One of the downsides of electronic text is its verifiability against the original. Do we need an MD5 style hash verification system for ebooks?
A shot across the bow
If you had any doubts that Amazon’s Lending Library was eventually going to compete with public libraries, here’s where your doubts get shattered. From Amazon’s homepage today, on the announcement of all 7 Harry Potter books entering the Kindle Lending Library program:
With traditional library lending, the library buys a certain number of e-book copies of a particular title. If all of those are checked out, you have to get on a waiting list….the wait can sometimes be months.
With the Kindle Owners Lending Library, there are no due dates, you can borrow as frequently as once a month, and there are no limits on how many people can borow the same title…
The full image of the announcement is included after the click:
Head over to the ALA TechSource blog to see my take on the new Amazon Kindle announcements. The new models announced yesterday, along with pricing, are:
- Kindle Fire: $199
- Kindle Touch 3G, no ads: $189
- Kindle Touch 3G with “special offers”: $149
- Kindle Touch Wifi, no ads: $139
- Kindle Touch Wifi, with “special offers”: $99
- Kindle, no ads: $109
- Kindle, with “special offers”: $79
There’s lots more at TechSource, but the pull-quote from the article is probably:
For libraries, however, with the exception of cheaper cost-per-device you want to provide…well, nothing really changes. Amazon is still providing books at the publisher’s set cost that are licensed in such a way that limits the ability of libraries to circulate them (the books, not the devices). The Kindle/Overdrive deal doesn’t change at all…you can just buy a Kindle to circ to patrons for $40 less than you could yesterday. But the technological hurdles for our patrons on the user-experience front as well as the backend limitations of the DRM provided files are still the same as ever.
Kindle and ePub
Head over to Library Renewal to see what I think about the recent news that Amazon may be turning on ePub support on the Kindle. It should tell you something that the original title of the post was “ePub don’t mean shit”.
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.
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.
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?)
- 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
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?
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.
Apple announced the terms of their in-App Subscription Service this morning, and it does indeed look like they are shooting directly at Amazon. What I’m concerned about is the fallout from these new rules on other apps…here’s the paragraph that causes me issue, with the pertinent passage highlighted.
Publishers who use Apple’s subscription service in their app can also leverage other methods for acquiring digital subscribers outside of the app. For example, publishers can sell digital subscriptions on their web sites, or can choose to provide free access to existing subscribers. Since Apple is not involved in these transactions, there is no revenue sharing or exchange of customer information with Apple. Publishers must provide their own authentication process inside the app for subscribers that have signed up outside of the app. However, Apple does require that if a publisher chooses to sell a digital subscription separately outside of the app, that same subscription offer must be made available, at the same price or less, to customers who wish to subscribe from within the app. In addition, publishers may no longer provide links in their apps (to a web site, for example) which allow the customer to purchase content or subscriptions outside of the app.
To summarize: publishers are allowed to sell subscriptions on their own websites, but if they do, they must also allow for in-app purchase of said subscription, and there has to be pricing parity between the two methods. This means that, for instance, a newspaper couldn’t offer a subscription on their site for $5, but make the in-app purchase $8…this prevents publishers from variably pricing things higher in the App in order to pad the price to take into account Apple’s 30% of the sale price. So far, so good…it’s that last sentence that really worries me:
In addition, publishers may no longer provide links in their apps (to a web site, for example) which allow the customer to purchase content or subscriptions outside of the app.
Notice that in that sentence, Apple stopped talking about subscriptions and now include content generally. This single lline is the one that, I think, kills eReader software on iOS devices. This means that Amazon can’t keep the Kindle app the way it currently works, which is to tap a button inside the app that then takes you to the Kindle store in Safari. That’s not allowed given the above. That will apply to Barnes & Noble’s Nook software, as well as any other eReader software that I’m aware of on iOS. eBook providers like Amazon and B&N almost certainly can’t afford to move all their sales to in-app purchases because of the 30% Apple “tax”. This means that either they raise prices and move into Apple’s ecosystem, or they stop allowing purchases of books at all on iOS devices.
The rules appear to allow Amazon to sell Kindle books for iOS on the Amazon website directly (obviously Apple can’t do anything about that) but it seems to break any connection between the app and said site. This intentionally damages the user experience for this and other eBook apps, and is the main reason I can’t believe that Apple is pushing this as hard as they are. This is much different than other limitations that Apple has placed on the development of Apps…this isn’t hardware based limitation (multitasking) or anything like that…this seems to be purely a “show us the money” limitation. I’m really disappointed if this is the way that Apple chooses to enforce this, because while they are guilty of many things, intentionally hurting usability has never been one of them.
What I’m really curious about is this: Is Apple going to push these requirements for any App that allows for any purchase…like, for instance, the Amazon app that allows you to shop on Amazon directly. Or Zappos, or Ebay, or any number of other apps that act as a front-end for purchasing goods. If that’s the case, I think that Apple is in for some real trouble and pushback from companies, and possible legal repercussions. Seems like it can’t possibly be legal for the manufacturer of a computer (which is what the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch is, after a recent legal decision) to require that anything purchased on that computer provide them with a cut. I’ll be keeping my eyes on this one.
I’m feeling more and more like the library equivalent of John Gruber these days.
“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.
I posted this first over at Perpetual Beta, but I felt the need to repost here.
Amazon announced today via Facebook and Twitter that one of their Black Friday deals was going to be blowing out their inventory of the Kindle 2 (the last generation of Kindle) for $89. These are new units, not refurbs, and include 3G access with the device.
This deal is going to get pounded, and who knows how many they have left in stock. If you want to try and grab one, the deal starts 11/26 at 9 am PST.
While I feel that one-day sale prices don’t quite get me where I thought we’d be when I made my < $100 eReader prediction back at ALA Midwinter 2009 as a part of the LITA Top Tech Trends panel, I’d like to think I could take this as partial validation of the prediction.