Re-Kindle the DRM debate

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jun 24, 2009

Filed under: Rants 65 comments

There is a post on Gear Diary tiled, Kindle's DRM Rears Its Ugly Head… And It IS Ugly.

Oh? Did you buy a nice new thing? And you thought you owned it? And then it suddenly went all gone? Oopsie.

to my world, book lovers.

I was reading my dog-eared, broken-spine, semi-loose-leaf copy of Fellowship of the Ring the other day. It is now spontaneously balkanizing itself into smaller volumes with each reading, and it will not be long before it is less a book and more a stack of crumpled wood pulp. I am not a book collector. I am a book reader. I have no use for a shelf of pristine volumes, snug in their dust jackets, crisp pages forever facing one another. I buy books for the same reason I buy a package of cheese: I want to assimilate the stuff inside. Step one is slipping off the dust jacket and placing it somewhere irresponsible where it will be lost, buried, or ruined. Step two is leaving the thing face down on the floor beside my bed, which not only holds my pages but also breaks the spine so the thing won’t play hard to get while I’m trying to read. Step three is keeping it close at hand, even if that means keeping it near food and coffee.

As a natural byproduct of this entropy and apathy, I’m going to have to buy Lord of the Rings again. I’m okay with this. I used up my copies in the physical sense of wearing them out through use. It would not be okay if (say) the book suddenly disintegrated and required replacement because I’d moved the volume to a new shelf three times.

How it works on the Kindle right now:

You buy a book. Most of them have download restrictions, which is the maximum number of times the title can be “downloaded”. I don’t know if “download” in this context means re-downloaded from the source, or change devices. It does not tell you this up front. You have to read the fine print. I realize you should “always” read the fine print (because of course, the human life is an infinite thing and we all have limitless capacity for inspecting the legalese attached to mundane transactions for signs of treachery) but perhaps we could forgive book buyers for not checking to make sure their books won’t spontaneously stop existing at some point for no good reason. Buying a book is a well understood transaction, and when people heard “electronic book”, they no doubt thought it meant “a book, in electronic form”, not “a limited single-user license to access a given set of data for a limited time until some perfectly arbitrary bullshit takes place and the license is revoked or expires”.

What makes this system even more fun is the fact that different books have different thresholds and rules, and those are not always disclosed at sales time. (I’m getting all of this from the article linked above. I don’t own a Kindle for the same reason I don’t own Spore. (And to be fair, nobody owns a copy of Spore.) And also because I’m not made of money.) The icing on the cake is that when your license stops giving you permission to read the book you thought you owned, you get a vague failure message that makes it sound like a simple tech problem, thus leading you to waste time trying to “fix” the problem without realizing the device is working exactly according to specifications: It’s screwing you.

Sadly, this will bring out a fresh batch of clueless rubes who are in favor of “hard” DRM, and who will need to be taught – like so many video gamers before them – that DRM would need to violate information theory in order to work, and the only thing it accomplishes is the harassment of honest customers.

Sorry to hear it Kindle-lovers. If it’s of any comfort, DRM music lasted for about five years before they gave up on it (iTunes notwithstanding) and PC games DRM is gradually following suit. If you wait five years or so, the book publishers might be tired of the support headaches, the customer complaints, the bad press, the licensing expense (DRM ain’t free) and the fact that it doesn’t impede pirates in any way. Perhaps by that point they will have begun the process of starting to deliberate on the possibility that maybe they should try not using DRM on some books, and see how that works out.


From The Archives:

65 thoughts on “Re-Kindle the DRM debate

  1. Moridin says:

    Nice to see you being optimistic for a change.

  2. Mark says:

    I read about this a while ago and I remember thinking that I was suddenly very glad the damn thing was so expensive, or else, blissfully ignorant, I might have bought one.

  3. Ron says:

    I don’t know much about Kindle, but if the device isn’t restricted on format, you can always go here to download some free books:

  4. Joshua says:

    It’s not quite as bad as the first post you point to, as he explains in a follow-up post. You can download to the same device unlimited times; you can download to successive devices unlimited times. What you can’t do is have the book on more than N different devices simultaneously. N appears to be 6, but might be publisher determined.

    It’s still a problem for all the usual reasons that DRM is a problem (what if Amazon goes out of business, or just changes its program, etc.), but it doesn’t appear to be a problem of the “too bad, you can never upgrade or swap devices without having to repurchase” variety.

  5. Skip says:

    OK, here’s the deal with the Kindle. The kindle’s format is mobi, slightly altered, so the DRM is tied to the serial number of the device. So what’s the limit? It took a few iterations through customer service, but the limit is currently that you can only get the files on 6 different devices concurrently. So the limit is set high enough that basically nobody’s going to run into it, and it turns out that with a call you can get that number extended.

    So as a kindle owner does this bother me? Nope, not a bit. Because:

    a) most of the books I have on the kindle were bought from Baen, and are DRM-free.
    b) I verified initially that I could strip the DRM from ones bought from amazon. It’s not the most user-friendly process, but it works.

    So effectively, for me, there aren’t any restrictions. So things like this may actually be a good thing – Amazon’s sold millions of the Kindle – so in the end they’re either going to have to get rid of the DRM, or make it so loose as to be useless. Otherwise they’ll be in a public relations nightmare.

