KF8: New Kindle book format with HTML5 & CSS3

KF8: New Kindle book format with HTML5 & CSS3

Thanks to Richard G in the Amazon Kindle community for the heads up on this one!

Amazon has announced a new format for Kindle books. They are calling it KF8, for

Kindle Format 8

This is a huge change, bringing lots more capabilities.

When I talk to people about change management, though, I always tell them to start out with what isn’t going to change. People hate takeaways, and the first thing many people fear is losing something…even if what they are getting is better. For example, when there is a change in the executive level of an organization, I suggest that very early on in the announcement you say something like, “We value all of you, and none of you will see a change in your employment status.” I know, that wording is hokey…just let them know they aren’t losing their jobs, even if you can’t imagine why they would think that. Heck, in today’s economy, I’d probably tell them that even if you are just changing the brand of toilet paper in the bathrooms…

So, some things that won’t change:

  • All the Kindle books you currently own will continue to work on all the Kindle devices
  • If you are a Kindle publisher, you don’t need to do anything…your books will continue to be in the Kindle store, and will be available to the Kindle Fire. You will not need to submit two versions of your titles

Next, a little bad news.

These books will first be available to the Kindle Fire. Then, they’ll roll out to “…latest generation Kindle e-ink devices as well as our free Kindle reading apps”

My guess is that the cut-off will be at the Kindle 3 (now called a Kindle Keyboard).

They said this format will replace their current one…so I’m thinking that there will be large numbers of books unavailable to K2 and K1 users. I’m speculating on that, but my sense of this is that publishers won’t be able to choose a backwards compatible file format through the Kindle store. I don’t know that…again, I’m interpreting what it says.

It may be a very good thing that Amazon just extended their trade-in program to Kindles.

What’s it going to do for you as a reader?

It’s going to bring you rich, full-featured books. Most of it is things you can do in print: sidebars, drop caps (where one large capital letter is as tall as several lines…you’d recognize it, it looks old-fashioned)…things you would do in lay-out. It also allows for “Kindle Text Pop Up”.  They mention that for children’s books, but it would be a great help in some technical texts and with maps. Instead of the very crowded labeling we sometimes get now, you’d only see the label when you ask for it. I’m assuming it could be on specific points in the image.

This may become the standard of what we expect from our books…tough luck, EPUB. ;)

One thing I hope is that it means the end of “the dreaded Topaz format”. I’ve had people report so many problems with that one (the main attraction was embeddable fonts, and KF8 does that).

As a Kindle Direct Publishing user, I’m excited by there being a new Kindle Previewer. I’ve never felt like I could tell what my titles were going to look like on a Kindle before they were published…this sounds like that capability might be greatly enhanced.

Even though I’m not a visually oriented person, I see this as a good thing (except the eddying of the older Kindles in the Amazon literary river). It will be fascinating to see how it evolves. I’m also a bit concerned that people will need more technical ability to publish…although some of you might see a higher barrier to publication as a good thing….

If you are highly skilled in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), what do you think are the big improvements? If you are a K2 user, will this make you upgrade? Does it feel like this is moving towards or away from traditional paperbooks? Have you been saying you won’t switch to e-books for cookbooks or textbooks because e-books weren’t comparable…but now you think they may be? Feel free to let me know.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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20 Responses to “KF8: New Kindle book format with HTML5 & CSS3”

  1. Wildsubnet Says:

    Amazon’s publishing software will create a downgraded version for older Kindles. This is obviously to support comics and kids book on the Fire. Doubt it will matter to most of the books sold.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Wildsubnet!

      It may not much difference to people reading a novel most of the time (although we might finally get The Time Traveler’s Wife…according to Audrey Niffenegger, that resistance has been about typography and formatting).

      However, if new novels are released in a format incompatible with old Kindles, that will be a problem. K1 users are used to not having games, but this would be different.

      • Dianne Says:

        Bufo, there is a FAQ at

        http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=amb_link_357613502_2?ie=UTF8&docId=1000729511&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=right-4&pf_rd_r=0V665PM0RXZF5AX9W2HM&pf_rd_t=1401&pf_rd_p=1321300382&pf_rd_i=1000729511#kf8_faqs

        It says:

        Q: Will I have to provide two versions of my titles going forward?
        A: No. The upcoming updates to our Kindle Publishing Tools will take care of this for you. KindleGen 2 will convert your content so that it works on all Kindle devices and apps. You will be able to preview how your title will look on the range of Kindle devices and apps using Kindle Previewer 2.

