Can One Software Program Make ‘Device Agnostic’ Ebooks?

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I recently read that the author of the Harry Potter series set up her own online store to sell her books direct. She said she is going to make them “device agnostic”. I presume she means so they can be read on any e-book reader. Is there one software program you can use that makes your e-book available to all e-book readers? With so many players now in the e-book business, and so many options, some of which are exclusive to a particular company or device, how do I know as I get ready to self-publish what is the best way to go to ensure anyone with an e-reader can easily buy my book and have it work on their device? Do you make ebooks you publish at BookLocker device agnostic?

This is Richard. I manage the ebooks at BookLocker.com.

There is no such thing as an ebook format that is “device agnostic”. There are basically two formats any ebook that wishes to be commercially viable must be in – ePub and MOBI.

BookLocker’s service consists of conversion to both formats. MOBI is what Amazon uses for the Kindle. ePub is what the other major ebook retailers use. We also assign ISBNs to each edition at no extra charge, and list the ebook on the three major ebook stores: Amazon’s Kindle store, Apple’s iBook store, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store. And, finally, we add the ebooks to BookLocker.com so customers there can get the book in the format of their choice directly – ePub, MOBI, or PDF. (Yes, plenty of folks do still buy ebooks in PDF format because you don’t need a specific reading device – you can read them on your computer – and you can even print those ebooks on your home printer if you choose to do so.)

I looked into your question a bit more and the Harry Potter books on Pottermore.com are in ePub format. From her site: “Pottermore Shop eBooks are provided in EPUB format…

The Harry Potter ebooks Rowling is selling through Pottermore.com are not in MOBI format so they can’t be read on the Kindle. Unfortunately, the Kindle is the device most people who read ebooks actually own. That is why the Harry Potter ebooks are also available on Amazon.com.

JK Rowling’s original intention, it appears, was to sell Harry Potter ebooks in a single “device agnostic” format and remove traditional retailers from the equation. However, reality set in and she ended up letting Amazon in on the deal, as well as Barnes & Noble. Apple is not though for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.

What Rowling failed to initially realize, and the reason why Amazon will never be toppled from the role of largest ebook retailer, is that the Kindle, for all practical purposes, is a closed system. Kindle owners can put files from other stores on their devices, but they must do so manually. It is a cumbersome process that most people won’t do. If, however, Kindle owners buy ebooks from Amazon the files get loaded automatically onto their Kindles.

The reason Rowling had to make a concession and cut Amazon in on the deal was to assure the Harry Potter ebooks would load seamlessly onto Kindles. This is also the reason Barnes & Noble has a similar deal, as the Nook ebook reader works the same way.

As for Apple, my guess is the technical challenges of loading the file automatically onto the iPad were greater since the iBookstore is not web-based. But, it could also be just as simple as Apple not wanting to give in to Rowling’s demands.

The whole situation is a testament to the sheer amount of revenue Harry Potter represents to retailers. I can’t imagine Amazon doing such an arrangement with any other book, as it would give a publisher direct access to Amazon’s customer information.

If anyone has other questions about ebooks, I can be reached at:
http://publishing.booklocker.com/ask.php

You can read more about BookLocker’s ebook publishing program here: https://secure.booklocker.com/booklocker/ebook/epub.php