Amazon and Barnes and Noble… Take Down Those Walls


I saw a Barnes and Noble nook in the flesh for the first time this week. (I bought one when released but sold it without opening the box.) I was impressed. Seriously, I loved the hardware and could definitely see myself using one. The only problem is… I have a huge number of books that I purchased through Amazon and Kindle books won’t work on the nook (and nook books won’t work on the Kindle.)

Currently if you have books that you purchased through one but a new eReader that you would love to buy comes out on the other you either have to pass on the eReader or buy all new books. That might be fine if you use the reader for fiction books that you read just once but it doesn’t work if, like me, you have reference books on them.

All of which leads me to this…

I want to invite you to join with me and sign a petition demanding that Amazon and Barnes and Noble open their devices to other eBook formats.

So what do you say… Will you join me?

What’s that you say? The idea is stupid and absurd? They have every right to control what books go on THEIR device?

I could not agree more!

But the next time you start in about Apple’s “walled garden” remember this… As of this morning you can read iBooks, Kindle books and nook books on the iPad. Try that on a nook or a Kindle.

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

14 Comments on "Amazon and Barnes and Noble… Take Down Those Walls"

  1. I’m with you, Dan! Well said!

  2. So we are talking about the possibility of software interchangeable among

    iPhone WM Blackberry Palm Pre Bada Nokia Android

    if I read your concern correctly.

  3. Dan Cohen | May 28, 2010 at 11:06 am |

    jlhong- We’re talking about the fact that Kindle books can only be read on a Kindle or using their app. The same goes for BN books. While Apple’s device can now be used to read iBooks, Kindle Books, BN books and more.

    My point isn’t that Apple is good as much as the fact that Apple gets criticized for being a “walled garden” when in fact THEY ALL ARE in one way or another.

  4. tamaracks | May 28, 2010 at 11:19 am |

    I would love to see them open books up. It’s one reason I’ve only bought a couple of DRM’d books. I expect to be able to read my books for a long time, and I don’t want Amazon, etc, to drop support and leave me stranded.

    However, I suspect that, as with the music industry, DRM is driven more by the publishers than by the retailers, and getting them over the fear of content theft is trickier than getting the retailers to let go of device lock in. Music files eventually became widely unencumbered, I can only hope that ebooks get to the same spot at some point.

  5. tamaracks | May 28, 2010 at 11:25 am |

    Also, I think it’s handy that at least with the iPad, you have the option of installing software for different stores so you can buy different ebooks if the mood strikes. But still, for the reasons I previously stated, I don’t plan to buy many ebooks, since I don’t know if they would continue to be supported.

  6. AndySocial | May 28, 2010 at 11:31 am |

    Isn’t this exclusively a comment on Amazon? The nook uses ePub, with DRM that is (by the reports I’ve read) compatible with other stores other than Apple. So, if you bought an ePub from any other purveyor of that format, it should work on the nook just fine. Amazon owns and controls the Kindle format, and hasn’t produced a Kindle application for the nook (not sure if they could other than the Android mini-screen portion), and it seems likely that anyone making a Kindle-reading application without Amazon approval would be sued into oblivion.

    It seems to me that Amazon and Apple are operating walled gardens, while B&N and Borders are being open and accepting. Ironically, considering Apple’s notoriety in such matters, the iPad ends up being more usable by dint of having apps to read other companies’ books on it. I’d hesitate to call it “open” but you can read B&N, Borders, Amazon, Sony, and Apple books all on the iPad. Just imagine trying to remember which app held which of your books, though.

  7. DoubleHH73 | May 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm |

    In my opinion, your issue with Amazon and B&N has more to do with their need to appease the publishing industries DRM on the books they offer. The major players in the industry aren’t going to allow their product to be sold as an unprotected epub file for the masses to distribute openly. These proprietary formats and DRM is what gives them the right to sell the ebook. Granted – most forms of DRM can be side stepped; however some attempt to thwart the masses is needed to make everyone feel good inside. Believe me – I hope the day comes when an ebook is an ebook no matter where you buy, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Also, I own the nook and the iPad. Unfortunately the B&N app will only allow you to view books you purchased from their store. This means that all the reference content that I’ve “side loaded” on my nook doesn’t appear on my iPad. So I still have a need for another ebook app to view it. I can’t speak for how the Kindle handles it’s side loaded content, but I imagine it’s similar.

