution it would “support publisher’s existing models”.

Last bit of news for now: I tried to get Overdrive to give me anything on a timeframe, and they weren’t even willing to promise/commit to a quarter of the year…all they would say was “in 2011”. So we could have some time to wait for this.

Amazon Cloud Drive & Cloud Player

On March 29th, Amazon launched two major new services, both of which seem to speak directly to my post guessing at an Amazon Tablet…as well as being shots across the bow of both Apple and the music industry. The two services are connected, but distinct in capabilities and effects, so let’s look at them separately:

Amazon Cloud Drive

The first is Amazon Cloud Drive, Amazon’s answer to other consumer-facing cloud storage similar to Dropbox or Windows SkyDrive. Amazon is giving everyone 5GB of space for free, with the ability to purchase additional storage for $1 per Gigabyte in chunks: 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, or 1000 GB levels are all available. While 5GB free is more than Dropbox’s 2GB, and way less than SkyDrive’s 25Gb, for raw storage in the cloud I still think Dropbox has everything else beat in usability. For Cloud Drive, you have to do all file interactions (uploading/downloading) within your browser, which isn’t as convenient on traditional computers as a locally-mounted drive. There’s no reason that Amazon couldn’t move this direction, however, and release a program that would allow more direct access.

The real killer here isn’t Cloud Drive by itself…it’s the associated Cloud Player and the model that Amazon is using for the connection between the two. Cloud Player is a web-based media player that has access to the files uploaded to your Cloud Drive. That is, if you use your Cloud Drive to hold MP3 or AAC encoded music files, those will be automatically available to Cloud Player, and can be streamed to nearly any browser. Cloud Player has the basic controls that you would expect from a music player, allowing you to view your collections by album, artist, or genre. It also allows you to build or import playlists, shuffle, and repeat songs in the same way that pretty much every music player does.

This means that with Cloud Storage + Cloud Player, I can take my own music, upload it to Amazon, and then listen to it anywhere I have a browser…or on the updated Amazon MP3 for Android app on any Android based phone or tablet. In a brilliant marketing move, Amazon is also letting you automatically cross-load any MP3 that you buy from the Amazon MP3 Store directly to your Cloud Drive…and anything that you buy from them doesn’t count against your storage limits. They are also offering a free upgrade to their 20GB storage level if you just buy any MP3 album from Amazon through the end of 2011. So you can purchase any amount of music from Amazon, and it will all be available for streaming to any computer or directly to your phone if you have an Android handset. For free.

Let’s not forget, this sort of service is exactly what got MP3.com in hot water with the music labels a decade ago (with, admittedly, technical differences). Indeed, Sony has commented to Ars Technica that while they were hopeful they could work with Amazon on a licensing deal that they were “keeping their legal options open.” So it’s almost certain that Amazon will see some form of lawsuit about the service…but my money is on Amazon for this one. They have the pockets that MP3.com didn’t, and have a great case for moving the industry forward if they can pull of a court victory.

This is a huge move by Amazon, and will put the pressure on Apple to respond. There have been rumors about a similar digital-locker server from Apple for years now, and their North Carolina Data Center has been rumored to be a part of Apple gearing up for a cloud-based service since it was announced. Google is also rumored to be getting into this market, with their Google Music service that is reported to be in internal testing now. It’s going to be an interesting year for these services, but Amazon has a compelling vision for Cloud Drive + Cloud Player. I’m excited by it, and really want to get my hands on an Android device so that I can play with the mobile access.

Focus on the Future

Here’s a little thing I put together for the Bay Area Library and Information Systems group that were kind enough to have me speak to a group of Children’s Librarians a week or so ago. Was a brilliant time, and I really appreciated getting to hear from a group of librarians that I just don’t talk to enough. I also had the pleasure of presenting with two very impressive people, Roger Sutton of Horn Book fame and Kristen McLean, Founder and CEO of Bookigee.

I’m really happy with the way this presentation went, especially since I used Eliza as the theme for it. 🙂 The downside of the way I do my presentations, however, is that the slides themselves are a tiny fraction of the actual content…most of it is me, and talking, and asking questions and such. But I liked the slides too much not to share.

Thoughts on The Harper Collins Incident

Aside from the fact that I think I’ll use The Harper Collins Incident as a band name in a novel that I’m hoping to write someday, there’s a lot to say about the whole eBook limited circulation thing. I decided to put on my Library Renewal hat and say something about it over there. I may have more to say about it here, but not right now.

