back to article Apple vs Amazon in ereader format smackdown

Format wars are a mixed blessing for consumers. Whether it's Betamax versus VHS or Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD, the consumer ultimately wins because companies have to advance superior technologies. But problems arise if the format you backed loses the war - and your device becomes next year's expensive doorstop. A new fight is …

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jai
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iBooks Author

Didn't the iBooks Author license details just get clarified?

http://www.macrumors.com/2012/02/03/apple-clarifies-ibooks-author-licensing-situation-in-new-software-update/

The content still remains under your ownership and rights, it's just the final .ibooks format file that Apple want the rights to. There's nothing to stop you exporting the same text into another format, or probably even running the ibooks file through a converter to produce a 100% epub3 compliant file, and then selling that elsewhere.

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You're absolutely right, though I think the article is written primarily from the consumer's point of view, with iBooks Author appearing only to explain why Apple are worth watching despite being so far behind. So the error isn't a fundamental weakness.

Re: everything else, I have a Kindle and am aware that everything I buy on won't necessarily survive the lifetime of the device. That being said, I've found the electronic platforms to be absolutely useless for reference texts and other things I normally expect to keep around because it's so difficult to flip through and quickly browse, and bookmarks quickly become just another few screens of information you need manually to wade through versus the spatial clues of post-its or whatever. So I've continued buying those on paper anyway. The main losers from my purchase of a Kindle are the friends and/or charity shops I'd normally have given my books to after reading.

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Facepalm

DRM

It replaces .azw, essentially the .mobi format with added DRM

Grand...because what the world really needs right now is more DRM.

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So the approach to take here is to buy whichever device does what you want at the price you want it, and to make sure that your list of wants includes a file converter to an open standard.

I bought my wife a kindle for Christmas since it suits her needs, but I'll go for a fire or a tablet that can handle epub or another open standard, or lets me run converters to same.

I guess I would argue that with the right converter the format wars disappear.

ttfn

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FAIL

Or you could just avoid both and buy another ereader that supports most formats.

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They both support both formats...just not together in the same library or app, mainly due to DRM.

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Anonymous Coward

Why?

To me, the beauty of ebooks, and ebook readers is that they are just text. No pictures, no interactivity, no annoying videos with cheesey American voice-overs. By being just static text, ebook reader batteries last weeks before needing to be charged. By using e-ink, the screens can be read in blazing sun. Neither of these massive advantages can be matched by tablets, whatever the OS.

The physical books in my house range from "first words" to adult fiction (not that kind of adult literature, get your minds out of the gutter), and the thing you notice about them is that, as you get older, pictures get smaller and words become more important, until the books you read are just text. If a book is well-written, pictures aren't needed, as the world you are reading about will be created within your own imagination.

Some may say that picture books can be viewed on tablets, true they can. But, cramming beautifully drawn pictures onto a poky screen reduces their impact. There are some childrens books that contain artwork that deserves to be appreciated in full, spread across both pages, either of which is bigger than a tablet screen.

There are some instances where interactivity is useful, technical and reference books for example. There are definitely some situations where 30 seconds of video could more than replace 3 pages of step1... step 2... etc.

Children should be encouraged to read real books, to develop their own imaginations. Watching a video is easy, creating a whole world in your mind takes some brain power.

So, thanks, but I'll stick to plain text on a dedicated ereader, and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, whilst tablet readers watch their videos indoors, before running off to find the charger and an electrical socket.

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Children

I agree with your every point. I also think that ebooks would be an awful detriment to child development from the point of view that it is now understood that the texture of different substances provide an experience that helps the young brain develop, as does motion, by providing the brain with diverse inputs.

Turning everything into another lump of plastic is an assault on human potential.

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As the owner of both an iPad and an e-ink device (a Kindle as it happens) I have to agree with you. Although I'll pick up and read a book on the iPad occasionally I find it almost impossible to read for more than about 15 minutes, partially because of eye-strain but mainly because there's just too many distractions (email pings in every two minutes, just flick back to Safari to check the news...). The e-ink reader, with the only other function being a last-resort web-browser, can be sat down with for an hour quite easily.

If Apple want iBooks to compete the best thing that they could do would be take the DRM off of text-based books a-la iTunes so that they can be read any e-ink device (. They'll need to lock down magazines and academic textbooks as hard as they can thoough.

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Mushroom

Books... y'know, paper, ink...

