EPub or Kindle: Which is the Best eBook Format?

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Most people don’t realize it, but eBooks are HTML (Hyper-text Markup Language), the same as web pages. Other than being compiled in a specific way, there is little difference between a web page and an eBook. They are both based on HTML.

However, the way they are compiled makes a big difference. In the beginning, ebooks were fairly raw HTML pages. However, as they evolved, the compiling process began to define the look, feel, and flexibility of ebooks. They also defined narrow ebook markets since files only worked on a particular eBook reader. For example, the Microsoft LIT format only worked on the now discontinued Microsoft Reader.

Two formats emerged from an initial field of over 30 different eBook formats. They were Mobi (Amazon Kindle) or Epub (Free/Open Standard).

Amazon bought the Mobi technology from Mobipocket, a French company, in 2005 and made it proprietary to their series of ebook readers. Mobi has evolved into a more precise way of presenting books and there are flavors of it including KF8 which is also known as AWZ. The evolution of formats and ebook readers go hand-in-hand.

EPub was first released in late 2007 by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).  The IDPF is a trade and standards association for the digital publishing industry and the format is open source. Anyone can use it and change it as they wish.

Is There an “Industry Standard”?

Some people claim that EPub is the “industry standard,” but that claim is not backed by facts. People are no longer restricted by format and device, so the idea that EPub is an “industry standard” in ebook format is irrelevant. Kindle reader Apps are available for iPad/iPhone and all Android devices as well as all Windows and Mac computers.

Also, Sony dumped it’s dedicated EPub reader, and the Nook (also EPub) has been the subject of an ongoing corporate reorganization at Barnes & Noble due to poor EPub sales.

The EPub sales leader at this point is Apple. However, they have “bastardized” the EPub format by requiring a special compile process in order to sell it at the iStore and for it to work on Apple devices. A standard EPub file won’t work on Apple devices and an Apple-compiled ePub file will not work on other readers. However, without the universality of Apps, Apple only has about a 9% of the ebook market.

Thus, it is difficult to say that EPub is any kind of standard since the files are not always readable across platforms. Different companies have changed it so it is only readable on devices you buy from them.

I completely understand the “free/open standard” perspective of those who favor EPub. However, those folks are the same ones who brought us the Linux operating system. They thought they were “protecting us” from monolithic Microsoft and the closed-off Apple OS. However, Linux, still after all these years, has only a 1.6% market share compared to Microsoft Windows which has maintained an almost 90% market share for 30 years.

Follow the Money

Numbers vary slightly over the years, but Forbes magazine has reported that ebooks currently make up about 40% of all book sales, and Amazon has a 65% share within that category. So, you want to ride the Amazon  Kindle (Mobi) wave for everything it’s worth.

If you want to sell ebooks, you need to forget elitist ideas about what may or may not be the “industry standard” when it comes to formatting. EPub is a highly fragmented ebook market. You want to spend your effort at the place where you are going to get the lion’s share of your sales. In the US, that means Amazon and the Kindle (Mobi) format.

Nothing ensures that books will be universally read like one company dedicated to pioneering an ebook marketing platform, making available a wireless delivery system, creating devices to read them on, creating free apps so they can be read on any device, and giving authors a generous royalty for their work. Amazon did all that and the others followed. As I said in one of ebooks (The Self-Publishing Trap), Jeff Bezos should be right up there with Gutenberg for making printed books ubiquitous.

If you want to sell ebooks, and you put any credence in marketing research, then the Amazon Kindle Mobi format is really the only game in town. There is lots of talk about Kobo having a large EPub market outside the US, and it will be interesting to see how that develops. Amazon is making a big investment in overseas markets, so that battle for supremacy has barely started.

The Statistics Speak Volumes

EPub fans should keep statistics in mind. Amazon.com is the #4 site in traffic in the US, #7 in the world. On the other hand, as of this writing, the Kobo/EPub bookselling site (kobobooks.com) is ranked #8,720 in the US, and #8,720 worldwide. Smashwords, a huge online eBook marketing venue, offers “pure” formatted EPub books, but their site ranking is 6,186 in the US and 13,052 worldwide. That speaks volumes about where the market and the money is. You can view all site rankings here.

In my view, authors should place their ebooks on Amazon. They will get 90% of their sales from there with minimal effort. Amazon is where traffic and sales are happening.

If authors have time on their hands, they should post their eBooks (including ePub editions) on the many third-party sites where viability and sales will be small. Based on my personal research, authors will spend about 90% of their time cultivating these small patches but combined they will yield less than 10% of their sales. The massive harvest is at Amazon.

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