Why Amazon’s Proprietary eBook Format is Better than ePub


Amazon has been actively developing its own proprietary eBook format for the last six years. Unlike EPUB, Amazon has the ability to introduce new features in their digital format without waiting for a standards body to approve them. Amazon is clearly winning the eBook sales race with USA market penetration of over 75% and is primarily due to them having control over their own destiny.

When Amazon first developed their Kindle e-Reader at Lab126, ePub did not yet exist. In order to roll out their Kindle and fledgling digital ecosystem that had to develop a digital standard that was in compliance with most reading software of its day. Instead of making it themselves, they purchased Mobipocket in 2005, and the MOBI format is still used to this day. Amazon then started to develop their own book formats, such as AZW and media friendly KF8.

Around the same time Amazon was pursuing their digital book empire the entire industry was in disarray. Palm, Microsoft, Sony, Fictionbook, and many others were vying for standardization. The advantage Amazon had over their competition is that they sold eBooks on their website and owned hardware to deliver the content.

EPUB has been around for a long time and is the brainchild of the IDPF, who is the governing body. They vote on standardization features brought to the table by developers, publishers and tech companies. To get anything done of note, takes years. EPUB3 was to be the solution for multimedia content and an attempt to deliver audio, video and interactive elements. The evolutionary growth of the platform has been stymied by a collective organization of incompetents and people loving to speak at conferences, but get very little done. This is why Apple comes along and dominates multimedia books with their own iBooks Author software.

The Amazon eBook formats dominate the English speaking world and ePub tends to be advantageous for localization in countries like the Netherlands and Germany. It is very popular in countries that have a huge piracy problem like China and Vietnam.

Readers and bookworms are the people that fuel Amazon’s growth. They certainly do not care what book format they use, they simply want to read. Amazon is in the position to pioneer innovation in a shorter period of time with their deep pockets and bright engineers. This is how features such as Public Notes, X-Ray and WhisperSync for Voice have been implemented. EPUB is developed by a collective body, nuff said.

Michael Kozlowski (5147 Posts)

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about electronic readers and technology for the last four years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the Huffington Post, CNET and more. Michael frequently travels to international events such as IFA, Computex, CES, Book Expo and a myriad of others. If you have any questions about any of his articles, please send an email to michael@goodereader.com

  • OriIdan

    I think that in addition to standards we have to talk about reading applications.
    Amazon controls both the reading applications/devices and the standard, while the IDPF controls only the standard.
    However even though Amazon controls both, we still see fragmentation in the world of Amazon readers.
    The current situation with EPUB3 is that we do not have many EPUB3 reading applications and to my knowledge non of them fully support the standard.

  • callmeisaac

    Flash redux. Eventually standards will murder Amazon and it will be bloody!

  • http://goodereader.com/blog/ Good E-Reader

    I doubt it. Amazon is the largest eBook company, your average reader just wants to read books. On their tablet, smartphone or e-reader. What standards are you talking about?

  • http://goodereader.com/blog/ Good E-Reader

    The IDPF may control the standard, but they get their code and most of their magic from startup companies, and major publishing houses. I remember being at IDPF last year at BEA (we were a media sponsor) and every session turned into an arguement on how the big six were hoarding all their technology and code and not sharing it with the IDPF to grow EPUB.

  • OriIdan

    I am not talking just about standards.
    A standard without reading application is not worth the paper is is written on if you see what I mean.

  • callmeisaac

    In the long term Amazon’s model is untenable. Eventually the browser will be able to render locally stored HTML5 zipped containers as books. I wouldn’t even consider this an innovation from where we are now.

  • Scott Dutton

    Before you give Amazon the gold crown, have you ever opened up a KF8 file? It’s ePUB with some proprietary tags and legacy MOBI code. All they (and Apple) are doing are creating walled gardens of proprietary products you can only buy from them.

    I do agree with you, though, on IDPF’s slug-like progress. Amazon and Apple want media in their books and so had to come to market with it or risk losing sales. If the IDPF got off their butts, you would see Amazon and Apple respond.

    And that 75% market share Amazon has only matters as long as it lasts. In the tech world, that can disappear quite quickly. Blackberry, anyone?

  • Claude Champagne

    You’re right. ePub, as a format, claims to be standard, but not all ereaders and Apps are standards. For example, I used to read ePub on my iPad. Never had any problems. My friend has a Kobo Aura and Kobo has its own way of “presenting” ePub (margins are too big on the bottom, you can show or not the real page numbers, and so on.) I get a better reading experience on my Kindle from converted ePub to Mobi.

  • http://mkronline.com/ Michael Robinson

    Amazon already has something like this for Kindle Fire apps.

  • Hrafn

    Crippleware is better than open standards? ROFLMAO!

    Do tell what ***AMAZING*** features the Amazon format has that makes up for the fact that Amazon retains total control over what devices and apps, when (and occasionally if) the content which YOU paid for (but which remains fundamentally THEIRS).

    EPUB = you own the content and can access it on most eReaders.

    Amazon = you own nothing.

    I’ve yet to see a format gimmick that comes even close to making up for that differential. Most books are one word after another, and the main differentiation to readability is in the reading software (and I like FBReader just fine).

