First steps or missteps?

<p>I phoned up a publisher last week and said that I was researching a<a href=" feature article on e-book formats</a>. &quot;Oh, god!&quot; was the immediate, almost visceral, response.</p>
<p>The reaction is perhaps understandable; we are at a very early stage in e-book take-up &ndash; at least on the trade side. Questions about how the sector will pan out are fraught to say the least. Formatting in particular is a dicey issue and getting any two publishers to agree on what is going to happen in the next year or two is difficult indeed.</p>
<p>Some say we are at the beginning stages of a full-blown format war, others think it is just a skirmish, still others believe there is no conflict at all.</p>
<p>Strangely, all these suppositions might be true. There is definitely an Amazon v. Sony (and everybody else) element. Kindle's .awz format, with its proprietary DRM, sold exclusively through Amazon (.com at the moment), is a tool to herd customers to the Kindle and crush the opposition. At the moment, Amazon has approximately 125,000 e-book files, Sony about a third of that. If there is an all-out war, the early smart money might be on the 500-pound gorilla from Seattle.</p>
<p>Yet it may prove that there is no format war &ndash; at least in a Betamax v. VHS winner take all sort of way. Files can be converted between formats, from the Kindle, to Mobipocket, to .epub. For publishers this can be done relatively easily and cheaply, as long as they start with a rich &ldquo;granular&rdquo; file.</p>
<p>Customers, too, can convert files between formats if they happen to download one that cannot be accessed on their own reader. But, at the moment, this cannot be done &ldquo;natively&rdquo; &ndash; within the devices. They would then have to use a computer to convert the file, a hassle that will surely cause frustration and confusion.</p>
<p>What most publishers do agree on is that making the route from content to customer fiddly will only slow the growth of e-books.</p>
<p>Which brings us back to the Kindle. If ease of the customer experience drives sales then Amazon has a leg up. The Kindle promises an all-in-one experience &ndash; to download files you never even have to log onto to a separate computer, it can all be done within the machine.&nbsp; Easy, quick and with enough content on the website to satisfy most customer.</p>
<p>It is a thought that must give Sony and all the other e-reader players some pause.</p>
<p><a href=" my in depth article on e-book formatting here, or in this week's print issue of The Bookseller.</a></p>