Pictures (or 'illustrations' if you prefer) perhaps. But I'm finding it hard to see exactly where audio and video fit in... text, UTF-8, is all you need in an ebook. Or a paperback, come to think of it.

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Human potential?

"Turning everything into another lump of plastic is an assault on human potential."

Well, that's your pov. Don't see it myself though. I'm sure there will continue to be plenty of books available that will not have animated content or even pictures. As ever, it will come down to choice. If there's enough of a market for text only or paper, they will persist.

Given a choice between lugging several kilos of reference books with me or having them on a small , light 'lump of plastic', I know which I'd choose.

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"To me, the beauty of ebooks, and ebook readers is that they are just text. No pictures, no interactivity, no annoying videos with cheesey American voice-overs."

Which is fine if you're simply talking about the latest Tom Clancy mystery or a biography of Deepak Chopra or something. But it misses an important point, and an important market.

Apple's push into new digital publishing formats isn't intended for folks who want to read the next big thing in fiction. It's aimed squarely at textbooks--a market which, so far, has been poorly served by eBook readers.

I have a sweetie who's in grad school pursuing her Ph.D. She really wanted a Kindle, because they're light, they have easy-to-read screens, and the battery lasts forever. But she ended up going with an iPad because the Kindle is rubbish for textbooks. The eInk screen doesn't render color, and a lot of textbooks--especially science and technical textbooks--rely heavily on color in charts and graphs and illustrations. Sure, she could get a Fire, and lose a lot of the benefits of having an eInk screen, but reading a PDF on a Fire is also a rubbish experience. In the end, she went with an iPad, even though she didn't want to, because it offers the best experience for her needs.

So, yeah, if you're reading adult fiction on your device, a Kindle is the best tool for you, and the new eBook formats don't mean a thing to you. But folks use their eBook readers for more than Tom Clancy and Stephen King, and it's those folks that these new formats are aimed at.

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Stop

WTF

is a sweetie?

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FAIL

Sweetie. Romantic partner. Girlfriend. I didn't know it was that strange a term...

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Gold badge

Jazz mags will decide? They say smut made DVD popular and also decided Bluray vs HD-DVD.

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Anonymous Coward

World is clearly full of

I mean who would buy an e-reader than was locked into a single supplier?

It's like buying a car that only takes petrol from a certain filling station. Kindle buyers really are braindead morons in my eyes.

The whole industry supports EPUB, there are over 180 ereaders according to Adobe Digital Editions website that all do EPUB with Adobe DRM, and these idiots had to buy the only one that was out on it's own, because it was listed on the frontpage of the website they bought their CD's from.

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Anonymous Coward

I'll try not to rise to the flamebait (you know, you could have made your point in a much less inflammatory manner, but hey, it takes all types), and just deal with the core point: the Kindle is not "locked into a single supplier".

Well, OK, it *would* be if the only way to get books onto it were through Amazon, but as others have pointed out, the Kindle also supports the MOBI and PDF document formats. Project Gutenberg (amongst others) provides free books in MOBI format, and it's possible to convert between MOBI and EPUB (providing no DRM is involved on *either* side) using Calibre (which I think is practically a must-have if you own an e-reader and a desktop/laptop).

Yes, there's a good case to be made that the Kindle not supporting EPUB isn't in its favour, but to portray the Kindle as some kind of totally sealed unit isn't strictly accurate. (If it were, I would probably have bought a Kobo instead.)

And as for the whole "buying ebooks from Amazon" question: well, I treat it more like an indefinite rental, but that's a WHOLE other can of fish-bait...

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Stop

Depends on what you read.

I never read anything from Guttenburg on EPUB, mainly because I read the classics at school and everything else written donkeys years back and out of copyright has little interest for me.

I do buy modern books, and if I had a Kindle (which thankfully I don't), I would be totally at the mercy of what Amazon charge, and what they want and don't want to publish.

Everyone's buying habits are different, sure, but I am guessing MOST people would want to buy the latest novels from an open market, or borrow books for free from the library, and clearly this is why the Kindle is such a bum deal for consumers.

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Hey, don't insult me!

I am a Kindle owner. And although I have bought some books from Amazon, by far most of the books I have in my device are of different origins. EPub translates very easily to Mobi, which works just fine in the Kindle. Even PDF works, although much less comfortably.

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FAIL

Kindle buyers really are braindead morons in my eyes...

Another braindead moron here defending the Kindle.

The Kindle sold well despite it not supporting ePub (which I personally regret). It's dead easy to use and it's cheap, and it looks good.

