Why Amazon Needs to Support the EPUB eBook Format

In a recent ZDNET article, Jason Perlow described his hesitations for buying one of the new Amazon Kindle’s, which was due to its lack of EPUB support. Many responses to the article noted that the “average user” doesn’t care about the format of an eBook, only for the buying experience. I’m not going to argue on that point because in essence, they are right; the average user doesn’t care. Yet there are two real reasons why having one eBook standard is important, and these reasons will certainly impact the end user.

Publishing Infrastructure and Costs

Although most publishers will use a XML Master Format for storing the original book content, they still have to spend a lot of time, effort and costs in producing and maintaining all the different output formats they need to get their books in to the buyer’s hands. There are also no guarantees that all these different output formats will support the same kinds of features, which will mean even more resources (costs) will be needed to support these alternate formats.

Now, if the publishers only had work one eBook standard then they could spend more resources on improving their own tools to produce better output, which will ultimately give the user an even more enjoyable reading experience. Publisher will also have more resources available to give input back to the IDPF on improving the EPUB standard; bringing more and better features to the eBook world. Certainly a win-win situation for consumers and publishers. Without universal support for EPUB though, everyone will be forced to maintain multiple tool sets, which do nothing but increase costs.

I won’t bring DRM in to this conversation as it is actually independent to the eBook format itself and should not be used as an argument against embracing EPUB.

Independent Authors

One important issue Jason brought up in his ZDNet article was that of self publishing authors. By giving independent authors just one eBook format to think about they are able to spend less time producing eBooks files and more time writing content. They’ll have fewer headaches in getting their books out to the public because all vendors will accept EPUB. With just one eBook standard, more and more EPUB-ready word processors and tools will be developed. The more authors that get content on to Amazon’s self publishing system, the more money Amazon will make. Isn’t this what Amazon wants?

Until just a couple of years ago the publishing world was in turmoil with a multitude of eBook formats it had to support, yet the arrival of EPUB had a hugely positive impact which continues to be seen today.

Sure, EPUB itself is not perfect, but it is being continually improved and with the formation of the EPUB Working Group, there are huge improvements being made right now.

I still can’t make up my mind if Amazon will ever support EPUB but I do believe that it will be more and more difficult for them to refuse to do so. Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.

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  1. Andrew Wimble says

    As a consumer I brought a Sony Reader rather than a Kindle for one main reason, choice.

    If I buy a kindle I get to buy from Amazon and nobody else. That means I am completely reliant on what amazon make available and how much they charge for it.

    With ePub I can buy from WM Smiths or Waterstones, as well as a number of smaller sellers that support the ePub format. I prefer not to be totally reliant on one vendor.

  2. Jerry says

    I am very undecided on this whole thing. From the reviews I have read I think I’d prefer a Kindle. But as long as the format of my library online books is ePub, well that pretty much cancels Kindle out. I am left with the Sony, Nook, etc choice.

    Darn shame as I like the Kindle better. But if it won’t work on the library site, well….

  3. says

    This is really good point Jerry. Many libraries in the U.S. and U.K. use EPUB with Adobe DRM for their lending, so only eReaders that support both of these can currently use those books.

  4. says

    Amazon do offer limited support for ePubs now: if you sign up to their DTP programme you can upload your book in ePub format. I tried it; but, as with KindleGen, it didn’t create a proper Kindle table of contents, unlike Calibre which generated a mobi file with a toc which I could then upload without problems. No DRM on that I believe, but Amazon say that an ePub format upload can be copy-protected (or whatever their DRM does).

    I’m pretty happy that we managed to upload our first book for Kindle: it has taken me months to pull everything together for it. The book is Monkeys with Typewriters by the way.

  5. says

    Jerry and Mike; I presume that all those library books are copy protected in that way so we can’t run them through Calibre to generate a mobi file we can read on a Kindle?

    I’m not well up on library ebook policies, though I really need to be!