So if you’re interested, head on over and read: Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal, part two in the “pithy sci-fi reference blog posts” at Library Renewal today. I’m just sad I didn’t get to the Vader quote first.

Once more the Apple apologist

I’m feeling more and more like the library equivalent of John Gruber these days.

UPDATE 2/1/11 1:18pm: website The Loop is reporting that they received a statement on the matter from Apple:

“We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines,” Apple spokesperson, Trudy Muller, told The Loop. “We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.”

This is a change from previous Apple requirements, and will require existing apps to make changes to the way they behave. It also puts Amazon, B&N, and other retailers far more under Apple’s thumb in regards to pricing and profitability. More than anything, it puts them in a confrontational position with other retailers, instead of being simply a competitor. It will be very interesting to see how this shakes out.

There has been general alarm this morning on the Twitter and in the blogosphere that Apple is going to start killing off non-iBook eBook stores. Phil Bradley blogged about the New York Times article on the rejection of the Sony eReader app by Apple, saying:

Well, this is an interesting development. Sony have had their iPhone application rejected by Apple. Moreover, they’ve been told that they can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps, or let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store.

That is what the NYT article says as well:

The company has told some applications developers, including Sony, that they can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps, or let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store.

But if you read the next two lines:

Apple rejected Sony’s iPhone application, which would have let people buy and read e-books bought from the Sony Reader Store.

Apple told Sony that from now on, all in-app purchases would have to go through Apple, said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division.

Notice that Steve Haber did NOT say that non-in-app purchases were disallowed. I can’t tell from the sloppy reporting if that second clause actually came from the Sony interview, or from other sources. So here’s the deal: Apple has never allowed in-app purchases that bypassed Apple. It’s the reason that when you are in the Kindle app, and you go to buy a book, it pushes you out of the app and over to Safari and the Amazon website.

There seems to be no indication that the Kindle app is in jeopardy…Phil’s headline notwithstanding. It works exactly the way that Apple has told people it wants apps to work, and if Sony submitted an app that didn’t follow the rules, they knew good and well it would get rejected.

There is another explanation…Apple might be warning app developers behind the scenes that things are going to be changing. Tomorrow marks the announcement of The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s new experimental tablet-only newspaper. With it is expected to come a new method for in-app subscriptions, which might signal the availability of a new infrastructure for app developers to take advantage of (and for Apple to force the use of).

But for now, this story is nothing but poor reporting on the NYT’s part, combined with a bit of over-excitability on the part of librarians. Amazon’s Kindle app, along with the literally thousands of other apps that rely on web-based purchasing and then web-based updating, isn’t going anywhere. Apple would have many, many, many more problems than Amazon if they just eliminated outside purchases wholesale.

CES and ALA Midwinter 2011

The next week or so for me is completely insane, as I’m attending both CES2011 and ALA Midwinter 2011, even though they actually overlap. I’ll be flying from Nashville to Las Vegas on Tuesday for CES, hopping from Vegas to San Diego on Friday for ALA Midwinter, and then taking the red-eye late on Monday night to get back to Nashville and then home early Tuesday morning.

Then I’m gonna sleep about 20 hours.

There are a lot of things I’m excited about for both trips…CES is a bazaar of tech, and I’m attending a number of exciting Press Conferences from Sony, Lenovo, ASUS, and other major tech companies. I’m going to be doing reporting on the trip over at Perpetual Beta, including (if the wifi holds up) some livestreaming. I will send a tweet out when I start a livestream, so if you are interested, follow me over at twitter and you’ll get the head’s up when I go live with anything.

At ALA Midwinter, there’s also a lot to be excited about. I have two favors to ask of anyone that happens to read this and will be in San Diego:

The first: if you are a LITA member, consider coming to the Saturday morning LITA Board of Directors meeting at 8:00am in the SDCC Room 11b. It’s early, and I don’t begrudge anyone their sleep, but if you want to see how LITA works, and help to make it better, come hang out with the Board for the morning.

The second is: Come see me stumble over my fanboy self while I interview Dr. Vernor Vinge, on Saturday in the SDCC at 1:30pm in room 29 A-D. Go to that link and leave me a question you’d like to see Dr. Vinge answer, check here and at LITABlog for a live stream of the interview, and help make this an awesome event for librarians everywhere. Dr. Vinge is a 4 time Hugo Award winner, and his writing has within it possible futures for information, libraries, and books that we should really pay attention to.

I hope to see a lot of friends as well…if you see me, please wave me down and say hello.