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Summary:

The e-book industry is definitely moving to the standard ePUB format, which is a good thing for consumers who want to use purchased digital content in any way they see fit. As good for the consumer a standard format is, it is imperative that e-book retailers […]

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The e-book industry is definitely moving to the standard ePUB format, which is a good thing for consumers who want to use purchased digital content in any way they see fit. As good for the consumer a standard format is, it is imperative that e-book retailers make the move to a new format in an open way so consumers can take that into consideration. Barnes & Noble may have secretly switched from its proprietary PDB format to ePUB recently, and those who have discovered it are concerned that owners of lots of PDB format content may get left in the lurch.

The suspicion set in when a B&N customer bought an e-book recently, expecting it to be in the PDB format as always. He reads the content on his Palm device, and PDB is the only format that works. Instead the purchased e-book was in the new (for B&N) ePUB format, making it worthless to the purchaser.

There are two eReader programs the company supplies, the Barnes & Noble reader that is only available on a few platforms and the eReader Pro app that works on quite a few platforms. The eReader Pro app only works with the old PDB format e-books, and it is beginning to look like the B&N eReader app will only work with ePUB. That begins to confuse the entire issue, and company web sites are giving no indication that the content format has changed. These situations where long-time customers buy content, only to discover it is a new format that can’t be used, are likely to get more common. We’ll see if we can get some clarity from B&N on what is going on. I own almost 500 titles in the PDB format and I am getting concerned about the viability of this library down the road.

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  1. this is very concerining, atleast for me, as I was planning to acquiere the soon to be release Plastic Logic Reader (Barnes n Noble sponsor) on the assumption that it would be compatible with pdb format that I been using since palm Os.

  2. Ah, but haven’t you read all those PDB books anyway? ;-)

    Legalities aside, it is possible to strip the DRM from ereader PDB ebooks and convert them to ePUB. I’m sure a friendly judge might consider that to be fair use :-/

  3. “The eReader Pro app only works with the old PDB format e-books, and it is beginning to look like the B&N eReader app will only work with ePUB.”

    No, the B&N eReader still works with PDB – it’s actually similar to eReader pro, but restricted to the B&N bookshelf rather than fictionwise/ereader.com. If you look at the release information, they simply added ePUB support for newer books. The nook still supports them too. I don’t suspect they will discontinue support for the existing book sales any time soon, as it doesn’t really cost them anything to leave it in.

    It’s annoying in the short term, more because as you say there’s actually slightly broader support for PDB right now. But I’m guessing that support will be added to other readers and possibly eReader Pro (which is also owned by B&N through fictionwise) as well before too long. ePUB sounds like it’s here to stay.

    Palm OS however, is pretty much officially dead – with WebOS being Palm’s new focus – so I suspect support there will continue to be weak. I actually don’t know anyone still using Palm OS any more outside of an emulator.

  4. I’ll be very disappointed if B&N abandons PDB without offering existing owners an option for changing formats for free. I’ve been using it since 1999, back when eReader was still PeanutPress, and I’ve used the software and books happily on WinMob, Palm, and Windows for years. They’ve offered a perfect approach to DRM, allowing users convenience, but protecting content.

  5. I have been using Stanza for quite a while now to read my Fictionwise books. I would assume that until Amazon changes things, Stanza users will still be okay with this change?

    1. Fictionwise is part of Barnes and Noble – not sure what you mean by amazon changing, as that has no real bearing here. Since fictionwise seems to share publishers with B&N (if I’m not mistaken, that’s how B&N managed to get such a large library to start with, by utilizing their buyout of fictionwise/ereader.com), there is the possibility we could see ePUB on fictionwise and ereader.com (why don’t they just merge already…) as well. Which could be seen as a good thing if you want ePUB support in ereader pro.

      Stanza already has ePUB support, just not the DRM. Until it does you would have to strip the DRM.

      1. Stanza is owned by Amazon so what I was referring to is the possibility that Amazon could close Stanza to all but the kindle format. Sorry for not being clear. I read all my Fictionwise books on with the Stanza reader on my iPhone. I don’t use the eReader or B&N readers.

