The eBook Format Wars

books_really_suckA lot can happen in one week.  Seven days ago, I was madly researching eBook readers, gung ho over the prospect of quasi-unlimited digital storage, heaps of portable reading material, and so on and so forth.  Now, my interest has skydived.  Why?  It’s those bloody format wars.

I’ll just say first off, I have no claims to being a tech expert; I’m a consumer and I try to be informed, but that’s it.  So as a potential consumer, this is how I see it: Without stripping DRMs, there is no single portable device that reads all the major eBook formats.  And that’s a pain.

I guess it comes down to the three As: Adobe, Amazon, and Apple.  Adobe is associated with but not tied to the Sony eReader, and has the edge when it comes to library e-lending.  My home e-library offers only proprietary formats like Adobe’s, and it’s fine if you own one of the supported devices; it’s not fine if you have a Kindle or portable Apple device.  Ergo, since I want to keep the eLibrary option open, I’d have to go with a device compatible with Adobe – which, according to Steve Jobs, is practically the Root of All Evil.  In an interesting twist, Apple now sells digital books (iBooks, natch) under the non-proprietary EPUB format.  Which means you could read them on most readers, including the evil Adobe Digital Editions (ADE).

But why shouldn’t I go for the Kindle?  It isn’t just about the huge book selection, or the free 3G and Whispersync service – many reviews agree that even when ignoring the extras, the Kindle delivers one of the best, if not the best, e-reading experience on the market.  No muss, no fuss, just a device that stores and reads books.  And with the WiFi-only version now available for $139?  Talk about turning up the heat.  (Some think the Kobo started the price war when it was released at $149, and thereby shot itself in the foot, but that’s another story.)  If one were willing to ditch the library option, the Kindle appears to be an awesome alternative to Adobe.  So I thought of three possible scenarios under which I’d buy a Kindle:

  • City council shut down the public library.
  • I drastically increase my book purchases.
  • Amazon opens a low-cost, internationally-accessible eLibrary.

Not impossible.  But at this stage, not likely.  And neither is buying an Apple device, BTW, because it’s waaaay too expensive.

Ideally, the industry would settle on one format without leaving the other 50% hanging, so that the winner would be generous enough to provide support for all the other books facing impending obsolescence.  But it’s like looking at Betamax and VHS all over again.  Or Blu-Ray and HD DVD.  I’ve heard of people owning as many as three or four eBook readers, one for every major format.  There is no way I am willing to do that.

Of course, who knows where Android will fit into this scheme.  Or the Blackberry, which has vague Bluetooth-y sync capabilities with the Kobo-Chapters-Borders conglomerate (yet another contender).  However, this doesn’t change my main point about the format wars: They may be interesting as hell, but they’re still a pain.

- Jean AAR

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36 Responses to The eBook Format Wars

  1. Leigh says:

    I not sure how it would work? I have a kindle and I can send non kindle books to my amazon e-mail address and it is converted. I don’t have it delivered wirelessly (I connect to my computer) and there is no charge to me for the conversion.

    Not sure if you could do this with downloads from the library?

  2. Nathalie T says:

    I agree with you.If I’m going to buy a reader I want one which support all formats. Since I live in Sweden being able to use a reader would save me a lot of money. Paperbacks aren’t exactly cheap where I live.
    Right now I’m going to continue to buy them but I hope the diffirent companies can work out a solution.

  3. farmwifetwo says:

    I still get 90% of my books from the library and I wasn’t willing to buy an expensive ebook device with a lot of hassle. So, I got a kobo. Yes, it isn’t as fancy as the other’s but I does what I want done. I have my books here on the computer under the app – have to be logged on – Adobe – don’t have to be logged on – and on the hd. It has a SD port that one day I’ll learn to use along with backing them up to a flash drive. So, I know, my books cannot be removed from my machine like Kindle did to its users.

    I like Amazon for those books I cannot find, and I’ve never bought other things via Amazon – never tried so I don’t know if we could here – but I suspect we definately can now with a warehouse in Ont. But, I get gift cards with my airmiles for Chapters so I’m not likely going to start spending my money there. I do hope that on day they set up some “link” btwn Chapters and Kobo and I can use my gift cards and other’s can use their Chapters points cards… Maybe one day.

    As for Apple. I would like one…. BUT, not now…. maybe in 5yrs or so but since RIM’s Cdn (Blackberry)… maybe they’ll put out a device??? Which I’d definately consider.

  4. Karen says:

    I agree the format issue is a pain, but if you research a bit further you may find that your library, like most except those in major cities, has a limited number of ebooks available making the issue moot for the present. Resisting an ereader for this reason alone is limiting yourself from access to hundreds of free and inexpensive books from mulitple sources compatible with the Kindle or the other ereaders. More romance titles become available every week from talented independent authors breaking into ebooks rather than print, and the backlists of many popular authors are coming out in ebook format only. Now that the prices of quality ereaders have come down so much any avid reader will reap enormous reward by jumping in now.

