Amazon recently announced a new format for its e-books, just in time for its Kindle Fire tablet, which ships November 15. For its previous Kindles, Amazon had been using a format called Mobi, while its rivals used a format called Epub. Many had anticipated that Amazon might compromise with an Epub-compatible format moving forward; instead, it has opted for the new format, which it calls Kindle Format 8 (KF8) and which adds HTML5 support.
KF8 support enables a new range of formatting capabilities–some 150 of them, listed here–“including fixed layouts, nested tables, callouts, sidebars and Scalable Vector Graphics.” That might sound a little technical to anyone other than an e-book designer, but what it boils down to is this: people can finally make e-books very, very pretty. (Here’s just one small example of this, pointed out by CNET: Amazon’s inclusion of CSS’s @font-face interface means that publishers can choose just about any downloadable font, vastly growing the e-reader’s typographical palette.) Indeed, Amazon in its announcement highlights the new capabilities that will be brought to publishers of children’s books, comic books, textbooks, manuals, and cookbooks. “Children’s picture books come to life with brilliant images, fixed layouts and Kindle Text Pop Up”; “[c]ookbooks and other titles requiring rich design look spectacular with embedded fonts, callouts and sidebars”; “[c]omics and graphic novels are presented in high resolution color with Kindle Panel Views,” promises Amazon.
That last bit about comics is significant. A week ago, Amazon signed a deal with DC Comics for exclusive digital rights to 100 graphic novels, including some Superman and Batman series. This was a major irritant to sellers and owners of non-Kindle tablets. Barnes & Noble, which makes the Nook, pulled physical copies of these books in retaliation. The New York Times found a comics fan and iPad owner who vowed piracy: “What will me and my poor iPad do? I’m so sorry DC! Because it is not like I can download all those comics for free, oh wait yes I can, and now I guess I will and maybe I will download every comic DC produces while I am at it!”
In the past, I’ve argued that picture books are perhaps the last bastion of print publishing likely to remain resilient against the rising tide of the e-book. The children’s book sensation, for instance, Go the F**k to Sleep, made its rounds first as a pirated PDF copy, but ultimately went on to become a bestseller in print, despite its widespread electronic availability. I wonder, though, if Kindle’s new format–and a new generation of book publishers thinking specifically with a colorful, fully-featured tablet in mind–means that even this bastion won’t be held much longer. KF8 threatens to be the first format to frighten even those in publishing who have believed that the paperbound book-as-art-object will always have pride of place on the coffee table or nightstand.