    By the way, there is actually a far worse problem with the Kindle. Amazon has an unstated policy where people who they consider to have ‘abused’ their return policy get their Amazon accounts deleted. Basically Amazon will tell you that they no longer are willing to do business with you. If that happens, your kindle will stop being able to download the things you aleady own, so if you ever have to reset the device and don’t have a local backup, everything you ‘bought’ will be no longer accessible.

  6. lebkin says:

    There are people who own copies of Spore: Pirates. Not legally of course, but they do own them.

    And isn’t even iTunes have completely DRM free music now? I don’t shop there, despite using the program so I’m not positive. But I believe Apple got completely DRM free music in exchange for variable pricing.

  7. Fred Christ says:

    Sadly, I actually own a legitimate copy of Spore. I went to Fry’s to pick something else up, noticed Spore had finally come out (I’d been waiting for it for years) and quickly picked it up. It was only afterward that I discovered its draconian DRM and the fact that the game is boring as hell once you get into space. I’ve had more fun with Peter Molyneux games than I did with Spore. And I’m talking about his crappy games, i.e. everything except Populous. That game fucking ruled.

  8. The music example is interesting: the music industry refused to pull DRM for Apple off of iTunes without raising price, but as Apple got more powerful they simply gave DRM-free stuff to other stores like Amazon without the higher price … then when Apple finally got the DRM-free in exchange for staggered pricing (meaning anything people buy is more expensive and a few things are at the low price so they can say ‘see, we DO have low price songs’), they also raised the price on everyone else. And the customers lost once again.

  9. Picador says:

    There are people who own copies of Spore: Pirates. Not legally of course, but they do own them.

    That was going to be my first point. My second is about this:

    Perhaps by that point they will have begun the process of starting to deliberate on the possibility that maybe they should try not using DRM on some books, and see how that works out.

    The problem, of course, is that a pilot project making “some books” DRM-free would not demonstrate that people are hungry for DRM-free media. I’m not going to go out and buy a Kindle just because Amazon has published a handful of titles without DRM. Before I plunk down $400 bucks on the thing, I want to be sure that I can get pretty much any book I want on the thing and actually own my copy of it. I feel as though a number of publishers have adopted this fallacy, sincerely or not: they release a single crappy remaindered item without DRM, nobody buys it, and then they point and whine about how there’s no market for DRM-free works.

    1. Shamus says:

      After I wrote this it dawned on me that DRM on the Kindle is going to be very different from DRM on the PC. The Kindle is obviously a closed box, from both a hardware and software point of view. That might make piracy a lot more annoying. That coupled with the fact that pirates are more after movies and games could mean that the Kindle won’t suffer from routine, assembly-line piracy.

  10. Hawkehunt says:

    The real kicker for me is that – according to Gear Diary’s article – there is no way to determine at the time of purchase how many devices you can download to. The default is “five or six,” but the actual number is set by the publisher, and is not available to potential customers.
    I don’t know how things work in the US, but if a company tried that here in Australia they’d be sued six ways from Sunday.

  11. Nathon says:

    On the flip side, Baen has been handing out CDs with all kinds of old books on them along with new hardcovers. The terms and conditions of the CD are something like this: “Read the books on here. It’s entertaining. Give them to your friends. They’ll like them.” They’re even in multiple formats (HTML, text, PDF, if I recall correctly) so many devices can display them.

  12. ArcoJedi says:

    Shamus, you have a very valid point in that the Kindle will be more difficult to pirate and therefore a less likely target. A pirate will more readily find a PDF/TXT scan of a book.

  13. Alkey says:

    I had a similar issue happen to a friend of mine with the Wii. Apparently Wii ware is non recoverable if your Wii memory becomes corrupt. He was updating it, it was showing that screen where is says don’t disconnect the Wii at this time, and his wireless hiccuped or something. His Wii system memory was corrupted, and after he did some sort of restore/format all of his Wii-ware was gone, forever. I did some research on the matter, and it seems if the WiiShop channel is deleted you loose all Wii-ware. This was put into place because if you ever sell your Wii, you are required to delete all Wii-ware. So they put in the ability to permanently delete it all in case you felt like voluntarily executing some EULA clause. Et tu Nintendo?

  14. Spectralist says:

    It’s not as bad as your article makes it out to be. Kindle uses a modified version of Mobi and there’s a really easy to use Python script that strips the DRM right off mobi files making them actually usable. I don’t have a Kindle(mostly because it’s not available in Canada) but mobi is the file type of choice for my ebooks just because it’s so easy to strip the DRM from them. On the other hand i don’t know if Kindle can read non-DRMd mobi files. But it can certainly read PDFs so you can always convert them to that after stripping the DRM from them.

    Still hopefully the publishers will eventually realize that DRM is pointless, futile, and probably ultimately harmful eventually.

  15. Factoid says:

    I still want a kindle, but I will always buy my books DRM free when possible. If not, I will think twice about buying a book. I crave the capabilities of the device, but the DRM is pretty asinine. It might be harder to crack, but the new ones support PDF now. That will trickle down to all the mobile e-readers soon, and if nothing else PDF copies will be easily available.

    I’m not a huge fan of piracy, but I’m not morally opposed to downloading a cracked copy of something I paid for. I won’t share it with a million people or transfer it to 50 devices anyway, so in my mind I’m still abiding by their restrictions, just with the peace of mind that I don’t have to worry about it ever not working because of something someone else does.

