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Old 02-24-2009, 12:09 PM   #1
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Post O'Reilly predicts a Doom of Obscurity for Kindle ... if it stays proprietary

Staying Closed Will Doom Kindle to Obscurity and Failure


Editor's Note: MobileReader anurag brought this to us yesterday, but I felt like it deserved a front-page treatment.

O'Reilly Publishing is a familiar name around here. Its founder, Tim O'Reilly, has a very interesting commentary on the present and future state of Amazon's Kindle if they remain a closed system. I suppose you could call it O'Reilly's law of e-cono-dynamics, and it echos one of Newton's laws: A closed system will eventually fail.

You can find O'Reilly's commentary over at Forbes' site. What makes his thoughts so interesting to me is not just the simple fact that he's deeply involved in successful e-publishing, but that he talks about seeing this sort of thing play out once before. Specifically, he talks about how Microsoft tried to establish a closed e-cono-system with what became their MSN:
Quote:
... I'd recently been approached by the folks at the Microsoft Network. They'd identified O'Reilly as an interesting specialty publisher, just the kind of target that they hoped would embrace the Microsoft Network (or MSN, as it came to be called). The offer was simple: Pay Microsoft a $50,000 fee plus a share of any revenue, and in return it would provide this great platform for publishing, with proprietary publishing tools and file formats that would restrict our content to users of the Microsoft platform.

The only problem was we'd already embraced the alternative: We had downloaded free Web server software and published documents using an open standards format. That meant anyone could read them using a free browser.

While MSN had better tools and interfaces than the primitive World Wide Web, it was clear to us that the Web's low barriers to entry would help it to evolve more quickly, would bring in more competition and innovation, and would eventually win the day.

In fact, the year before, we'd launched The Global Network Navigator, or GNN, the world's first Web portal and the first Web site supported by advertising. To jump-start GNN, we hosted and sponsored the further development of the free Viola web browser, as a kind of demonstration project. We weren't a software company, but we wanted to show what was possible.

Sure enough, the Mosaic Web browser was launched shortly thereafter. The Web took off, and MSN, which later abandoned its proprietary architecture, never quite caught up.
O'Reilly then goes on to draw a parallel between that situation and what's going on with Kindle and e-Pub, referencing Stanza and O'Reilly's own Bookworm reading application which we heard about last week.

The gist of it is that Amazon is in a similar position with e-books that MSN was in fifteen years ago with the web. MSN tried to fence folks into their version of the web, just as Amazon is trying to do with their version of e-reading. We know how well that particular gambit worked out for Microsoft, and O'Reilly sees the same thing happening to Amazon, if they sacrifice their product's usability to maintain control of how it's used.

O'Reilly already sees this pattern beginning to repeat for Amazon, with the advent of ePub format, and platforms that, unlike the Kindle, support it.

It's a very interesting read, and I encourage you to pop over and have a look at the full column (it's not all that long).

What he says makes a lot of sense to me, I'm interested in hearing others' perspectives on it as well. Please join the discussion already in-progress over here.
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Old 02-24-2009, 03:26 PM   #2
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He doesn't mention that Amazon has announced that it will (late spring, I think) make Kindle books available in other formats for download to other devices and programs. Additionally, the recent Kindle software upgrade allows for monotype fonts. I have a sense, moreover, that Amazon will embrace the recently announced Adobe PDF reflow mechanism. I think he is needlessly ringing alarm bells.
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Old 02-24-2009, 06:08 PM   #3
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Even if they allow Kindle format onto other platforms, it's still Kindle format, which is still a closed, proprietary one.

Obviously, if Amazon were to embrace epub format, that would open the Kindle up so that material from the extra-Amazon parts of the world could be included on it easily, and would be an excellent example of the sort of move O'Reilly thinks that Amazon will need to make to avoid his prophecy of doom. Just adding reflowed PDF support would be something of a step in what he seems to consider the right direction.
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Old 02-24-2009, 06:38 PM   #4
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Since other formats can be read on the Kindle .... other than "Kindle" formats, I mean .... is he talking about doom for the device or for the format ... because they aren't the same thing.
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Old 02-24-2009, 06:40 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by radleyp View Post
He doesn't mention that Amazon has announced that it will (late spring, I think) make Kindle books available in other formats for download to other devices and programs. Additionally, the recent Kindle software upgrade allows for monotype fonts. I have a sense, moreover, that Amazon will embrace the recently announced Adobe PDF reflow mechanism. I think he is needlessly ringing alarm bells.

That's good news all around, now how about a Kindle in the UK sometimes soon Amazon?
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Old 02-24-2009, 07:18 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickyMaveety View Post
Since other formats can be read on the Kindle .... other than "Kindle" formats, I mean ....
As I understand it, the only formats it handles without conversion are Kindle (AZW), TXT, Audible, MP3, and unprotected MOBI/PRC.

TXT is marginal for anything complicated, Audible and MP3 aren't, strictly speaking, book formats, and Kindle/Mobi are effectively the same thing. Oh, and other than TXT and MP3, Amazon owns all of those formats.

All the other formats it "handles" have to be converted by Amazon's service to the AZW/Mobi format (and I've heard it doesn't really do all that elegant a job on the conversion ).

I know others will see it differently, but considering all of that, the platform seems pretty thoroughly "closed" to my way of thinking.

