Steps Toward Making eBook format conversion trivial for average users

publishing.pngYesterday, I talked a lot about where I think Mike Stackpole was wrong – but I also want to talk about where that leads to him being completely right.

I quoted a section of one of his blog posts yesterday, but in case you didn’t read it on his blog, let me add one more sentence (emphasis mine):

“With e-readers, the thing I’m discovering is that most all of them have their book purchases tethered to the company that has its name of their e-readers. Okay, so this is like assuming that if you own a Ford you can only buy gas at the Ford filling station—a stupid idea. But owners of e-readers don’t drive past other gas stations when looking for books. They might hit a link in an email, but chances are they’ll just go to the store portal on their device and purchase from there, or do a quick search when they hear about a book on the radio or television. Because of that fact, because they only shop in one place, the issue of DRM is completely invisible to them. For those users, it is a complete non-issue.

The eReader manufacturers (Kobo, Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, and others) have been using three forces to get this behavior from readers.

1. Ease of use: With any of the eReaders with an online connection, it’s a heck of a lot easier to shop at the default store.
2. Habit: For most users, the “default” option is effectively the only available option. And once you’ve gotten used to the default, changing behavior is hard.
2. Difficulty of Use/Legality: This is where DRM comes in, and where TOR’s announcement of not using DRM makes a difference. Yes, when an eBook is DRM-locked, it is quite a bit more difficult (and possibly a violation of federal law) to convert1 it from one format to another. At least, setting up the various scripts and programs can be daunting to someone who isn’t computer savvy. And the legality issues may dissuade even more folks.

But understand this: Those difficulties arise from the DRM on the eBook. Converting eBooks between formats (particularly ePub and Kindle) is TRIVIALLY EASY… as a software problem If you have a well-formed ePub file, you will have a well-formed Kindle-formatted file on the other end.2 But most users don’t get that far – it’s just simply extra steps they have to deal with, so it doesn’t matter how easy the software is if the process isn’t simple for them.

So here’s the challenge: How do we make eBook formats transparent to end users? How do we make store-independence part of the habit loop of digital readers? Or even better, how do we make coming to our store part of that habit loop?

1 Yes, convert.
2 Brief caveat: I’m talking about primarily text-based fiction here. Like a novel, or anthology. You want floating drop caps and moving illustrations, that’s a different story. And given the nature of the “changes” for ePub3 and KF8, I don’t see that changing either as new versions of those formats come forward.