  16. Tom says:

    I’m pretty sure there are already a few apps to convert pdfs to kindle. It will not be difficult to pirate books for the kindle.

    All the closed format game consoles are cracked wide open, I can’t see the kindle begin immune.

  17. Eric Rossing says:

    I would recommend not only the previously-mentioned Baen Free Library, but also the promotional CDs they release every so often (which are free to copy and distribute and a kind fan hosts at And, once their “give them the first book free” strategy works, you can buy the rest in a number of DRM-free formats at

    According to one of their authors, the basis of the free library and CDs was “our books pop up on Russian pirate sites within 3 days of print publication, so why not put them out there ourselves?”

  18. Lochiel says:

    Part two of the article you linked makes it clear that (A) Amazon Customer Support are ignorant boobs and (B) books are limited to the number of devices they can be downloaded too simultaneously, not the number of downloads to the same device.

    I love my Kindle, and have stopped buying dead tree editions because of it. I’ve even bought the Kindle version of some dead tree books I already own. I hadn’t thought of the DRM implications before so I thank you for bringing it up. But I’m don’t see why this would warrant a post from you. What am I missing? Yes there is DRM. But I don’t see how this isn’t an example of DRM screwing the customer.

    Part of the reason I’m not bothered by this is that this is only talking about downloads from Amazon. It appears that I can make my own digital backups by coping the files from my Kindle to my PC. I do own the file; which has been customized to only work with my Kindle. I can copy it, burn it to CD, put it into a bank vault, and come back 50 years from now and if my Kindle still works, load it back on and reread it.

    So… what am I missing?

  19. chabuhi says:

    I like my Kindle books for the convenience of having several on-hand, because I may not want to read the same book on the ride home as I did on the morning ride. If I like a book so much that I want it “forever” then I will buy a hardcopy.

    I understand everyone’s issue with DRM (especially for games, movies, and music), and I don’t like DRM on my books either, but it’s another problem that won’t go away unless we stop buying. And, let’s face it, as much as we may holler about it, scant few of us are going to actually stop buying.

    Admit it, we’re addicted.

  20. DaveMc says:

    When the alien marauders show up and give me one last chance to plead the case that the human race is worthy and should be spared from the destructor beams, we’re just going to have to hope that I haven’t just read an article about something like this.

  21. Well, I can’t say I’m surprised. At least we still have physical copies. If they ever place a DRM chip or something in the paperbacks…

    well, then I’m out. I’ll give up. I’ll leave you guys to deal with humanity on your own.

  22. Ann says:

    I buy e-books at Fictionwise, who use the concept of a Bookshelf containing the books you’ve purchased.

    They strive “to maintain backup copies of your purchases available for re-download indefinitely, but our terms of service do not guarantee that they will be available for re-download forever.” They have had one content aggregator say they would not serve after January, 2009, so Fictionwise has been trying to inform their customers of alternate ways of still being able to access what is on your bookshelf. Responsible of them!

  23. Ann says:

    accidental double post deleted

  24. KarmaDoor says:

    OTOY (Not really any info; just search Youtube.)

    Shake in fear as perfected draconian DRM and absurdly low [initial?] prices will threaten to obliterate the physical aspect of home game consoles. If you don’t know what I’m blabbering about, these are subscription services in which the games are rented as is the computer it is played on. A stream is sent over the Internet to a decoder box, which in turn sends your input back to the game server.

    It does have some issues to face, though. Latency could prevent action games with twitchy reaction from gaining ground on such services. On top of that, most broadband Internet Service Providers have either implemented or are planning to enforce data transfer limits per month. While the latter could utterly stall out the adoption, the prior probably just means turn-based RPGs will finally look as pretty as you and the publisher want without worrying about what platform to release to. Yuck.

  25. This is the kind of reason I like buying books. Paper ones. Which, once I buy them, are *mine* and under *my* control.

  26. radio_babylon says:

    ive been a kindle owner since day one. im also very anti-drm. how do i reconcile this? for me, its a question of money and convenience.

    i read 100-130 books a year. ive maintained this pace for over 20 years (with one outlier that broke 150), with no indication of it slowing down any time soon. i have more paper books in my house than some community libraries ive been in. books make up a not-insignificant portion of my budget. the books from the kindle store are (in most cases) much cheaper than the physical books (and in some cases, FREE)… at the pace i read, the kindle broke even (cost of kindle + cost of purchased ebooks = cost of same books in print) in roughly 6 months (and yes, i kept a spreadsheet, so i KNOW when it happened. both my parents are accountants, take pity on me) and has now saved me hundreds of dollars… even if i decided to ditch my kindle and go back to paper or to some competing vendor in the future, and had to repurchase 5-10% of the books that i might want to re-read, ill still come out ahead of having stuck with paper. WAY ahead. *way way* ahead. i cant emphasise enough how much the kindle has saved me over the last year and half.

    the other side of it is convenience. reading at the rate i do, i have devoured nearly everything the bookstores have to offer that im interested in. i have, literally, read every single sci-fi and fantasy book in my local barnes and noble that i care to read… which is about 90% of them. ive also read much of the popular fiction, the entire philosophy shelf (my college major), etc… it was getting to the point that i was having real trouble finding books i was interested in that i hadnt read at the bookstore. i have no doubt they were there, but i didnt know what they were. the kindle helps with this by having a huge selection (no more special ordering from the bookstore) and having a so-so recommendation engine. the recommendations are pretty hit and miss, but theyre a hell of a lot better than the nothing i had before. i also no longer accrue paper books that i have no room for. no more trips up to the attic with a 100lb box of books! yay!