  8. @AndySocial:

    Actually, B&N’s is proprietary. They do use ePUB, and there’s a promised “update” to the Adobe DRM system that would make B&N’s flavor compatible with any ePUB reader, but there’s no timeline, B&N is being cagey about it, and as of now it doesn’t exist.

    B&N is using the eReader DRM layer on top of Adobe DRM…so the nook can read regular Adobe DRM, but another device that reads Adobe DRM (like a Sony Reader) can’t read B&N DRM. This is without discussing the random one-off ebook readers that are compatible with B&N DRM, but only a few have actually come to market and good luck finding one…especially since value-wise, they don’t clock in much cheaper than the far more supported nook.

    Personally (and this is a side rant) I can’t stand that companies claim they are open or supporting standards because they use “ePUB”, when they’re spackling their own DRM over it, making it all incompatible anyway. Apple and B&N are both guilty of this.

  9. I’m totally there, Dan. Rage against the (DRM-locked, walled-off) machine!

  10. AndySocial | May 28, 2010 at 1:02 pm |

    Thanks, Carly. I’ve been a huge proponent of standards-based development in my career, so this latest batch of “standards-based” ereaders is extremely amusing/frustrating to me. Apple and B&N both use ePub, but it’s not compatible ePub. *sigh*

    Is it any wonder so many of us are staying away from ebooks entirely? Well, that and the high cost of entry, lack of resale or lending or any first-sale rights, delicate nature of devices, desire of books at the beach… I guess incompatible formats may not be on the top of the list, but it’s on the list!

  11. @AndySocial-

    I love ebooks, but it’s a major obstacle to getting them into the mainstream, I agree. And while there’s some similarities to music, the truth is that even drm’d music is more portable than ebooks (you could almost always burn a CD and re-rip it). There are ways to de-drm a book, but most people don’t feel like fiddling with multiple python scripts. Plus Amazon, B&N, and Adobe all try to stay one step ahead.

  12. As a small business owner, I can understand that Amazon and BN want to make most profit out of the ebooks and readers they sell. As a consumer, I am hesitating to pay for what I already had.

    And, that is why I do adapt the new gadgets unless it can take what I had or at least majority of it. Dan, I am with you but, in reality, it is highly impossible in the near future. I hope I am wrong though.

  13. Your statement about the iPad is completely faulty. The only reason the iPad can read Amazon and B&N eBooks are because the respective companies created apps for the device. This is something they did to reach out to other customers on other devices.

    The issue with eBooks doesn’t rest completely with the companies. Amazon chose to have the format they now use, despite it not being a very popular reading file format. B&N uses the ePub and PDB formats, allowing users of Fictionwise and to read their books on nook (it’s believed it’s because B&N bought them to use their technology). ePub is considered to be the growing universal standard, however, the DRM technology is what separates B&N eBooks from Borders (Sony eReader) eBooks.

    B&N currently uses Adobe DRM with their eBooks. This makes it possible for consumers to use library books through Adobe Digital Editions to read them on their nook devices. I can’t speak directly for B&N, but the Adobe DRM isn’t proprietary, and as soon as other devices adapt that technology, it can be universal. Adobe is a good start, since the PDF format is commonly associated with them. Why not letting eBooks use it as well?

    eReaders like the Sony eReader cannot read Adobe DRM and will get an error when you try to. Anyone who claims it works received a non-DRM eBook (which is rare).

    The fact is, Amazon is intentionally proprietary, and B&N is simply using something not everyone supports yet, but Adobe isn’t exactly the worst company to use for eBooks. Remember, it works with Digital Editions, and if most (if not all) of the library’s eBooks use Adobe DRM that nook can read, then maybe the OTHER readers should start switching to Adobe DRM.

    So maybe your title should be “Join the Adobe DRM Train to a Universal eBook World”.

  14. TheZen you make soneibteresting points here but how is my statement about the iPad “completely faulty? Regardless of how it came to be… On may iPad can do iBook, kindle books, bn book and more. That’s a fact. Try that on the other devices.

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