    I would also point out that their “ability to introduce new features” quite frequently renders their newer books incompatible with their older Kindles. One more reason to avoid the Kindle.

  • Thomas

    I do not see either what are the tremendous features amazon brings about.
    Epub is enough to satisfy me as a reader (and I do not even care about epub3) and at least can give you a summary of your book…
    Amazon compels you to connect (are you all reading at home only ?) to have a summary and … only if the book is referenced into their store (and what about books in public domain ?)

    Frankly, I do not need more than the current epub format… summary, tags to classify, table of contents , not too consuming in terms of storage, possible to read on many platforms (amazon is amazon only)…
    I do not think what amazon brings more (only less, rather…)
    What do you want more ? blinking text ? interactive ? but would it be a book?
    Cannot see the point of that article… is it an Amazon ad ? not convincing at all

  • InklingBooks

    Amazon’s proprietary ebook format better? As someone who publishes ebooks on almost every platform out there, I’d say almost certainly not. If all you publish are thrillers and romance novels, Amazon’s formats are adequate. If you publish something more complex or visual, Amazon comes up woefully lacking.

    Take images, for instance. Apple lets me fill a book with lovely color images up to some 3 meg in size and charges me no download fees. Amazon limits each image to a mere 127k, and then charges me a download fee so exorbitant, it’s several times what cell companies charge for data. The result is that, while the content is technically the same. My ebooks look better on an iPad than on a Kindle Fire. I’m also not punished for including lots of relevant pictures.

    And have you ever tried to squeeze a picture inside 127k? It’s torture. When I create the Apple version of an ebook, I can make pictures as large as I want and use little or no compression. For the Amazon title, I often have to crop that picture and raise the compress so high, the image starts looking bad. Amazon doesn’t care how books look, but I do.

    Formatting complex, attractive ebooks using existing tools is also a headache with Amazon. Apple provides a free app, iBooks Author, that’ll allow laypeople to create beautifully laid-out books for iPads. Almost a year after Adobe switched users to their Creative Cloud service, Amazon still has not released a Kindle plug-in for InDesign CC, the standard industry book publishing tool.

    Perhaps the best answer to the author’s claim is the fact that when I submit my attractive, picture-rich books to Amazon’s Kindle Direct, I don’t use their preferred format, the ever-awful Word, I send them ePub generated by InDesign. And I’ve heard that a host of other publishers do the same. Conversion isn’t hard because, despite what this article claims, the industry gurus tell me that KF9 is simply ePub muddled about and with the file locations rearranged. Amazon isn’t innovating. It’s just being proprietary.

    And yes, ePub does have problems. Clueless pundits with their obsession with bright little toy-features have done the same thing to it they do in almost every other area. They’ve insisted that ePub development attention be turned to multimedia, meaning things like attached audio and video. Every time there’s an attempt to do that, it bombs in the marketplace. People who want to read want to read. But it’s delayed the core need for digital publishing–to be able to handle formatting with the same complexity and predictability that print books have had for 500 years. T

    he same is true all the Kindle gimmicks this article sites, things like Public Notes and X-Ray. Do reader’s care? I doubt it. And Amazon has yanked text-to-speech off their latest Kindles to sell more audiobooks.

    Those who’d like to compare how a picture-rich ebook looks on iPads and Kindles, can download the free samples of my latest two ebooks and see how they compare.

    iBookstore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/my-nights-with-leukemia/id690916827

    Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/My-Nights-Leukemia-Caring-Children-ebook/dp/B00EOVP15A

    Notice that, for the theme of that book, children battling leukemia, having photos of hospitalized children adds quite a bit. That’s why it ticks me off when lazy, indifferent Amazon does pictures so poorly. Perhaps the best description of Amazon’s impact on digital books is Oscar Wilde’s comment about people who ‘know the price of everything but the value of nothing.’

    –Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

  • Hrafn

    The following article does a good job of explaining why it is a mistake to ‘enhance’ novels (and thus why most of Amazon’s “new features” are superfluous):


  • ThaNema

    Yeah, just there are books beyond novels. And if you are learning some, say, maths or CS, then Kindle kinda sucks

  • gregrrrrr

    right – for people who just want to read any book anywhere, an OPEN standard is king. proprietary will always lose out in the long run, no matter how much better it is technically. Betamax? VHS! FireWire? USB!

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    I actually may revisit this post, as it was done a year ago. Amazon has unveiled some neat features since then, that might make a good update. EPUB3 has basically failed, no one is using it, other than a format for online reading apps, but we certainly have not seen the multimedia future we were promised by textbook and digital publishers.

    In regards to Firewire, it actually is a great format for anyone doing PC audio. I know for my podcast we have a Firewire mixing board plugged into the PC. We selected this format because for audio, if you use a USB mixing board, it bypasses your soundcard and uses the on-board audio. If you are like me, and play video games, or do production, you likely have a better soundcard then the stock one. Firewire is the only audio format that uses your soundcard to get really good fidelity.

  • Will Killyou

    I like downloading free books and I think EPUB ia better for that!

  • Johan Krüger Haglert

    Why I wonder?

    I wonder what your actually point / criticizm of it is.

    And is it could be “Ebooks suck” too and I wouldn’t be any wiser for why.

    Why is the Kindle bad for math?

    Because it’s usually PDF? Resolution? Why?