I've got both a Sony Reader and a Kindle. Means I can choose the cheapest book.

And btw - if you wouldn't up to a large hefty bloke reading a Kindle on the tube and tell him he's a brain-dead moron, why do you think it's acceptable to use the same language on the Internet?

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Facepalm

Who cares?

Write them all and let calibre sort 'em out (paraphrasing of course).

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Thumb Up

++

Yup, I'll keep my kindle as I quite like the hardware, but I only buy ebooks from amazon if I'm feeling impatient, and even then it goes straight into calibre and gets un-DRMd.

Calibre ftw.

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FAIL

So Calibre is a piracy/cracking app then?

As i'm sure the authors of it would disagree with you on that....

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Bronze badge
Coat

Calibre is wonderful

it will be even more wonderful when running on Raspberry Pi so I don't have to lug the laptop around when I'm planning to acquire something to read. Leaving the cell phone at home "by mistake" is half the fun of playing hooky, and the other half is to leave your laptop at home by mistake.

Mine's the one with the picnic lunch in the pocket ...

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Rob
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Market Forces

If this is all about the consumer then surely Kindle will keep it's hold of the market if we're just comparing Apple and Amazon (which is what the article is all about). Amazon have a Kindle app for most devices meaning you can consume your book on Apple, PC, Android and others whereas Apple iBooks is for Apple only devices. It is all too similiar to why Apple is losing ground with it's iPhone brand against Android smartphones, so many more devices at so many different price points, once that momentum is there it's hard to claw it back, a prime example being the stranglehold on the world by MS Windows.

Me personnally, I don't mind the Kindle platform I have the app's on my devices and I bought my wife a Kindle reader, but I also have a number of ebooks from the earlier days that I have committed to epub but can still read those on my various devices, which is the preffered format that Google uses on it's marketplace (that or PDF, which can also be read by Kindle).

I just get the impression as far as this article is concerned that the Brand war has already been won, but yes the format war might continue.

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FAIL

Even though I used an iPhone as my only eReader for 2 years, I still purchased my books through Amazon. Portability was the key - The Kindle app is available on all platforms so I knew, if I ditched my Apple device in the future (which I now have) I could still access my books on a non-apple reader. That is the main problem with iBooks at the moment, once you have bought into the Apple ecosystem you are stuck (unless you are technically minded and know how to get round the DRM and format conversion). iTunes had the exact same issue until they dropped DRM, which is again why I purchased music via other on-line stores, and even though iTunes has now dropped DRM I still prefer to buy music as MP3 rather than m4a, even though most players now support m4a and for those that don't I can convert it.

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Not the format wars - more like the format border tensions

I don't think that iBooksAuthor is anywhere near a point where it could be considered as a game changer - it looks a bit niche and difficult to use as a selling point for a format in the main business - I thik consumers are going to have loads of priorities way ahead of this.

Also - don't fall for the Betamax/VHS comparison - it isn't particularly apt for this market which is showing no signs of tiring of supporting multiple formats and hardware - BetaMax/VHS and BluRay/HD showed those tension almost from the start.

Finally, EPUB may be an open standard but Apple's implementation certainly isn't - they don't get any bragging rights for open standardliness - although quite frankly I for one think that open standards doesn't deserve the sainthood it seems to be accorded in some quarters.

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I think the last point here is crucial. EPUB may be open but iBooks are not. You can't open an iBook on a device not made by Apple. So the underlying format is perhaps better, but I don't see that iBooks help the matter. By contrast, Amazon are using a closed format, but offer apps to use their products on a wide range of devices, not just those they sell. I don't own a Kindle, but I have Kindle apps for Android, WebOS and Windows, so I'm good to go if I want to buy Kindle books. I was however sent a free iBook recently (very nice sounding interactive version of Yellow Submarine) and because I don't own an Apple product I had no means of opening it.

So it's swings and roundabouts. Caveat emptor.

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"I think the last point here is crucial. EPUB may be open but iBooks are not. You can't open an iBook on a device not made by Apple."

I suspect that will change. The iBook format isn't all that special, just some additional tags bolted on to an ePub book if I understand the specs right. Cue open-source conversion/reading program in 3...2...1..

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IBook format

Good explanation here: http://blog.booki.sh/blog/post/a-favour-from-goliath/

Basically it's ePub with tagged content, leaving the reader software to implement its own slideshows, movie controls etc, which in the long run is probably going to be easier to support than adding JavaScript to the ePub format and expecting it to work flawlessly, and securely, on all platforms, which is what ePub 3 is attempting.