    TL;DR: im willing to suck it up on the kindle drm. i didnt give away or sell my books before, so theres no loss on that front. i dont have seven kindles, so i dont care that i cant put books on seven kindles. im no angle-shooter trying to get over on amazon by getting a bunch of friends together to share an account with more than 6 kindles attached to it. its saved me hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and will continue to do so for some time. huge selection, and no more books cluttering my house. its a big win for me, even WITH drm.

    1. Shamus says:

      Off topic: Can someone explain the TL;DR: expression to this old man? It looks like naked HTML tags to my eyes, but the real meaning escapes me.

      “The Last;Dragon Rider:”?

  27. Alan De Smet says:

    …books are limited to the number of devices they can be downloaded too simultaneously, not the number of downloads to the same device.

    And what is the process described in the second post to free up licenses for new devices? You call up Amazon and ask them to do it for you. You’ll of course be calling up the exact same idiots who gave the original writer all of the wrong information in the first place.

    Ultimately your access to “your” books is limited by Amazon. If the deny you access because of malice, greed, or incompetence, you’re shit outta luck.

    Surely a large, reputable company like Amazon would never do this. That would be like Microsoft repossessing $100 of paid for music, Sony locking people to particular devices, Wal-Mart doing that, Microsoft doing that, Major League Baseball doing that, or Yahoo doing that.

    …if my Kindle still works,…

    Me, I’ve got better things do to with my life than worry about getting 50-year-old electronics working so I can read a book. Does the Kindle still work at all? Is the battery dead? If so, can I get a replacement at a reasonable price? Will my 2049 computer have a USB port to copy the backup over?
    My wife and my collection of books, dating back to the late 19th century, work just fine. We don’t need to worry about changing connection formats.

    1. Shamus says:

      “My wife and my collection of books, dating back to the late 19th century […]”

      I love ambiguity. :)

  28. Alkey says:

    TL;DR = Too Long, Didn’t Read
    at least acording to google

    I find it kind of odd that the guy who claims to read hundreds of books a year found something too long to read. It can’t be the post since he commented on it, maybe the responses?

  29. Adeon says:

    I read the post and thought to myself “I wonder how many comments before someone mentions the Baen Free Library”. As others have said I really respect Baen’s stance on DRM and it’s part of the reason I have several shelves of their books.

    @Shamus: TL;DR means “to long, didn’t read” it’s used either to indicate a summary of your post or to acknowledge that you’re responding to a post without reading it.

  30. radio_babylon says:

    lol no, i was providing a “too long; didnt read” summary for the folks that didnt want to read my rambling love letter for the kindle… maybe that isnt necessary here, im too used to other places (everywhere else, really) where if i go over 100 words, some smart-ass responds “TL;DR”…


    this is NOT the case. you can manually add and remove kindles from your account at any time, easily, with a single click, from either the web at or from the kindle device itself. no call to amazon needed. i know this because i had to do it myself, my first kindle died a few months after purchase. amazon replaced it at no charge. i then simply logged on to the site, de-authorized my old kindle, dropped it in a box, and mailed it back. easy as pie.

    ive also de-authorized my kindle to loan it to a friend for a week, then re-authorized it later. this is convenient, i didnt have to worry about my friend accidentally charging a book to my account (its easy to do)… i also left my kindle at a restaurant one evening (scatterbrained!) and when i realized it, immediately deauthed it from my cellphone, then headed back to see if i could retrieve it. thankfully, an honest person turned it in…

    it really is very user-friendly. the most the DRM does is make sure only the purchaser has access, which i think is quite reasonable. in fact, i think its EXTREMELY generous to allow 6 kindles on a single account… aside from a public library (some of which are now lending kindles) i cant imagine a situation where a family would hit 6 kindles in simultaneous use.

  31. Magnus says:

    I’m sticking with paper.

    I see no benefit to having a kindle or similar device at all. I think I even wrote a ranting post on the escapist about it… lets see if I can find it…

    “Advantages of a paperback: Can read it by the pool without fearing the water. Can fall asleep and drop it and only lose your place. Can buy 100 paperbacks for the price of the kindle. Never runs out of batteries. Never needs to be upgraded. Can be burned for warmth. Can be easily recycled. Can prop up your wonky desk. Fits in a bookshelf. Can easily be given to friends to borrow. Emergency toilet paper. Can use the margins to write secret plans for world domination. Useful place to store bookmarks.”

  32. Lochiel says:

    @Alan De Smet
    If your usage requirements are “Required to work in 50 years”, then most storage mediums won’t work. CDs yellow with age, Hard drives have their mechanical parts freeze up, and books fall apart. If you feel like knocking paper because it doesn’t have the same durability as stone tablets, then you and I are in different conversations.

    Regardless, access to my books isn’t limited by Amazon. They provide one form of digital back up; but I have copied all of my books to my hard drive, and will continue to do so. If Amazon is destroyed today, I’ll still have access to my ebooks via my Kindle.

