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January 24, 2012

Another peril in ebook publishing: Amazon KF8 compatibility

KF8. Nope, it’s not K2‘s long-lost mountain cousin. It’s Amazon’s new ebook format.

While dealing with this new format probably isn’t as daunting as scaling a 28,251 ft. mountain, KF8 is providing a particularly bothersome challenge right out of the gate: it’s not compatible with any Kindle devices other than the Kindle Fire!

Scriptorium Press has already released Kindle editions of Technical Writing 101 and The DITA Style Guide in the AZW format, which is basically a highly compressed MOBI file. Because we have published books in the older format and because I own an e-ink Kindle model that predates the Kindle Fire by a few months, I immediately wanted to know which devices could handle the new KF8 format.

While researching compatibility, I noticed how Amazon’s carefully worded overview of KF8 attempts to skirt the issue: “Kindle Fire is the first Kindle device to support KF8 – in the coming months we will roll out KF8 to our latest generation Kindle e-ink devices as well as our free Kindle reading apps.”

 Still from The Perils of Pauline (1947)

Still from The Perils of Pauline (1947)

This fancy footwork wasn’t lost on writer Guido Henkel, either, who pointed out:

One of the issues that truly and really disturbs me is the lack of support on anything but the Kindle Fire. Although Amazon had initially announced that the current generation Kindles and software readers would be KF8 capable, that statement was simply not true. It has since been revised that these devices will support KF8 some time in the future. In the real world that is a big difference.

In a blog post yesterday, Sarah O’Keefe pointed out how the release of Apple iBooks Author is contributing to the growing pains in the digital publishing industry. The release of KF8 is adding to those pains as well. In fact, Amazon has compounded the challenges by releasing a format that currently doesn’t work across its own Kindle family. I hope Amazon resolves questions about backward compatibility very soon. (Are firmware updates for e-ink models on the horizon, perhaps?)

Like Sarah, I have doubts that the big ebook distributors will graciously adopt a standard such as EPUB to make the lives of both publishers and readers easier. There’s not as much money to be had in adhering to standards. As a result, Scriptorium Press and other publishers will have to figure out how to keep their source content in a neutral(ish?) format that is easily converted to the ebook formats the distributors require. (By the way, we keep our source files in DITA. We transform the files into EPUB, which we sell, and we also use Amazon’s free KindleGen tool to convert the EPUB into the Kindle format.)

Stay tuned for another installment in The Perils of Ebook Publishing! I suspect there are many, many installments to come.

Thanks to Keith Soltys, whose blog got me thinking about KF8 and its impact.