        “…all Kindle devices …” sounds to me as though KF8 is compatible with older Kindles. They just aren’t capable of using all the new features

      • bufocalvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Dianne!

        I think it depends a bit on how integrated those new features become. I can certainly imagine technical books that would be greatly reduced in effectiveness without information that might be only comprehensible in a specific display format. For example, let’s say there is a map with “display on demand” labels. It might be that an older Kindle can display the map…but either displays all of the labels at once or not at all.

        I appreciate you posting that…I’d read it, but you pulled a significant portion for your comment.

  2. Harold Delk Says:

    Support for CSS3 and HTML5 will allow publishers to separate formatting from content and some very fluid tweaks to how the content will be able to be displayed on various devices and different sized screens with only minor additions to the code. Hopefully this will eliminate the need for different code versions for different devices; CSS will handle that trick with ease. It’s quite a simple task to program so that the code reads information from the device and is able to adapt itself to display optimally on that device or on differing browsers.

    My feeling is that this change may be the most important advance in ebook publishing yet and may spell the end of epub, azw, mobi and other formats. This change may mark the beginning of standardization across the entire range of eBook readers and tablets.

    I respectfully disagree with the poster who said this is primarily to support comics and kid’s book on the Fire and not important to most other books. This standard will make a huge difference in textbooks, technical books, cookbooks, and will enable much richer formatting and page layout of all books. With this we hopefully will no longer have to change footnotes to endnotes. That will be very tricky if not impossible so long as the user can customize the layout (fonts, font sizing, line spacing, etc.) on the device.

    • Roger Knights Says:

      I agree–this is big stuff. This KF8 format explains why Amazon hasn’t upgraded the software Kindle features much since it was introduced. (I figured the company was working on something else and had put it on the back burner.)

      This introduction is also why buying an EBR from Amazon was the wise choice. The company is strategically committed to the Kindle, has the most cash by far, is committed to keeping customers happy, and is therefore the likeliest one to invest in Big Leaps like this.

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    As somebody who has watched so many devices and formats become obsolete over the years, I worry about what this will mean long term. Eventually, none of the new e-readers will be able to read the current Kindle format. At least with paper books, they may deteriorate a bit, but they remain readable. I can still read my few remaining Little Golden Books from the 50’s. Will I still be able to read the first Kindle book I ever bought 5 years from now? Will Amazon convert the old format to the new format for those of us with a large Kindle library. Will the service be free, or will they charge me to buy the book again in whatever the new format becomes the way I’ve had to pay for each new format from vinyl records to 8 tracks to cassettes, to CD’s to MP3. Or will they simply disappear when the last device that will display them stops working like all my Hypercard, Microsoft Works for Mac and Appleworks documents. Time will tell.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      A couple of things:

      You can’t, unfortunately, judge today’s paperbooks by the standards as paperbooks in the 1950s. Today’s paperbooks are generally of much lower physical quality than books used to be. I have books that are over 100 years old, and while fragile, are readable. On the other havnd, I have paperbacks from the 1970s, or so…and some of them are literally held together by rubber bands.

      Second, you can’t really compare obsolete hardware (vinyl records to 8 tracks to audiocassettes to CDs) to software formats. You’d be hard pressed to find a book format that can’t be read today. MP3s are on the order of twelve years old. Oh, and of course, you can still play those vinyl records if you want.

      Oh, and there are legitimate ways to convert Hypercard, Applewords, and Microsoft Works files…let me know if you want help with any of those.

      Amazon has not said that their later devices will not read mobi, and I would be very surprised if they didn’t let us download books from our archives for free…even if they had to be automatically converted to the new format.

      I’ve said this before, but I am far more confident than my descendants will have access to my Kindle store books than my paperbooks.

  4. Tom Semple Says:

    To me, this is bigger news than Fire was. It addresses what I considered the biggest remaining weakness of the Kindle platform, its limited format. HTML5 and CSS3 are major parts of the ePub3 specification, so while KF8 does not achieve parity with ePub3, it is probably the most important part of it, and will serve as a basis for adding support for other features in the future. Publishers should welcome it as well, since for once, the ePub files they give to Amazon (or run through Kindlegen) will for the first time retain virtually all of their formatting.