    If you think ebook means it’ll always be readable on current technology; then I hope you didn’t buy Laser Discs, 35mm film, VHS, DVDs, or Blu Ray.

    @Shamus (insert Fan Boy Worship here)
    tl;dr means Too Long; Didn’t Read. It is used in two ways. The first meaning “I didn’t read it, but here is my reply anyways”, while the other is “If this was too long to read, here is the cliff notes version”

    IMO; any post over 150 words should have a tl;dr section, if only to ensure coherency on the part of the author.

  33. Avatar says:

    The Baen Free Library worked for me. And when I say “worked” I mean “I read a couple of books and then went out and bought DOZENS.”

  34. Lupis42 says:


    If your usage requirements are “Required to work in 50 years”, then most storage mediums won't work. CDs yellow with age, Hard drives have their mechanical parts freeze up, and books fall apart. If you feel like knocking paper because it doesn't have the same durability as stone tablets, then you and I are in different conversations.

    On the contrary: while most computer media, (magnetic and optical, anyway, I’ve seen some sheet metal punch cards that I’m fairly certain could survive WWIII) won’t last fifty years, paper books generally do. My copies of TLOTR are paperbacks from the first US printing, back in the late 1940s. I first read them when I was in school, and they were pushing 50 then. Now they are over sixty, and a little scotch tape on the covers to keep them together means they’re still easily readable. As a kid, some of my favorite books were hardbound old things that I was astonished to learn had been printed in 18xx, anywhere from 90 to around 150 years old. Aside from the typefaces, they were almost indistinguishable from new hardbacks except by the cover art. In college, I was able to leaf through books that were over 300 years old, and while they had to be treated with respect, they were perfectly readable. I have even, through glass cases, looked at a couple of books from before the turn of the *last* millenium, and while they were clearly too fragile for casual handling, they were still legible. Pick the right paper and ink, don’t cheap out on your binding, and I would imagine that a hardcover book should last around 500 years on average, though obviously less careful handling and cheaper construction can get that number down by more than two orders of magnitude.

  35. Carra says:

    Reading a book on a pc screen isn’t my idea of enjoying a good book. I already spend most of my day watching a screen. If some day I get a small, lightweigth, portable book I can just plug in my PC-USB drive then I’ll start buying these books.

    DRM on books is just crazy. How do they protect you from just screenshotting all pages? I could live with a Steam kind of DRM for now. But limited time to read, hell no. I’ve still got a whole stack of books/games on my shelve I’ve got to read. And all the time in the world to get to them.

  36. Alan De Smet says:


    Here is a copy of the Declaration of Independence, transcribed in 1971. 38 years later and still easy to read on just about any modern computer. Or perhaps something a bit more original, a late 1982 version of the Jargon File (also known as the Hacker’s Dictionary). If you want a copy forever, but for some reason don’t trust you’ll be able to get one in the future, you can save it to disk and be confident you’ll be able to read it in the future. Sure, you’ll need to make backups, and occasionally copy it over to new systems, new hard drives, or whatever, but I hope you’re doing that already. Maybe in the future we’ll move to Unicode 2015 which is completely incompatible, but nothing is legally or technically stopping you from coverting it over. Assuming a non-trivial number of works are available in a format, you’ll see free translators and readers spring up, of the sort you see in the widespread availability of emulators for old video games. To take a more directly relevant format, a just few years ago I was given a “book” on CD. I finally dug it out only to discover that it was a Windows .HLP file. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows HLP files, and even if they did it’s not real useful on my Linux or Mac machines. Fortunately this was a problem for other people as well, and in just a few minutes I had one of several high quality viewers available for Linux and was on my way.

    With your ebooks from Amazon you’re locked in. Sure, you can make a backup, but the only device you can read it in is your Kindle. In our hypothetical, “Amazon abandons you” situation, if that particular Kindle breaks, you’re boned. You can’t buy a used Kindle from someone else and move your book onto it. You can’t legally get a program to let you read it on your PC, iPhone7GSXYZ, or whatever.

    With DRM-free formats, your ownership of particular copies of media is in your hands. Yes, you need to keep backups and move from format to format occasionally, but that’s your decision and responsibility. With a DRMed format you’re at the mercy of the publisher. Per my examples above, trusting a publisher with no legal obligation to you is a suckers game. Even with a legal obligation, you can pretty much kiss them goodbye in a bankruptcy.

  37. Ergonomic Cat says:

    I take my books in the shower.

    I think the Kindle might not like that.

  38. radio_babylon says:


    “If some day I get a small, lightweigth, portable book I can just plug in my PC-USB drive then I'll start buying these books.”

    thats what the kindle IS…

  39. Sam says:

    I thought $300 was pretty darn expensive for an electronic book device. Then I found out that you still had to pay for the books you wanted, and I was thoroughly glad I didn’t spend the money for one just to find out I had to spend MORE to buy books I could buy used for one cent. Then you bring up DRM with the Kindle, and it makes me oh so happy I never gave it a second thought after first hearing about it. Shame on Amazon for pulling such a dick move like this. It really is a lot easier (and cheaper) to just buy the books from a third party seller from their own website. Funny how that works.

