Overhyped Format War

Wall Street Journal grandly proclaim – ‘Format War Clouds E-Book Horizon’.

What ‘format war’ are they talking about?

A recent study by Imran Khan of J. P.Morgan showed that out of people who knew about a Kindle but were not buying it hardly anyone listed ‘format concerns’ as their #1 issue and only 15% listed ‘format concerns’ as their #2 or #3 issue.

Of course, Mr. Khan also predicted 10 million kindles sold in the next 12 months thus nullifying our ability to take the survey seriously.

Here’s a survey of our own –

[polldaddy poll=1881843]

Do leave your thoughts in comments too.

Customers don’t care about ‘Format’

This is a grand illusion that technophiles (including myself) often labor under –

  1. No Linux lover ever understands why anyone would ever choose an ‘inferior, non-open’ operating system like Windows.  Yet, people still overwhelmingly choose Windows.  
  2. TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington is giving up his iPhone because ‘Apple won’t let Google Voice apps in the App Store – it’s not open and that’s so evil’. Yet iPhones are going to keep selling millions.

Perhaps we ought to just accept the reality – there are certain things that customers just don’t care about. Format is one of them.

Customers want to read books and read them easily. They also trust Amazon and if Amazon says books will be available long term, the majority of customers will take their word for it.

Format is not a Top 5 issue. Its probably not even a Top 10 issue.

People care much more about – prices, features, convenience, range of books, color, touch and other things.

ePub is NOT a dominant format

The most popular formats for ebooks and documents in no particular order –

  1. Word 
  2. Adobe PDF 
  3. Kindle format 
  4. HTML 
  5. TXT 

ePub is not a top 5 format. 

Kindle already supports some of these. It supports PDF via conversion and hopefully will add it in Kindle 3 outright.

ePub becoming very popular is a possibility, not a certainity

Its not a given that ePub will take off. Plus Sony’s ePub will include DRM from Adobe. So it’s hardly open.

The whole grand ‘openness’ claim is actually ‘Sony ePub + Adobe DRM’ Vs Kindle format.

This line from the WSJ article is telling –

If Adobe’s software continues to win converts among online stores and reading devices, expect a battle to emerge between Amazon and Adobe for control over the DRMed e-book format.

If … expect … to emerge. 

Yet, the title proclaims a Format War is clouding the ebook horizon.

Customers don’t care about formats. Perhaps Kindle’s competitors should focus on color and usability and a viable WhisperNet alternative instead of the magical panacea of ePub. Their current message seems to be –  

Our solution isn’t as good – however, it’s open so all of you customers should choose it. You have to bear the pain of not having as many books and missing out on 60 second wireless downloads and free internet access. 

However, it’s worth it because ePub is open and magical and if you plant it in your garden a magic beanstalk will grow straight to the heavens.

Well, here’s a newsflash – If your ebook solution isn’t equally as good, the whole ‘open format’ strategy doesn’t work.

In fact, given the amount of trust and ebook association the Kindle has built up, even ‘equally as good’ might not be good enough – you’ll have to be markedly better. Just ask everyone who’s trying to fight Google in search.

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