If I'm mistaken somewhere in there, somebody please set me straight.


Please note: I'm not commenting on the desirability of these things, merely attempting to observe the facts of the situation.
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Old 02-24-2009, 07:29 PM   #7
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this makes perfect sense to me, and i would tend to trust O'Reilly's judgement in such matters. i think this quote really sums it up :
Quote:
Open allows experimentation. Open encourages competition. Open wins.
i really hope amazon will catch on and add epub support to the kindle. it's a great device and kindle users love theirs, and it does have some killer features. but no epub support means it could easily not even be a contender as ebooks gain momentum, which would be ironic given the role its played it giving them a valuable push.
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Old 02-24-2009, 07:58 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NatCh View Post
As I understand it, the only formats it handles without conversion are Kindle (AZW), TXT, Audible, MP3, and unprotected MOBI/PRC.

TXT is marginal for anything complicated, Audible and MP3 aren't, strictly speaking, book formats, and Kindle/Mobi are effectively the same thing. Oh, and other than TXT and MP3, Amazon owns all of those formats.

All the other formats it "handles" have to be converted by Amazon's service to the AZW/Mobi format (and I've heard it doesn't really do all that elegant a job on the conversion ).

I know others will see it differently, but considering all of that, the platform seems pretty thoroughly "closed" to my way of thinking.

If I'm mistaken somewhere in there, somebody please set me straight.


Please note: I'm not commenting on the desirability of these things, merely attempting to observe the facts of the situation.
As far as the things I've sent, the conversion has been perfect, and since I just had it emailed to me, it was also free.

The Mobi format may belong to Amazon, but it is certainly widely avaiable, and converting a book into that format is screamingly easy ... so, all I'm asking is .... is the man talking about the device or the AZW format? If the former, then it's just a matter of a firmware change. If the latter, then he could have a point.
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Old 02-24-2009, 08:32 PM   #9
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YAWN...
I am so tired of this argument. Really.

I can easily convert most (basically all) formats to .mobi and read them on my kindle.
I have a kindle (v2) with 200 books, ONE was purchased from Amazon. If Amazon bails on the Kindle today, I will still be happy that I have it (and calibre).

Should Kindle be wide open? YES.
Would it help innovation? YES.
Does it make it worse than the other reader. Not by a long shot.
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Old 02-24-2009, 11:12 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickyMaveety View Post
... so, all I'm asking is .... is the man talking about the device or the AZW format? If the former, then it's just a matter of a firmware change. If the latter, then he could have a point.
My read on it is that he's talking about the fact that the Kindle effectively only reads Amazon's proprietary comments. And I'd certainly agree that a firmware update can change that.

The fact that it's easy to get a lot of our own content into mobi and onto the Kindle is certainly a big point in its favor, but if epub takes off (as it seems like it might be starting to do) Kindle will get left behind unless goes with that flow.
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Old 02-24-2009, 11:17 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NatCh View Post
My read on it is that he's talking about the fact that the Kindle effectively only reads Amazon's proprietary comments. And I'd certainly agree that a firmware update can change that.
Firmware updates or 3rd party firmware like OI for example.

BOb
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Old 02-25-2009, 12:01 AM   #12
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True, a third party firmware would certainly change the game ... but somehow I don't think it would be in Amazon's favor.
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Old 02-25-2009, 10:13 AM   #13
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I would prefer a device that was open for many of the reasons in the article. Yet, I don't think the Kindle will fail because of its closed architecture.

Right now there are far more books in the .azw format than there are in the ePub format, plus the corporations that own the content (O'Reilly excepted) seem to want DRM (at least for now). Plus, proprietary formats sometimes win and open formats lose. For example, the UNIX operating system has been an open system for a very long time but most people buy PCs with Microsofts proprietary operating system. Also, the IE browser completely dominates the browser market. It probably wouldn't take much thought to come up with several more examples.

If anything, I'd say the ebook/Kindle market is analogous to the video game/game player market, and all the game players have proprietary systems. I suppose games designed for PCs would be the equivalent of an open game playing platform, but it was the Wii people were buying for Christmas.

In the long run I'd bet on open systems and DRM free content, but I think it will probably take a while to get there. In the short run, proprietary formats help to establish a market, and in the case of ebooks that is a good thing.
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Old 02-25-2009, 11:38 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickyMaveety View Post
Since other formats can be read on the Kindle .... other than "Kindle" formats, I mean .... is he talking about doom for the device or for the format ... because they aren't the same thing.
Obviously I do not the answer as Tim doesn't speak to me directly , but I believe, based on other comments he has made about ebooks and the content of the article in question, that he really means the the format, not the device.

However, you raise an interesting point: Today, can you separate the device from the format? Yes, technically you can but from the average consumer's perspective can you? I think most people (particularly those not members of MR) believe that buying a Kindle means buying books from Amazon and nowhere else. And that link could be Amazon's downfall or its savior. Only time will tell.

Last edited by rhadin; 02-25-2009 at 11:41 AM.
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Old 02-25-2009, 04:59 PM   #15
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It would NOT be the first time O'Reilly was wrong, he makes some outrageous claims sometimes for publicity. He mentions being locked into a specific platform, Kindle doesn't lock publishers in, it just provides another outlet for their material.
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