  6. says

    Hi Matthew, it’s good to hear that it’s possible to get EPUB into their system, even if it’s not perfect. Of course, if they natively supported EPUB then there would be nothing to convert :)

    I would imagine “all” library books are copy protected, thus allowing them to set a time limit on the loan of the book.

  7. says

    You’re quite right of course Mike, Amazon are being perverse in insisting on their own standard (which can’t do anything epub can’t). But then they have a way of surprising us, for instance in releasing their iPad Kindle app.

    Oh, and we do have a Kindle, bought for our business to preview our books on the real thing. I have to admit I love it already!

  8. nedm says

    “If I buy a kindle I get to buy from Amazon and nobody else. That means I am completely reliant on what amazon make available and how much they charge for it.”

    Who told you this?

    pdf’s work on kindle..as long as they aren’t encrypted

    epubs can be converted to work on kindle via calibre


    if you put on the other kindle OS they get supported instantly

    cbz’s can work via calibre

    amazon’s own file system is a modified .mobi file so mobi files work right out of the box.


    the kindle with the other os also supports djvu so with pdf, mobi, epub, and djvu it does handle quite a bit…

    Matthew technically there are ways that some have found to strip epubs of drm and then via calibre can be put on a kindle..I don’t condone the practice though

  9. wekempf says

    @nedm of course you don’t condone the practice, because it’s illegal (at least, in the US it is).

    DRM is a huge PITA, even with epub where B&N chose to use their own DRM scheme that not everyone else supports. However, it’s a PITA that can be overcome, while the Kindle is left out to dry so long as Amazon won’t support ePub files. You can’t convert (legally) a DRMed epub file, so it doesn’t matter if B&N is willing to allow Amazon (or anyone else) to use their DRM scheme, the Kindle can’t use the DRMed books from B&N. Even when you stick to the “standard” epub DRM provided by ADE and used by nearly every other epub vendor, the Kindle still can’t do anything with them.

    Not to mention, you’ve not addressed any of the other, very real, concerns brought up in this blog. For eBooks to eventually succeed at the same level as digital music there will have to be a single format used by everyone. I don’t care what that format is, but it can’t be a proprietary format.

  10. Nicole says

    “If I buy a kindle I get to buy from Amazon and nobody else. That means I am completely reliant on what amazon make available and how much they charge for it.”

    This is false. With a Kindle, you can buy from at least 10 other places, including fictionwise, smashword, baen, manybooks, etc. I wish people would research this more instead of saying that you can only get Amazon books with a Kindle.

    Additionally, while I may like for Amazon to use epub for library borrowing, it doesn’t make sense for them to do so from a business standpoint. Amazon wants you to buy their books–they control the largest percentage of ebook purchases (like 60% or something). I imagine that figure would go down if they used epub, which would decrease there revenues. I look at the Sony and Nook boards and so many of they don’t buy their books from BN or Sony–at least for BN, they probably would prefer buying books from them (as they likely break even on Nook sales). It just wouldn’t make economic sense for Amazon to use epub unless they felt forced to. At this point, they don’t.

  11. Bubba says

    As a consumer, I don’t care about e-book format, because the interoperability problems are caused by the DRM, not the format. I like to use the Kindle because it seems that more books of the type that I read are available from Amazon for the Kindle than are available from B&N for the Nook. I also like the Kindle form factor, especially the K3, better than the Nook.

    Even if the Kindle did get epub, would I be able to buy a book from B&N and read it on the Kindle with epub?

    I guess when you talk about what format is the “standard”, one needs to look at how widely used each format is. How many books are available in epub format for Nook, vs. how many books are available for Amazon’s ebook formats, including mobi?

  12. Steve says

    Have to say I disagree with Andrew Wimble, Kindle does support other formats, but more importantly for me comparing the price of epub against kindle titles, and kindle wins hands down.

    For example the new Lee Child Book on Waterstones in epub format ‘Worth Dying For’ is £13.58, they sell the hardback on waterstones site for £8.99 for god sake. Compare that to the Kindle edition which is £6.64, cheaper than both the epub format and the hardback book itself.

