Thoughts on the future of ebooks and ebook reading devices

I’ve been ruminating about the future of ebooks and ebook devices and experimenting with converting books to the .epub format. I love my Kindle. But, unfortunately, Amazon is wedded to its own proprietary format for books (.azw). Publishers submit their books online in .txt, .doc, .html or .prc (MobiPocket Reader) format, and their files are automatically converted to .azw. No other reading device manufacturer uses that format. The others are all adopting an “industry standard” know as .epub. Keep in mind that the “standard” is not much of a standard — there are many variations at this point. So complicated books with illustrations and tables might look very different when displayed on different devices. But books that consist of just text, that are rendered simply, can be read on the Sony Reader, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and other new gadgets. In some ways, this marketing battle resembles the old Beta and VHS battle from the early days of videotape. That time Sony had the best technology with beta, but decided to keep that technology proprietary. And Sony’s competitors are agreed on a VHS standard that eventually killed the beta. This time Amazon has the exclusive, proprietary format, and Sony has joined the standards team.

As a reader, why should I care? If I build a library of ebooks, I want some assurance that I’m going to be able to read those books 10 or 20 years from now. I want the books that I buy to be portable from one device to another, and from one generation of device to another. I have half a dozen TVs in my house. And it’s likely that over time, we’ll have more than one kind of ebook reader as well, and I would like the books I buy to “play” in any and all of them.

So as a publisher, what should I and could I do to give my customers the kind of “portability” that I would like for myself?

I’m considering setting my own online store where customers could buy my books directly from me, for immediate download ( at 99 cents each, regardless of size — I can’t sell for less because of contracts with Sony and Barnes/Noble). And I’d like to set that up so when you buy a book, you get two downloads — the same book as a .prc file (that you can read on you Kindle) and also as an .epub file that you can read on the Sony Reader, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and other gadgets. Would you be interested in such a service? (I need to know if there’s serious demand before I can invest the time and money to set that up).

For other Kindle-related tips and thoughts, please check my Kindle web page at

Suggestions always welcome.

Richard Seltzer

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