Why Amazon Needs a Kindle API--and Will Never Have One

Curtis Chen
Oct. 11 2012, 12:00AM EDT

If the age-old proverb about not judging a book by its cover is true, should you also not judge an e-book by its e-reader, whether it's a Kindle, Nook, iDevice, or something else? If Texas-based BookShout has anything to say about it, you'll one day be able to use their platform to read any e-book content on any device, regardless of where you bought it. But the technology is still immature, and Amazon and other e-book retailers may continue to make things difficult for such content aggregators.

At this week's Tools of Change for Publishing conference in Frankfurt, BookShout announced a new feature in their "social e-reading platform" which allows users to import their Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book purchases into BookShout for reading on a variety of devices. Company founder and CEO Jason Illian emphasizes that BookShout's proprietary technology does not violate any DRM or terms of service, but tech-savvy users will recognize other flaws in the implementation.

As shown in the iPad screenshots above, BookShout's import function works by asking for your Amazon or B&N login information--including your password in cleartext--and uses those credentials to login and access any e-books you've purchased. Of course, it has to work this way, because Amazon and B&N have not released public APIs. BookShout promises never to store your password, instead requesting it each time you want to re-scan your purchases, but sharing your Amazon password--which gives access to everything in your account, including personal information like addresses and credit card numbers--with a third party should raise red flags for any security-conscious individual.

Of course, users can be very trusting when they're offered a killer app; financial site Mint also uses personal login credentials instead of API calls to aggregate bank data, and they've attracted over 10 million users to date. But even Illian acknowledges that "Amazon is notorious for protecting their ecosystem;" after all, why offer a Kindle API to send your content elsewhere when you're trying to sell end-users on your own hardware?

BookShout is already working with five of the "Big Six" publishers (you can only import those publishers' titles into BookShout, though not all the bugs have been worked out yet), and the company seems to be hoping that the social aspect of its platform will attract users and publishers. Originally started as a Christian-focused community site, BookShout encourages users to create "reading circles" and share thoughts about a book through social media like Facebook and Twitter, and hopes to win over publishers by offering them detailed information on users' book buying and reading habits. Just don't hold your breath that Amazon or Barnes & Noble will join the fold anytime soon.

Curtis Chen Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley; now a science fiction writer and puzzle hunt maker near Portland, Oregon. You may have seen his "Cat Feeding Robot" Ignite presentation. Curtis is not an aardvark.

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