The Great Mobi-Epub Format Debate

What is the best ebook format, Mobi (Amazon Kindle) or Epub (Free/Open Standard)?

It seems to me that these issues get polarized like Capitalism/Socialism, Democrat/Republican, Ford/Chevy, Mac/Windows (for those in the US at least). We all have or opinions and that’s why research is so important.

Is there an “industry standard”?

Some people claim that Epub is the “industry standard,” but that claim is not backed by facts. People are no longer restricted by format and device, so the idea that Epub is an “industry standard” in ebook format is irrelevant. Kindle reader apps are available for iPad/iPhone and all Android devices as well as all Windows and Mac computers.

Also, 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 due to poor Epub sales. The Epub sales leader at this point is Apple with 9% of the market. What about Amazon with their 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. So, you want to ride the Amazon (Mobi) wave for everything it’s worth.

If you want to sell ebooks, you need to forget elitist ideas about what may or may not be the “industry standard” when it comes to formatting. As I have said in my books on marketing, you want to spend your effort at the place where you are going to get the lion’s share of your sales. In the US that means Amazon and the Kindle Mobi format.

I completely understand the “free/open standard” perspective of those who favor Epub. However, those folks are the same ones 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 for 30 years.

Go where the customers are!

Nothing ensures that books will be universally read like one company dedicated to pioneering an ebook marketing platform, making available a wireless delivery system, 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. As I said in one of ebooks (The Self-Publishing Trap), Jeff Bezos should be right up there with Gutenberg for making printed books ubiquitous.

When it comes to buying things, people like to buy from the monolithic companies like Microsoft and Amazon. I appreciate the idealism of the Epub gang, but considering their market performance, I see them as being elitist and utopian.

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 lots of 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. That speaks volumes about where the market and the money is.  View all site rankings here.

Authors should place their ebooks on Amazon. They will get 90% of their sales from there with minimal effort. Amazon is where the traffic and sales are happening.

If you have spare marketing time

If, as an after thought, authors have time on their hands, they should post their ebooks (including Epub editions), on the many third-party sites where viability and sales will be small. Based on my personal research, authors will spend about 90% of their time cultivating these small patches, but combined they will yield less than 10% of their sales. The massive harvest is at Amazon.

There are two (or far more!) perspectives on this matter of which is best–the Kindle Mobi or Epub format. However, today the Epub market is a highly fragmented.  It is certainly not any kind of “industry standard” as some claim. Less than 35% of all ebooks sold are in the Epub format. 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 purchase page.

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