  40. Lochiel says:

    @Alan De Smet
    When my airport paper back falls apart, who is going to replace it? Call I call Terry Pratchet or Larry Niven and get them to send me new copies of their books if my old ones fall apart? Of course not. /If/ you take care of your dead tree editions they will last you a long time. And /if/ I take care of my electron dependent editions, it will last me a long time. Such outlying cases are irrelevant. I expect my Kindle will last me at least 3 years, maybe up to 5. This is similar to how long my dead tree copies lay around the house, and about 1-4 years longer than I actually need them for. If your use demands want something longer, then by all means spend the money to get the well bound hardback. I’m willing to maintain my Kindle, and your willing to maintain your hard copies.

    I’m all for DRM free. But I’m not going to get up in arms over the tiniest amount of DRM.

    Shamus’s original statement that the Kindle’s DRM is draconian is wrong. The Kindle’s DRM is mostly non-invasive. It is less restrictive than Steam and most CD based games for both the PC and Consoles (I don’t need to have a bit of encoded physical media proving I own it).

    Your statement that Amazon controls my access is completely incorrect. I am perfectly capable of making as many copies as I want, and re-reading it for as long as I want; assuming that I am able to maintain the technology to do so. This is very similar to a hard copy version

    A) Exceptions do not make the rule or set the standard.
    B) Amazon DRM isn’t as draconian has been implied
    C) Amazon doesn’t control my access to the Kindle’s books

    (PS Clifford Stoll /did/ give me a signed copy of his book “The Cuckoo’s Egg”, which replaced my beatup and tattered copy. But Stoll is a pretty cool guy regardless)

    Edit: Software already exists to remove the DRM from Kindle files. Similar to your example of converting help files, it illegal under the DMCA, yet unenforceable should Amazon vanish. For sake of this discussion, I’m limiting myself to legal and simple methods of backup.

  41. Adeon says:

    I realize that there have been at least three links to Baen’s website in the comments section so far, however I would like to add one more.

    This particular link is a series of essays by Eric Flint discussing why he feels that DRM is a bad idea for books.

  42. smIsle says:

    Adeon – i love that article :-)

    Here’s my take on the issue: I bought a Kindle (and love it) for more than being able to buy the books off of Amazon’s website. I can load my own txt books through a USB cord, and PDF/DOC through email. The biggest issue so far is there is no way to load html with images (!!) I’ve really loved using it for my walkthroughs when playing a hard game on my playstation … no more having to go into the other room to check something :-)

    Even without the Amazon books, the device is worth it. Also – Not every kindle book on Amazon even has any DRM included. I was able to purchase an O’Reilly book and open it on my computer with a mobi reader without any changing of the file. Which brings me to my main complaint. I want a way to know what level of DRM is included on a file before i purchase it. Until then, my kindle book purchases from Amazon will be very limited.

  43. Diane says:

    As an author, naturally the Kindle format and Amazon availability is pretty attractive. I’m publishing with Publish and Market
    using their Book and a Blog program. It will include the Kindle version of my book, but I was disappointed to see that it would not include page numbers – something I’ve always considered a “must” in good formatting. Kindle will improve these shortcomings over the years to come, but certainly the books are very readable as they are. I love reading Kindle books on my iPhone!

  44. CondoBrian says:

    I think a major difference here is price point.

    I have a Kindle. I have gone out and gotten many classic books. Treasure Island – free. Pride and Prejudice – free. The Three Musketeers – free. War and Peace – 99 cents. I have 13 books on my Kindle so far, and I bet it would cost me about the cost of a two year old video game ($20 to $25) to replace all of it.

    Even when I get to my sixth Kindle and have a pretty solid library built up, it’s not like you’re talking about the cost of a software library to replace. And honestly, whether with software or with books, are you going to replace what you don’t care to ever read again? If your software collection melts tomorrow, are you going to buy Deus Ex again? Leisure Suit Larry IV? Leather Goddesses of Phobos (well okay, yeah on that one)?

    I’m not overly excited about the idea that I may again have to buy some of these books. But I bought the first book in the Fire and Ice series three times in paperback before I held on to it long enough to finish it. It would cost me $6.39 on the Kindle, and cost me double that in paperbacks before I was done.

    I have bought The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit more times than I care to count. It happens.

    There are things to worry about and things not to worry about. Buying a 99 cent book again, or a 2.99 book, or a 9.99 book after the sixth device to download it resides squarely in the not-to-worry-about category IMO.

  45. Anaphyis says:

    @Fred Christ: Hey! Don’t forget Dungeon Keeper or Horny will be very sad.

  46. bobisimo says:


    Not sure if I can use an image tag, but if I can and it works:

    If not:

    And for those who hate to click, it’s a DRM-related comic featuring a guy who has been told by his MP3 player to insert another quarter so that he may continue listening to “his” music.

  47. LintMan says:

    The idea of an light, convenient electronic book reader with downloadable books is pretty appealing to me in theory, but I want to own my books – which includes the option to resell, trade, donate, loan or gift them after I’ve finished reading them.

    I find it baffling how few reviews of the Kindle make any mention whatsoever of this limitation.

    The predictions of the Kindle as the future of publishing are a bit disturbing to me, because I think it would spell the end of the public library system.

  48. Adeon says:

    I honestly don’t see electronic publishing replacing print publishing anytime soon. To many people who read are bibliophiles that I think the demand for paper books will evaporate that quickly.