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Anonymous Coward

iBooksAuthor?

Why should making vanity publishing easier be expected to attract readers?

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Same way that GarageBand (R)(TM)(ETC) attracted customers to iTunes.

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Anonymous Coward

Can u lyx an epub?

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This post has been deleted by its author

The missing link in all these debates is the absence of basic creator software for epub3 books that allow simple interactive elements such as basic animation. Where are the contenders for the InDesign and Quark crown of this nascent industry?

iBooks Author is a start, but is too heavily tied to a formulaic textbook format. Also, the proprietry Apple epub3 add-ons make IBA a non-starter for any major work that will have to be expensively recreated for another platform at a later date (unless someone writes a nice translator that strips out the Apple bit - please?).

Apple's iBook store is also a very odd place at the moment. Feels very much like a WIP.

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"Where are the contenders for the InDesign and Quark crown of this nascent industry?"

So far, it seems to me that the InDesign of eBooks is...err, InDesign.

I write eBooks for Kindle and Nook (got a bunch of titles up on the respective book stores, in fact). I tried a whole host of authoring tools and conversion services and whatnot, and the best I've found by a long shot is, well, InDesign.

Amazon has a plugin for InDesign that exports a Kindle book, doing a very good job of preserving formatting and page breaks and so on. From there, I just run it through Calibre to make the Nook/generic ePub version, and wham boom, there it is. If there's a faster, easier system that preserves formatting better, I haven't found it yet.

Apple's iBook creator looks like a good 1.0 version of a publishing tool, though it's still got some limitations and awkwardness. When it's more mature and some enterprising folks have written software to de-lint an iBook-formatted file and get it into a regular ePub, which I expect to happen shortly, it might be a usable combination, but for now I have found InDesign is the way to go.

At least if you can afford it, anyway.

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InDesign's interactivity plugin is adequate if you want to make books with pages consisting of discrete units of pic, text, video etc. But it is utterly useless for my field where I need to create a free-form interactive books: highly illustrated children's fiction and non-fiction picture books, where cut-out elements move, interact with each other and transform.

There, the only game in town is still animation tied together with bespoke coding.

There are a few simpler entrants into the market; Moglue and INteractbuilder, to name two. But they are currently too simplistic and quite clumsy products to use. Even drag and drop app builders like Gamesalad are better (though they lack adequate page position tools). There is definitely room for a killer app in this field. Something that links page position with simple animation tools and interactivity.

Everyone I know is crying out for it.

Publishers are currently spending (wasting) a fortune on this 'problem'.

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Stop

Superior technologies my foot!

" Whether it's Betamax versus VHS ... the consumer ultimately wins because companies have to advance superior technologies."

It had nothing to do with superior technology. Betamax was superior to VHS, and V2000 to both of them. It was down to marketing and commercial tie-ups (JVC and Radio Rentals).

Anyway, there's very little extra cost in making eBooks available in different formats. It's not like shops having to stock hardware and media in two different formats.

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Coat

What we need to do

Is find Auther Dent and see which format he is backing, and then choose the other one.

Mines the one with the towel and a pocket that flashes "Don't Panic" every few minutes

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taxes and paper-based books

With my paper based books, I go through my collection every year and donate most of them to charity for a tax write-off -- something I can't do with e-books. This benefits the public at large, not just the publisher. And the write-off is typically worth as much as Amazon's e-book price-discount. [I don't "do" Apple.]

So why go for DRM that locks things into "me-only"?

Freedom means allowing secondary markets. Preventing secondary markets, for the benefit of politically connected corporations, is within the technical definition of "fascism."

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Anonymous Coward

When I give my books to a charity

It's so they can sell them and use the money gained for the betterment of society (both here and aborad) rather than for improving my own personal wealth.

That said, the point that there is no secondary market is a valid one. As to the motives and links with facism, that's a personal opinion.

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The lack of a printed book that you can give away is both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, yes, you're right. Paper books live on beyond their original owner. As a kid, I used to spend hours in the used book store, coming out with enormous stacks of books I could read and then sell back when I was done with them to get another huge stack of books.

On the other hand, when books are printed in expensive processes with ink on paper and have to be shipped around the country as physical atoms, the up-front costs mean that the well-funded book publishers become the gatekeepers of what you can see and what you can't. A book without a sufficient market doesn't get signed on by a publisher and doesn't ever exist.