  5. Kayne says:

    One of my favorite features of having an ebook reader is being able to read samples. The samples will have one or two chapters and I usually can tell by then whether I’m interested in reading the whole book.

  6. Sandir says:

    I’ve had my Kindle for about a year and I currently have 200 free books on it, mostly romance. While it would be nice to be able to access my library’s free ebooks, there are definitely more free books available for me via Amazon than are available via the library.

    Most of the books I’ve downloaded for free are only free or low-priced for a short time so I have to keep on the ball. My three favorite sources for free or very low-cost Kindle romances are the Books on the Knob blog,, and the Kindleboards forum Book Bazaar section.

  7. Sandy AAR says:

    I, too, am of the mentality that you’ve got to jump sometime. If you wait for the “perfect” eReader, you’re likely to be waiting forever.

  8. Jill B says:

    I just got the Barnes and Noble nook, and I decided on it because I work at my local library and check books out through the Overdrive system. These books aren’t compatible with the Kindle, so that was a non-starter for me. I like the nook so far. It has easily accepted my older ebooks which were in pdf, as well as the Overdrive books in addition to the free books offered by Barnes and Noble. There aren’t as many at B&N as I have seen on Amazon, but the library books were key for me. I really don’t buy very many books, so I put off getting an ereader, but with the price drops and the help of some rewards gift cards from Amex, I just couldn’t resist any longer.

    I find the whole issue just infuriating since no one is developing these devices and formats with the customer in mind. They all are just greedy piggies who don’t care about customers who want to be able to get thier books from every available source. I am not very technologically savvy compared to real experts, but I know that some of our library patrons find a way to convert files and strip DRMs in order to get the books they want. Why do they want to make us work so hard?!? Grrrrr

  9. MarissaB says:

    I love my Kindle. Like Leigh, I have sent Word and Adobe formats to my kindle e-mail and have them converted for me. There are some Adobe books (about 2 or 3 out of 20) that did not convert, but its no pain to not be able to read them on the Kindle – they weren’t must haves, you know. And with the number of free downloads, well . . . .

  10. Katie Mack says:

    What Sandy said.

    For me, I wanted to be able to borrow ebooks from my local library — I’m addicted to category romances and they buy the Harlequin bundles every month — but I also wanted a reader that supported a format that I could buy *most* books in. So I went with the Sony Reader. It’s a rare book that I can’t find offered in epub, so I’m pretty happy with my decision. Although I must admit there are times when I really envy the wireless download capabilities of the Kindle and Nook.

    Basically, there is no such thing as the perfect e-reader, so it’s all about finding the one that meets your top priorities, if not all your desires.

  11. Karenmc says:

    I’m sticking with my iPod Touch until all of the battles are over. There are apps for all formats, and I don’t have any trouble reading on it. Someday there’ll be an iPad that’s smaller than the current big slab-o-technology, and I’ll probably opt for one of those.

  12. JulieR says:

    I’m with Karenmc – the iPod Touch is great for me for now. I’ve already had to convert from one device (Palm TX) to the iPod Touch, and I survived that process. So I’m hopeful that I’ll weather whatever the future brings.

  13. Margaret says:

    When the prices dropped, I bought a nook. I have really been enjoying it. It supports epub books, so you can buy books from other sources and still read them on the nook. I haven’t tried to read books from the library yet, but I’m going to try that this week.

    Long term the issue of DRM bothers me. I’ve bought books from B&N and I can only read them on the nook. If I ever change to another ereader, I can’t take those books.

  14. Jean Wan says:

    I really don’t want to wait, because I agree with you guys – there is no perfect reader. I’m still likely to head for either the Sony or the Kobo (although like you, Katie, I’d be jealous of the wireless downloads), because it seems that the nook is a pain – no, Pain – to get from Canada, and then you’ll have to buy from the Reader Store or Chapters anyway.

    Kobo – Pro, attached to Chapters. Con, very limited format support.

    Sony – Pro, huge format support. Con, not attached to Chapters (I get discounts).

    Which means: ARGH!

    With the Kindle, question: What are all these free Amazon books you guys are talking about? Clearly you’re not just referring to non-copyrighted books, like on Google Books.