    Consider the music industry. If you’re listening to music on an MP3 player (which is how most people do now) then it makes no difference whether you purchased the music on a CD or as an MP3 (or pirated it). However stores still have racks and racks of CDs so clearly people are buying them and I have a hard time believing that their clientele consists only of people without an MP3 player.

    If the music industry still finds it profitable to sell physical items in a situation where most of their customers will only use a digital copy anyway I find it unlikely that the publishing industry will go digital only given that there is a clear difference between physical and digital.

  49. Mephane says:

    And that is the reason why eBooks and eBook-readers are still not as widespread as they could be. I’d love to have all my books with me on an e-paper device, buy them digitally etc. But until they go for a totally open solution (for example, simple pdf-files without any restriction, just like drm-free mp3), I won’t buy such a device.

  50. Mayhem says:

    @Adaon damn you, you beat me to it.

    Eric Flint is probably one of the best examples of someone who is both virulently against DRM and willing and able to do something about it.

    His essay quoting Macauley on copyright is really interesting too, the whole copyright debate was well dealt with in 1841! Tis true, there’s nothing new under the sun.

  51. SimeSublime says:

    Well, at least you have the option of buying it. Take a step out of the United States and it doesn’t exist. I remember reading about it a few years ago with excitement. I’m still waiting to see if it’s worth it.

  52. Zapata says:

    (I'm getting all of this from the article linked above. I don't own a Kindle for the same reason I don't own Spore. (And to be fair, nobody owns a copy of Spore.) And also because I'm not made of money.)

    What is that, Lisp?

    1. Shamus says:

      “What is that, Lisp?”


  53. Harvey says:

    I agree that DRM is crap

    However having read both of GearDiary’s posts on the topic, I get the impression that what’s really bugging him is that he had to pick up a phone at all. Yes, he had to talk to more than one customer service rep, but that’s because his problem isn’t common.

    And Amazon DID refund his money.

    And they eventually found the answer to his question.

    I think Amazon did fine.

  54. John Lopez says:

    (if (not (can_remove_drm Book))
    (buy_paper_edition Book)
    (buy_electronic_edition Book))

  55. Kdansky says:

    Ok, after being seriously shocked at first, it is not that horrible, it only qualifies for “average bullshit in the DRM department”. DRM is pointless. I liked how you pointed out the information theory there, I always explain that to people and they don’t get it. Doesn’t everyone have a Computer Science degree? How do other people get through their lives (or rather, the technical parts of it, which are like 80% or more nowadays) without it? Seriously! ;)

  56. edcalaban says:

    I prefer either real books (DRM free, but unfortunately space consuming. 3 bookshelves and the floorspace in front of them FULL) and DRM free ebooks (which I can dump on my palm, meaning I don’t have to carry a book everywhere. Yay!)

    All in all, I don’t mind simple things for DRM like cd keys until I lose them (Like how Evil Genius is now on Steam. I have a legal copy floating around somewhere, but I haven’t seen it in over a year!). But stuff like Spore? That was the worst purchase decision I’ve made in years.

  57. Although I don’t own a Kindle, or read electronic books that much, I did come across this article from 2008 showing how to remove the DRM from most books purchased via Amazon…

  58. MizLobelia says:

    “I am not a book collector. I am a book reader. I have no use for a shelf of pristine volumes, snug in their dust jackets, crisp pages forever facing one another. I buy books for the same reason I buy a package of cheese: I want to assimilate the stuff inside.”

    Yes!!! The greatest honor a book can have is to be read – and shared. My poor copy of LOTR (which I got for Christmas when I was 18) is also on its last legs, with yellowing pages and tea stains. The D&D group I belong to likes to loan books back and forth – for that reason alone I would not be happy with something like the Kindle. When you read a book you like, you want to tell people, “Read this! You’ll love it!” and loan them the book in question. Kindle just does not support that.

  59. Angie says:

    I never considered buying a Kindle because I won’t buy any device which requires proprietary format software. Anyone who was alive and aware through the platform wars of the eighties — TRS-80, Commodore, Apple II, Amiga, Osborne, etc. — should know better; when the platform dies or is upgraded beyond backward compatibility, you’re left with a very expensive stack of useless software. I have no intention of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on e-books which are dependent on a single company’s platform to be used. All my e-books are plain, unsecured PDF, and I’m not willing to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a Kindle and then have to jump through a ridiculous set of hoops to get it to read plain PDF, which should be a native format on any e-book reader.

    And that was before this whole limited download thing. [eyeroll]

    Classic case of the ignorant being doomed to repeat history.


  60. I had an really horrible run in with DRM lately myself. I didn’t buy Mercenaries 2 for the PC because it states that it may not work because of DRM on the box! This is ridiculous.

