KF8. The path to fragmentation.

Amazon announced Kindle Format 8, a new format for ebooks destined for its popular ebook reader. The new format, based on html5, promises books with small file sizes, excellent rendering performance, varying typefaces, tables and, in general, much more complex layouts and as a result way more beautiful books than the standard experience typically found in today’s mobi books — there is already another format, azw4/topaz, another format supported by the kindle that also allows ‘custom’ typefaces, but is riddled with other deficiencies, among them being bitmap based.

Leaving aside the complication for ebook publishers, and the remedies thereof, the main problem with kf8 is that Amazon has already made it clear that it is destined for only the fourth generation of Kindles (including the Kindle Fire tablet, which is the first device that will see kf8 support) and not any of the previous generations. Some might argue that the issues are technical, but given that the latest Kindle with Keyboard seems to be essentially a rebadged Kindle 3, I don’t really buy that. Amazon is playing an Apple card here, intentionally crippling older devices that would be perfectly capable, after a firmware upgrade, to render ebooks in kf8.

If my numerous assumptions above are valid, I think that they are wrong to choose this path of content fragmentation. A few years ago people bet that Amazon would be giving away Kindles to members of its prime programme in the U.S. and, eventually, everyone. With dwindling net profits, moves such as this, the general realisation of the limits and drawbacks of ebooks by the general public, especially when they are DRMed, it’s easy to think that even a company that successful can drop the ball. Somehow I feel that Amazon needs to copy Apple’s drop of FairPlay, open up and start playing nice(r) if it wishes to turn its excellent headstart into a longlasting dominance of the market.

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