  15. Moriah says:

    publishers will occassionally release a new author’s book or when an author has a new book coming out will release one of that author’s older books in kindle format for free. I recently download mary wine’s “in the warrior’s bed” and in the past, zebra released new author maggie robbinson’s “mistress by mistake”

    the amazon kindle book page has a top 100 selling section for free books that will show only free downloads if you are curious on what they currently have

  16. Nicole says:

    I have hesitated to purchase an e-reader because of the format wars, and what makes it even worse is that many e-books do not seem to be available if you live in Canada. I was really close to purchasing a Sony Reader because it seemed as though the e-books would be sold the same time as the US, and then in May, I receive an email from Sony saying that many titles will not be available because of publishers. Major authors like Julia Quinn are suddenly not available to me in the Sony store. Kobo has since come up to sorta make up for it (you can download the book as an epub, so it is compatible with Sony), but Kobo still doesn’t have everything available. Kindle is also finally available in Canada, and seems to have most books available, but not all of them, and frankly I hesitate to purchase any e-reader from a store that does not give me full access to its products.

    Publishers are quite idiotic in their inability to figure out that there is a massive market out there for e-books if only they realized that 1 – readers want a format that works on all products and 2- there are many potential readers of works in English outside of the US, namely the UK and the entire freakin’ Commonwealth.

  17. Magdalen says:

    With a burgeoning TBR collection, and only a few books I want to read that are either only available in hardcover, or only available in digital formats, I am moving toward buying an e-reader at a glacial pace.

    It’s not that I don’t see the appeal. And it’s not that I really believe the things that annoyed me when I tried one last October would continue to annoy me.

    It’s that I don’t *need* one enough to settle, and the choices out there aren’t yet appealing enough to make me want one regardless of whether I need it.

    I’m willing to be persuaded, and I’m willing to be seduced. But the Old Spice Guy hasn’t ridden up to my door (or appeared in my bathroom) with the irrefutable arguments why I have to have an e-reader.

    Color me “still waiting.”

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  19. Kelly says:

    Heh. I have both Kindle and Sony – one for each eyeball and all the formats.

    (Not richy rich, but I love ereaders and bargain shopped – the kids use them too!)

    • MarissaB says:

      Kelly: Heh. I have both Kindle and Sony – one for each eyeball and all the formats.(Not richy rich, but I love ereaders and bargain shopped – the kids use them too!)

      Kelly – Both eyeballs???? =D You’re funny, lady.

  20. Renee says:

    I have a sony reader which I love for all of the reasons that Katie Mack mentioned. I addressed the wireless issue by upgrading recently to the Sony Daily version which allows for wireless downloads. I have been pretty happy with that too but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me either way. I, too, with the Sony get some free e-books which are a nice way to learn about new authors, etc. That said, when I was contemplating moving to a new reader I thought about the kindle but was concerned about the conversion of my 200 plus Sony books to a new format. However, I just got a new android phone with a large screen which included a free download of the kindle application so I think I will soon have the best of both worlds (and formats) without breaking the bank :).

  21. Kit says:

    For those who have multiple formats of ebooks, there is actually an easy and FREE way to convert them into a format compatible with your e-reader. The program is called calibre e-book reader. The program will take your book and with one click, turns it into another format. My friend gave me Mobi files, which are ebooks for the Kindle. And he showed me the program, and suddenly, they were in the epub format, which is for the Nook.

    You can find the program online, just by searching for it on google and download it quickly. The program also has an instruction guide.

  22. Vi says:

    Jean, Amazon has a page if Top 100 bestsellers sorted by “Paid” and “Free.”. Here’s a link to the free:

    Also, there’s a Kindle app for PC that you can download to your computer so that you cab enjoy these freebies. I’ve been reading books with my Kindle app on my phone. I’m definitely leaning toward Kindle.

  23. Katie Mack says:

    Re: free ebooks. They’re not just offered in Kindle. When a publisher offers an ebook for free or at a bargain price, they almost always offer it across formats/retailers.

  24. carol irvin says:

    I have an iPad and I absolutely love it for ebooks. I have apple’s ibooks on it which uses epub. Then I bought an app for $4 that is a super pdf reader so I can read all my pdfs. I also have the Pages app on my ipad which reads doc and rtf. Then I got the free Kindle app. All of them are on my ipad and I use all of them for reading ebooks. There are a bunch of other apps I can get for reading other formats as well. I have not tried it on library downloads for ebooks so I can’t help you there. Both the ipad and the iphone are also great for listening to audiobooks. If you like to walk or move around while you listen, the iphone is the better choice. But the ipad does just as good a job. I got the cheapest ipad with only the wifi connection and it has been perfect. I really don’t need anything else. My husband liked mine so well that he just got one for himself and is using his constantly too. He really loves it for all of his Netflix streaming movies. Netflix has a free app too and so it lands him right in his saved shows. He clicks on the one he wants to see and is instantly watching it. I also do crosswords and play gin rummy on mine. What an invention!

  25. Jennie says:

    I have the Sony Ereader PRS 505 and I love it. I love the fact that you can put anything on it. The kindle did appeal until I realized that amazon is very expensive to purchase books off and with calibre I can get books on sale at and convert them.

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