  61. I’m a great believer in the e-book concept; having been reading e-books since the Apple Newton (and down through various Palms, Sony Reader PRS505, and Kindle 1). The dream has always been a portable electronic device that could hold a ton of reading material, automate subscriptions and facilitate quick easy downloads, and be as portable, as easy on the eyes, and as intuitive as a book. The Kindle 1 was the first really practical device to get close to that dream. The combination of the reflective e-ink screen, effortless Whispernet wireless cellular connection to Amazon (and the Internet – without requiring hooking up to a computer, ever), and Amazon’s tremendous ability to rope in a critical mass of book and periodical content made the promise of the e-reader real for the first time. But the Kindle 1 had some rough edges that got in the way of effortlessly reading. Things like the buttons that made it easy to accidentally turn pages; the separate cursor on the side that could only select lines and was sometimes hard to see; the occasionally awkward menus; the case which practically forced you to remove it to use it and sometimes pulled the battery door off. With the Kindle 2, Amazon has addressed all these issues and more. Each of the differences looks superficially subtle, but they collectively combine to make the Kindle 2 feel polished and comparatively effortless to use. It comes closer than any other device yet made to getting out the way and leaving the reader alone with the text, like a book.

    The first thing that grabs you about the Kindle 2 is how elegantly thin it is. The Kindle 2 is THIN. It positively disappears in your briefcase. The second thing is the buttons. They are smaller, but well placed and critically pivot from the edge inwards towards the screen. This means that when you handle the Kindle 2 by the edges, the pages don’t change even if you grab by the buttons. Yet changing pages is effortless when you do – the buttons are right between your thumbs and the slightest pressure on their faces is enough to activate them. The problem with the case was addressed by using a post-in-slot locking arrangement reminiscent of recent Palm organizers. The fact that you must buy the case now is disappointing but the silver lining is that you can opt to individualize your Kindle. The issue with the battery door opening is thus solved, but Amazon went further, eliminating the door altogether and wrapping the back with sleek stainless steel. It is tactile and elegant, but doing away with the door means doing away with the SD memory card slot that the Kindle 1 had, as well as the ability to change batteries. This is, undoubtedly, the most controversial aspect of Kindle 2. Frankly, I never used either the card slot or changed the battery on my Kindle 1 but I liked that they were there and I miss them on the Kindle 2, even though, I have to admit, I don’t actually need them. In practice it’s no hardship to live within a 2GB (1.4 GB available) limit, especially if you are willing to trust Amazon to archive items you are done reading. The screen is incrementally improved. 16 shades of gray is WAY better than 4. They say it’s faster, but only a tiny bit. I notice the snappiness of Kindle 2’s performance, but it’s certainly not a dramatic difference. The e-ink screen’s text quality is basically unchanged from Kindle 1. 40% white is pretty good, but the Kindle 2’s screen looks just like the one on Kindle 1. Where the improved e-ink screen really shines is dynamic update – which is fast enough to allow a live cursor within the text area. This does away with the scroll wheel and side cursor of Kindle 1. In Kindle 2 this has been replaced with a 5 way joystick (4 directions plus click down to select). The joystick does plenty more than just allow you to actually select a word to get a definition on. It lets you quickly navigate periodicals – moving to the next article with just a click right or left, or up to the section or article list with a flick up or down. Losing the side cursor gives Kindle 2 a cleaner look – but it’s the greatly improved navigation that’s the real benefit. This ease of navigation is one of the most compelling new features of Kindle 2 for me. As for the text to speech feature, it is probably invaluable to some – but not me. I like Stephen Hawking a lot but don’t want that voice to read me a book. Talk to me later and maybe I’ll have changed my mind.

    All in all, Kindle 2 feels like Amazon is getting to the soul of the e-reader. Most of the annoying things about Kindle 1 are gone, but almost all the strengths remain, or are accentuated. The trouble is, the differences are subtle. At first glance, Kindle 2’s enhancements look very incremental; almost trivial. Clearly the future will hold color, and better contrast than 40% – but these enhancements are in E-ink’s court, not Amazon’s. I have other items on my wish list for the future – like being able to fold out a larger screen to better display bigger books. I’d like the content manager to allow me to create folders so I can organize my growing collection of titles. I really really want Kindle to be able to read PDF files natively (you still have to e-mail in your PDFs for conversion with Kindle 2). These thing will come, I’m sure, in time. Meanwhile, the Kindle 2 is currently the best e-reader on the planet. In terms of in-the-hand usability it blows Kindle 1 away.

    Some of my colleagues and I at work have been talking lately about the implications of the Kindle on the future of the book. Kindle eradicates page numbers, loses the physical form, forces all books into a common size and shape, and homogenizes the typeface. Clearly something is lost compared with a printed book. Yet, what is gained is undeniable and as impending as the weather. The ability to carry whole libraries (like the iPod did for music), and the ability to get the daily paper, magazine, or a new book automatically – practically instantly – at a savings – is literally a dream come true. There’s little doubt that Kindle has utterly transformed the book distribution model. The big divide seems to be Amazon’s .azw, Kindle’s file format, and .pdf, Adobe’s Acrobat format which has become almost universal. PDF’s universality has the feeling of almost being open source (which it is not) because the there’s no copy protection or copyright features built into it. While .pdf-only format readers are around, and tons of .pdf titles are available, they tend to be composed disproportionately of public domain, technical libraries, and other arcana. That’s because mainstream publishers don’t want to sign on to a format that doesn’t protect them. Amazon’s .azw format does, and thus Kindle has that awesome selection of content. In the modern economics of increasing returns, early critical leads in technology tend to become dominant trends. Kindle’s .awz format seems to be on the verge of having an unsurmountable lock on the e-book market as a result. When it comes to the actual book titles (and periodicals) you’d like to read, Amazon’s Kindle has no competition. For me, the dream of a workable e-book is realized.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *