| Friday December 19th 2014

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Tim O’Reilly: Kindle needs to embrace standards or die


Tim O’Reilly predicts the imminent demise of the Kindle ebook reader unless it makes the move to open standards and abandons DRM and proprietary formats. I’ve been trying to get someone at Amazon to answer my basic questions about the “DRM-free” option for authors and publishers Kindle profile(“Does the EULA prohibit a reader from moving a DRM-free file to a non-Kindle?” “Is there a patent or other restriction that prevents competitors from making readers or converters for the DRM-free files?” and “Can DRM-free files be remotely downgraded, the way that the DRM’ed files have had their read-aloud functionality taken away after the fact?”) and been totally stonewalled, as have O’Reilly.

Kudos to Tim for a great editorial and especially for the use of “strategy tax” — what a great phrase!

So we sold GNN to America Online in June 1995. Big mistake. Despite telling us that they wanted to embrace the Web, they kept GNN as an “off brand,” continuing to focus on their proprietary AOL platform and allowing Yahoo! ( YHOO – news – people ) to dominate the new online information platform.So it was with a feeling of deja vu that I listened in mid-2007 to the promises of Amazon about the potential of its new proprietary e-book platform. While no payment is required to participate, there are clearly onerous restrictions that could limit the growth of the market: a proprietary file format, and the requirement that the e-books only be sold by Amazon.com.

The file format was a problem for us from the get-go: Amazon’s Kindle file format doesn’t provide support for tables or for so-called monospaced fonts, two formatting features that we use heavily in our line of technical books. And there is a viable alternative: Epub, the open format from the International Digital Publishing Forum, is based on the Web’s native format, HTML, and provides full table and font support. This is the first “strategy tax” paid by those who embrace proprietary platforms: They can’t support the needs of every niche and must prioritize their support for mainstream needs.

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