Which Ebook Format is Best?
Ebooks come in two flavors. They are either Mobi (Amazon Kindle) or Epub (Free/Open Standard). It is important for Christian writers to know the difference between these two formats as they publish and market their books.
Most authors don’t realize it, but both formats are subsets of HTML, so when it comes to composition, they are more like websites than books. An ebook reader is just a mini-HTML browser like Chrome, Fire Fox or Internet Explorer. The distinction is that these Internet browsers are designed to be universal so all pages are rendered the same. Ebook readers, on the other hand, are designed to be proprietary so people are forced to buy ebooks from a certain source and read it on a particular device. Ebook formats are really about marketing, not technical functionality.
Who is the Industry Leader?
There are those who claim that Epub is the “industry standard,” but that is hardly the case. Sony recently dumped it’s dedicated Epub reader, and the Nook (also Epub) has been the subject of an ongoing corporate reorganization at Barnes & Noble because of poor Epub sales. The Epub sales leader at this point is the Apple iStore with 9% of the market.
How does that compare with Amazon and their proprietary Kindle/Mobi format? Forbes magazine reported that ebooks currently make up about 30% of all book sales, and Amazon has a 65% share within that category. Therefore, it would seem that the Kindle/Mobi format is the industry leader.
The “free/open standard” behind Epub is certainly praiseworthy. However, that group has the same ideology of those who brought us the Linux operating system. They thought they were “protecting us” from monolithic Microsoft. However, Linux, still after all these years, has only a 1.6% market share compared to Microsoft Windows which has maintained an almost 90% market share over 30 years. Likewise, the Epub advocates think they are protecting the reading publish from Amazon, yet Amazon, for all its weaknesses, is the premier book marketplace and is responsible for huge sales.
If you want to sell ebooks, you want to spend your effort at the place where you are going to get the lion’s share of your sales. Amazon will get 90% of your sales with minimal effort. Your choice is to try to cultivate sales on many small sites like Smash words, or invest your time with the industry leader.
Why Amazon Succeeds
Nothing ensures that books will be universally read like one company dedicated to pioneering an ebook marketing platform, making a wireless delivery system available, creating devices to read them on, creating free apps so they can be read on any device, and giving authors a generous royalty for their work. Amazon did all that and the others followed. When it comes to innovation, Jeff Bozos, Amazon founder, should be right up there with Gutenberg for making ebooks ubiquitous.
People like to deal with big companies like Amazon. Your Christian book benefits from its association with Amazon. If you tell someone your book is available on your own website, impact is minimal. Tell them it is available on Amazon and they pay attention. Later, when they think about your book they may not remember the link to your site, but everyone knows how to find Amazon. With one quick search by your name or title a person can find and purchase your book and have it delivered instantaneously. That presence and service adds credibility to your publishing efforts.
If you want to sell ebooks, and you put any credence in marketing research, then the Amazon Kindle Mobi format is really the only game in town. There is much talk about Kobo having a large Epub market outside the US, and it will be interesting to see how that develops. Amazon is making a big investment in overseas markets, so that battle for supremacy has barely started.
However, Epub fans should keep statistics in mind. Amazon.com is the #5 site in traffic in the US, #10 in the world. On the other hand, the Kobo/Epub bookselling site (kobobooks.com) is ranked #4,571 in the US, and #5,263 worldwide. This is why authors should place their ebooks on Amazon.
Why Not Publish Both Kindle and Epub Editions?
You can publish both Kindle/Mob and Epub editions from your word processing file. If that is part of your marketing strategy, you should do that. But plan carefully before you launch both editions at the same time.
One of the best launch strategies is to use Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and their “Kindle Select” program. Generally, you want to use that platform to take advantage of free and 99 cent programs, Kindle Unlimited (KU), and their Lending option (KOLL). These programs produce buzz and reviews, although not much direct income. After your first 90 days in Select, you want to drop out of that program as it offers few continuing benefits. What you want to take advantage of at DP is their 70 percent royalty when your book is offered between $2.99 and $9.99.
So, what does this have to do with the Epub format? If you use KDP Select to launch your ebook, you must give Amazon exclusivity for that 90 days. That means you cannot sell it in Epub or even Kindle/Mobi format at another site. Amazon wants total exclusivity if you are using Kindle Select services.
This is not a problem at launch. Sell your book for 90 days using Kindle Select, and then after it expires, release an Epub edition far and wide. This is a desirable approach. However, just remember that if you decide to use KDP Select for another 90 days later, you won’t be able to do it until you have removed all other editions from all other sites. Amazon DP is very serious about the matter of exclusivity when you use their Select services. Of course, you can still sell your book on Amazon, you just can’t use Select.
The Amazon marketing platform is unified and the Epub platform and market is fragmented. That is why the format you select is primarily a marketing decision, not a technical one. If you are interested in making money with an ebook, format it as a Kindle ebook and drive as much traffic as you can to your Amazon buy page, then consider alternatives.
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