    Note that for probably a year or longer, kindlegen has been archiving the source files fed to it as part of the file submitted to Kindle Store. So if you feed it an ePub file, the ePub source is in there (this source archive is stripped off and does not bloat the files downloaded to Kindle). That means they can have an automated process to automagically upgrade all of these books to KF8, using the CSS formatting that previously got thrown away. So at least ihn theory books we’ve already purchased will suddenly look ‘better’ (it is hoped) once Kindles and kApps are updated to support KF8. (hope they have figured a way to sync highlights/notes between new and old formats…)

    ePub 3 references several other specifications that KF8 apparently does not, including:
    – JavaScript (and therefore HTML 5 canvas)
    – Media Overlays (SMIL) for accessibility
    – support for Asian language vertical mode
    – bidirectional language
    – TTS hinting
    – MathML and other specialized XML dialects

    Note that ‘HTML5′ is a huge buzzword term and people don’t always know what it means when they mention it. It isn’t even finished. So one has to appreciate that when Amazon says they support HTML5, it necessarily means ‘parts of’ HTML5 (just as Apple has been doing with iBooks).

    But while there’s not anything particularly innovative about it, KF8 should be a solid platform upon which to add these and other features.

    I’m sure ePub eLitists will continue to object that KF8 is ‘not a standard’, but so far I don’t think ePub has really delivered the goods, and given what is likely to be a very piecemeal delivery of ePub3 features, ePub files will be going through a transitional period where they may not even be as portable as they have been.

    I do think they need to update KKeyboard to handle at least the HTML/CSS enhancements (exclusive of audio/video & maybe SVG). That has to comprise 90% of the install base right now, and it would make a nice Christmas present.

  5. Roger Knights Says:

    Will KF8 handle existing e-pub books (without DRM)? I suspect it does, because library books are formatted that way. If it does, this opens up the Google library to Kindle owners–and removes a major reason for buying a non-Kindle EBR.

    But then, how are existing Kindles without KF8 handling those library books? Are they going through some sort of translation process on Amazon’s site?

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Roger!

      Early this year, amongst considerable fanfare, libraries enabled lending of Kindle books. They aren’t EPUB…in fact, I think the loan may actually be hosted by Amazon.

      Non-DRM EPUB books can be converted by Calibre for any of the Kindles already. It’s easy, and it works for those Google books.

      These are the formats the Fire says is supports:

      Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, non-DRM AAC, MP3, MIDI, OGG, WAV, MP4, VP8.

      • Roger Knights Says:

        “libraries enabled lending of Kindle books. They aren’t EPUB…”

        Are you sure they aren’t EPub? Libraries haven’t had to buy Kindle-specific e-books. They’ve been lending out the ones they always did–EPubs.

        “… in fact, I think the loan may actually be hosted by Amazon.”

        Yes, I was aware of that–which is why I wondered if Amazon was running it through a converter there, or if instead Kindles secretly had the ability to handle EPub natively, provided some little tweak or password to them were provided by Amazon.

        Incidentally, it’s amazing Amazon kept KF8 secret until now.

      • bufocalvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Roger!

        Here is how I think it might work.

        The library bought, say, three licenses from Overdrive*. The publisher is compensated out of that. Amazon worked out a deal that they can fulfill that request in Kindle form…from the Kindle store. I would be surprised if a file needs to be transmitted from the library to Amazon to make that happen.

        I tried to test this a bit for you. I’m careful not to get a library book unless I really intend to read it…because I don’t want to prevent someone else from getting it. It takes me a while to find one that is both available and does not have the text-to-speech blocked sometimes.

        I’ll point out that I did no find a book available from my library that was not also in the Kindle store.

        Also, in at least one case, there were more formats available than there were “copies”…two copies, three formats. That suggests that they don’t need to have a file for each format.

        I also just checked the file on my Kindle…it’s AZW, not EPUB. The download was pretty instant….I would think a conversion might take a bit and risk errors.

        This is probably worth a post by itself, but that’s my guess…the library loan doesn’t mean that the library needs files…the files come from Amazon.

        Yes, Amazon is amazingly good at keeping secrets…that suggests happy employees. :)

      • Roger Knights Says:

        This is probably worth a post by itself, but that’s my guess…the library loan doesn’t mean that the library needs files…the files come from Amazon.