With eBooks, almost anyone can write a book and distribute it little or zero cost. Suddenly, the publishers are no longer the gatekeepers of culture; suddenly, the ability to write a book and reach an audience is within the ability of anyone who wants to give it a go.

That's huge. That's a game-changer; it creates a system whereby the marketplace of ideas suddenly is vastly larger than it was, and a person with a good idea but not a lot of money now has the ability to reach an audience.

So yes, you're absolutely right about the secondary markets...but not about "fascism." Promoting a diversity of ideas is not exactly the hallmark of a fascist state, but that's exactly what happens when e-publishing tools are cheap and plentiful, and you no longer have to print heavy, expensive books to get your ideas out.

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Stop

Reaching an audience

"That's huge. That's a game-changer; it creates a system whereby the marketplace of ideas suddenly is vastly larger than it was, and a person with a good idea but not a lot of money now has the ability to reach an audience."

Personal Blogs allowed the "person with a good idea" to reach an audience. The marketplace of ideas is /already/ vastly larger than it was.

Oh, wait...

Sometimes, barriers to entry are a blessing for the consumer.

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Coat

@Franklin

You are of course right about the books of tree-stuff, but I would take a moment to bring your vision of a wide open distribution back to earth for the present. you certainly cannot buy any e-book anywhere.

For some silly reason, I can order a physical book shipped to me from the US, but I cannot buy a digital book from there and have it "delivered" to my kindle (or e-reader of choice) here. Someone told me the virtual printing, though more likely its the actual sale of the book, takes place in the e-reader owners country, and hence one cannot simply choose to purchase an e-book unless it is published and available in your country. A case in point, Tad William has released the forth and final book of his fantasy trilogy (well, it was supposed to be one!) Shadowmarch and in the USA, all four are available as e-books, but only the last book is available in the UK in e-book format, because Tad has a different publisher here in the UK.

The fact is, the borders between reader and book in terms of availability are even wider and more difficult to cross in this new world of e-books.

PS. I have another example of a book almost self published, that I can easily download in the USA, but will likely never be available here.

Mine's the one with the smuggled e-book in it.

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2GB???

I wasn't aware of the 2GB limit. That seems ludicrous. I have a Kindle eBook (coaching manual) that runs into several 10s of MB with just static pictures.

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Go

Not really a format war...

The Betamax/VHS format war comparison is a bit over the top isn't it?

The users who really care can remove the Kindle DRM, download Calibre for free, and convert books between epub and mobi in about 30 seconds.

I presume it won't take too long before the same thing is also possible with KF8.

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Anonymous Coward

Well no.

firstly it's illegal in most countries to crack the DRM, secondly, if you think that will last forever, you are in for a shock.

Amazon will be doing everything in their efforts to prevent this.

Lastly, why bother? Calibre is OK, but it doesn't always get thing right, it regularly screws up formatting, chapters and TOC when converting formats.

Best just buy it in the open EPUB format in the first place.... You not only benefit from an open market, and thus open market pricing, you also get more content (3m books on EPUB, vs 700k on Kindle), you also get better readers too - both the Koko Touch and the Sony PRS-T1 are much better than the latest Amazon hardware.

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Amazon appear to be ambivalent here

They don't seem to care that awz is easy to crack cos it means that people with non-kindle devices can still buy kindle books.

In fact the only major uncracked books DRM is iTunes.

I think you are right though - amazon (and the other sellers) won't let that continue indefinitely.

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Meh

When they actually sell me something rather than a limited licence

I might consider buying an eBook (even the name is misleading; it's not a book it's a very limited licenced text).

Until then it's Gutenberg press and others all the way for my Kindle. It's a reading longstop at best.

I still read more proper books, they're just so much nicer. And every one is a different shape, size, font, with pretty informative (hopefully) covers. And you can give them to and buy them from charities. They are a tactile as well as intellectual joy.

A while back a friend of mine visited, bursting with enthusiasm about his new Kindle. He also had with him a beautifully produced history book, brim full of inspirational art work including illuminated texts. When I asked him why he hadn't bought the latter book for his Kindle he went quiet.

eBooks are, literally, not worth the paper they are written on.

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Yes, but...

I can reasonably fit about four thousand books into my house, and I've now run out of space.

I buy beautiful books, and I buy first editions for my collection - all else I get as an ebook if I can. And I'm told that it's relatively easy to strip the DRM, so that it becomes my own. Not that I'd know anything about that, of course.

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