        So from what you are saying, will I still be able to purchase Fictionwise books and read them on Stanza? I guess in a round about way, that was my question. :)

      2. Right now fictionwise is still pdb, so yeah, it still works. But there is the potential for them switching to ePUB. If that happens you would have to strip the DRM to read it in stanza, or wait for Stanza to add DRM support (don’t know if they could or would be interested, and would probably require licensing from Adobe).

        Lexcycle is owned by Amazon, but for now they seem to be doing their own thing still with Stanza. They haven’t put Kindle DRM support in either, and Amazon isn’t showing any interest in doing so that I’ve seen (which is a shame, stanza is a much better reader than the kindle app).

  6. This kind of thing is why I have not made any investment in ebooks, and why I recommend to my friends not to either. At this point, there’s no way to have confidence that you won’t get screwed if some retailer changes format.

  7. The problem looks more like reading new content on older devices, not losing access to older formats on newer software. If I understand correctly, the BN software can still open the older formats, and the older eReader software obviously can. The BN nook is supposed to be able to read it.

    However, BN is supposed to have like 750 thousand titles, but neither Fictionwise nor eReader.com has anything like that. Unfortunate that BN is closing people with other formats out.

    1. Agreed, the support for PDB on old and current devices is not going away any time soon, even for DRM PDB you have several options, including eReader Pro, which is based around this format. I wish people would stop implying otherwise. If you are willing to circumvent the DRM, you can even covert the PDB to html, guaranteeing you’ll always be able to read the content, and from that you can also create an ePUB version (I actually just did this so I could use Aldiko on my droid, works like a charm).

      The format-related problem is an age-old one – a new format on old devices. People who stick with older devices should be used to this problem. The biggest real issue is simply that B&N introduced a new format without notifying users.

      You do have to keep in mind though also that the ebook market, though many of us have used it for years, is only now blossoming. The old-timers affected most by this are an extraordinarily small portion of the market.

      1. borax99 (AlainC.) dev Tuesday, December 15, 2009

        A small portion of the market that buys *lots* of content legitimately…

  8. borax99 (AlainC.) Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    I’ve got 440 books in PDB format, sure as heck hope they remain supported. I have a smaller investment in Sony, but the BBeB-to-epub switch is not going all that smoothly, so I’m very nervous. PDB has been “old reliable” because of its multi-device support, not to mention its superior readability on tablets. No other app offers the luxury of switching from 12- to 8.9- to 4.8-inch screens so smoothly – I basically pick the reading device that best fits my needs of the moment.

    Another concern, which not everyone seems to grasp, is that I would hate to lose full right-justification. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I find ebooks with ragged right margins almost impossible to read – way too distracting. With a format switch, the risk of losing justification increases correspondingly.

    Since Sony just upgraded its software and switched to EPUB, I bought two inexpensive books to check out the new format; and to my considerable horror, both have ragged right margins !

    Colour me *very* nervous … eReader/Fictionwise/B&N – I sure hope you’re paying attention…

    1. From a software standpoint, justification is just a reader feature. The ebook itself only contains the text with line breaks, and the reader software does all the formatting based on your settings. If you can no longer justify text on your Sony reader, then Sony is the one you need to complain to.

    2. Like dev said, there’s no reason epub can’t also have justified text. It’s a style option that the epub creator can use via CSS. It would also be nice to let people choose that as a user option on their reader. Sony reader, however, stupidly doesn’t have either the ability to justify text (which is actually mobile ADE’s fault, i think) or the option to let the user choose. So, it’s not an epub problem.

  9. are there any third-party apps that could do the format conversion?

    I’ve read about Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/) which looks like it might… although I’ve not given it a try for myself.

    1. Not that I know of unless you remove the DRM first. The formats use different DRM so you can’t convert them in their original format. If you have DRM free books, then yes. Stanza Desktop will export to a bunch of different formats.

  10. I recently purchased an ereader from sony. My ereader does support epub, only when i downloaded from barnes and noble it was a pdb file. Now I spent seven bucks on something I can’t use.

    1. Try re-downloading the ebook using the Barnes and Noble software instead of the web link. It looks like the B&N software downloads the epub, but the direct download link downloads the pdb version. (At least this is the case with the PC version.) I have one book that downloads as a pdb both times, but the rest of the books downlaod as epub when using the B&N eReader and pdb when using the web link.

      1. Of course it just occurred to me that the DRM from B&N is currently incompatible with the Sony readers. You’d have to find a way to strip the DRM.

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