        Thanks for your information. I’ve been surprised there’s been so little speculation about what’s going on under the covers. I hope you do write more about it.

        Yes, Amazon is amazingly good at keeping secrets…that suggests happy employees. …

        … or that dead men tell no tales ;-)

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        There was a blog story somewhere (I forget exactly where — maybe at Andrys’?) — See:

        http://andywoodworth.visibli.com/share/5Tt4Ls

        It’s about a librarian in I think San Rafael Calif. She is voicing the concern that every library book borrowed for a kindle results in customer information about the lending transaction being delivered to Overdrive (this actually might be in violation of a Calif library privacy law?), and since the Overdrive systems running the lending process actually reside on Amazon AWS servers, the information might be (the librarian seemed to think it was a condition of the Amazon/Overdive deal) delivered to Amazon for follow-on marketing purposes.

        I don’t know whether any of this is true or not, but it is interesting that library lending, which was “wanted” by so many is so quickly found “wanting” ;-). No such issue was raised with ePub lending, yet I would be surprised if similar information sharing isn’t happening with those transactions as well.

  6. Edward Boyhan Says:

    This is a fairly significant and surprising (to me — although upon reflection it shouldn’t have been) development. My comments fall into 3 “buckets”: the technical, the business/competitive, and the personal (I am a KDX2 owner).

    On the technical side I was going to do a little review of the 3 main formats used in EBRS: mobi/prc, epub, and pdf, but Ars Technica has done a quick overview of KF8 and the above 3 formats here:

    http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2011/10/amazon-infuses-e-books-with-html5-power-with-new-kf8-format.ars

    The technical rap on ePub has been that it is a slightly richer format than mobi/prc, but its enhanced features are hard to use, and not of much use anyway in formatting the vast majority of mass market titles where mobi/prc has been more than adequate (both mobi and ePub are based on the old Open eBook standard so their formatting differences are not all that great). Where an enhanced format might have proven useful (textbooks, comics, coffee table books), ePub has proven to be woefully deficient when compared to the reigning formatting champ: PDF.

    As near as I can figure out the new format uses HTMl5/CSS 3.0 wherever HTML used to be used in the old format. This actually encompasses a lot more than just HTML5/CSS3 markup — it also includes all the multimedia and SVG packages that come along with HTML5. The real technical question going forward is how KF8 will fare in comparison with PDF in dealing with content that requires a rich formatting environment. On paper it looks good, and at the very least it will be able to reflow text (something that PDF documents rarely accommodate).

    Clearly KF8 is technically superior to ePub; this leads right into the business/competitive analysis :D. On technical merit KF8 should be widely adopted by the industry. However, given that it’s source is Amazon, my guess is that it’ll be a cold day in the netherworld before that happens.

    There has been considerable opinion that the world would be a more perfect place, if Amazon would only support ePub. With KF8 on the scene I expect that we will now see a rushed effort to either bring ePub up to some kind of parity with KF8 (not conceptually difficult to do as ePub also has an HTML core which could be replaced with HTML5/CSS3.0) or a push to get wider adoption of the text reflow tags recently added to the PDF format.

    What most want with an “open” universal format such as ePub is universal access to content bought anywhere and “consumable” on any ePub supporting device. Technically this could happen, but as long as ePub content comes with ADE DRM, and without publisher relaxation of DRM protections, it’s not likely.

    Personally, I have a KDX2 with loads of PDFs and mobi/prc content resident thereon. Much of what KF8 brings to the table are formatting features that my KDX won’t support anyway. If I should buy a KF8 formatted book that does not use features which my KDX does not support, then I’m confident that there’ll be a third party conversion routine (like Calibre) which will make it available on the KDX. BTW the K3 devices actually don’t have any additional hardware rendering facilities beyond the 2nd gen devices — so even if Amazon provides native KF8 support for 3rd gen devices, they won’t be able to take advantage of any of the really advanced formatting capabilities (audio, video, color, etc) of KF8 either. Worst case 2nd gen owners will have to use a converter.

    Lack of native KF8 support for 1st and 2nd gen devices, however, does make the trade-in program even more attractive. I’m told they’ll give $111 for a KDX2 as opposed to $135 for KDX3 :-)

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