  13. bob says

    I am buying a Sony touch for same reason.

    I hate the idea of buying a book on Amazon and only ever being able to read on a Kindle.

    What if Kindle stops being made and my Kindle breaks, bye bye library.

    what if Kindle breaks I want to buy a new reader that is better for me then a Kindle. bye bye library.

    Amazon does this for a simple reason, forces you to buy from their store, and forces you to rebuy a kindle if your current one breaks.

    what this tells me is they do not have confidence in their product or store to keep you coming back, therefore they feel the need to put in some insurance.

  14. Keith says

    I bought a Nook at the beginning of the year for this very reason, the universal epub format. Since then I have acquired books from a variety of sources, including the Sony ebookstore and been very pleased. The only ebooks I can’t put on my reader are the ones that Amazon sells. As for using a Nook vs. a Kindle I’ve had my hand on both now, and it’s a toss-up. With the nook you get a touchscreen and almost no buttons, with the Kindle you get lots of buttons. The screens seem identical in readability.

  15. Curt says

    Bob you have a good point. This forced hand is really going to backfire with Amazon because if I do go with the Kindle I will make sure I buy all my books elsewhere and just convert them to mobi so the kindle can read them.

  16. John Blackmore says

    Not sure what the problem is here. Have just downloaded a non protected epub and it works just fine on a Kindle. Can buy or download free books from many sources. Kindle books work on a Kindle, PC, Apple, I-pad, I-pod touch, Android devices.

    Are the problems that you are referring to about things in the past ?

  17. Ann says

    I read a lot and I buy a lot of books from favourite authors. However, I’m not a millionaire, so I also read a lot of library books. There are authors whose books I usually enjoy for 1 or 2 reads, but will never read again. I like to browse for authors new to me, and some of these I don’t enjoy, while others become favourites, whose books I start to buy. Most of these books will never be free eBooks in my lifetime because of copyright laws. It doesn’t matter how many free eBooks are available on-line if they aren’t the books I want. So being able to read library eBooks is important to me, as I’m sure it is to many others. I wouldn’t buy any more or any fewer books from Amazon if the Kindle read DRM ePub library books. It wouldn’t make any difference to my buying patterns, as I’m sure it wouldn’t to many others. So the only difference it makes that Kindle doesn’t read DRM ePub library books, is that I still haven’t bought a Kindle. I want a Kindle. I would buy one right now if it read library books, and I would probably buy my eBooks from them anyways, because I like their selection and price. I am getting tired of waiting for Kindle to capitulate on this issue and I will probably buy a different brand within the next few weeks. In reality, that will be two eReaders, because I will need one for my husband so we can register them on the same account. I’ve seen many comments on forums from people who gave up and bought a different brand over this issue. So I don’t see how it helps Amazon when they refuse to accommodate people who really want their product and would use their services in the same manner even if they could use free library books.

  18. Melissa says

    @Ann You’ve said it perfectly! I’m really struggling between getting a Nook, Sony Reader, or the Kindle. The problem being I want a Kindle, but like you I want to be able to use the library at times.

  19. Mike says


    I agree with you 100%. I REALLY want to give my wife the Kindle for Christmas, but it looks like the Nook is going to be the winner due soley to the epub issue. Kindle would be #1 far and above the others if only it supported epub. Amazon, please listen to potential and current customers. This is just like Apple and lack of flash support for Ipad. Give in and increase your sales already!

  20. John Blackmore says

    I can but agree that having epub would be good but my research suggests that when it comes to buying books Barnes & Noble are more expensive than Amazon. In fact all other on line book dealers are more expensive. Not sure what the library situation is in the UK – will have to investigate.
    Not so sure about Kindle not being able to read ebub. I accept that DRM epub is a no but I have recently downloaded epub ( The Old Curiosity shop and The Curious case of Benjamin Button) and they worked just fine.

  21. Ken says

    I used to love Amazon.com and buy all my books there.

    But I bought a Sony eReader instead of a Kindle becau