Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Ebook Solutions Libraries Can’t Use

LISNews linked to this article about a Kindle user having her Kindle account closed without warning and her Kindle remotely wiped for some alleged account offense, an offense so serious that her Kindle account was restored as soon as anyone published the story on the Internet.

The alleged violation that apparently wasn’t a violation had something to do with ebook sales rights in various parts of the world and…I didn’t really follow it that carefully. If you buy a Kindle and start using it in Norway, you should expect crazy things to happen.

If you want your Kindle account syncing well, you should just come over the good old U.S. of A. We may rank 38th worldwide in life expectancy, but we’re #1 in total healthcare expenditure per capita. (I can hear the chanting now, “#1! #1!) Our literacy rate is pretty darned good, too, at least for the time being.

This debacle is an indication of the problems anyone faces when “licensing” ebooks rather than being able to buy them, whether it’s a Norwegian with a Kindle book or an American Library with Overdrive.

What I found more interesting were the comments, which seemed to be from a very savvy group of ebook readers. They included very specific suggestions on how to evade Big Brother Amazon.

  1. Don’t sync your Kindle to your account via wifi. Keep the Kindle in airplane mode and Amazon can’t wipe it.
  2. Download your ebooks to a computer.
  3. Then use one of various programs to remove the DRM. I searched some of the suggested stuff and it turned out to be pretty easy to do.
  4. Then load your books on the Kindle.

That’s it, and you sacrifice a little convenience for more security and actual ownership of your files. The same strategy works for the Nook as well, it seems.

This is the comment that made me feel the most frustrated, by someone trying to move books he bought from Kobo to his new Kindle:

I know you’re not supposed to, and to do so I’d have to break DRM, etc, but I paid for these books dammit, and I’m going to move them.  After spending two days wrestling with ADE, Kobo, calibre, and various other programs and scripts to remove the DRM from my Kobo epubs, I finally said screw it and headed over to pirate bay.  In 10 minutes I had all the books I had paid for on Kobo in a format without DRM suitable for my new Kindle.
I didn’t want to pirate the books, I’m quite happy paying the authors for their work…. All that DRM did was make it hard for me (someone who was trying to do things the right way) to get the content I had already paid for.

I haven’t had this particular experience, because I’m still testing the waters on my first dedicated ebook reader, but I’m already wary about paying for any content that I can’t then move to some different device should one come along.

Now it turns out I don’t have to, since there are workarounds. The workarounds might be illegal, but any law that keeps people from moving books they paid for from one device to another is a perverse law anyway and no one is going to pay attention to it.

Plus, if Random House is right that we own ebooks we pay for, then moving them to another device isn’t really illegal. Sharing them with others might be, but that’s a completely different scenario.

Unfortunately, that’s the scenario for libraries. They can’t workaround the problems because they want to publicly share their books with other people.

Once again, I can’t help but conclude that library ebooks as they’re currently restricted is a bad investment for libraries. They would be a bad investment for individuals if the restrictions weren’t so easy to bypass, but libraries are stuck until something better comes along.



  1. The Librarian With No Name says:

    I wonder if we couldn’t gain some insight by having one of the Penny Arcade guys as a keynote speaker at the next ALA conference. The story of the user pirating media that he’d already paid for just to render it usable resonates strongly with the experiences of PC gamers over the last decade and more.

    Back when I still had time to play games, I’d routinely break DRM or download entire pirated copies of games I already owned just to avoid forced disc-swapping or other DRM-related shenanigans. Not too long ago, there were widespread copy protection systems which would refuse to run legitimate copies of games if they detected certain ISO software installed on your machine. There are a couple of games that I own and played for years without ever removing the physical copy from the shrink wrap, just because the DRM amounted to rootkit malware.

    It has long been the case that pirated software is not only free, but commonly represents a superior product for the end user.

    I suppose it’s possible that the publishing industry is in the process of learning the same hard lesson as the music, film and gaming industries: when it’s easier and more pleasant to pirate your product than it is to pay for it, your customers will become pirates.

  2. DevelopmentArrested says:

    “I wonder if we couldn’t gain some insight by having one of the Penny Arcade guys as a keynote speaker at the next ALA conference.”

    I’m pretty sure there are more insightful speakers who could talk about DRM than people who tell video games on the Internet. Lawrence Lessig jumps immediately to mind.

    • TheLibrarina says:

      I think the PA guys would be pretty darn insightful, actually. Just because they primarily discuss video games through their comics does not mean that it’s all they know about–they’re content creators in a variety of media, so they’ve looked at the concept of DRM from both sides now. (Sorry, Joni Mitchell.)

      Now, if you want someone with direct experience with the publishing world–why not ask the author of that first linked article? Cory Doctorow would be an awesome keynote speaker for ALA.

    • DevelopmentArrested says:

      @ The Librarina

      Well, maybe, that’s a good point about the fact that they’ve made games themselves. I like Penny-Arcade. Don’t get me wrong. I read it every MWF. I just feel that people who write jokes about getting raped by dickwolves are probably mismatched for the library crowd. It really has little to do with the video games, so I should have focused on another aspect.

      Also, you better be careful lifting Joni Mitchell lyrics for your personal gain. That could cost you some money.

      Talk about feeling blue…

  3. Stephen Michael Kellat says:

    Just buy print. The printed codex has been around for centuries. They last longer, too.

  4. Yep.
    And this is more of why I don’t understand ebook pricing: if I’m getting fewer rights (i.e., I don’t own the item), shouldn’t ebooks be much cheaper than their paperback equivalents? Right now, if the paperback is $15, the ebook tends to be, what? $14? Given the lack of rights (plus the lack of the cost of printing), shouldn’t that ebook be more like $6? (And yes, I understand that publishing costs money in any format, but those rights are worth quite a bit to me.)

    • The Librarian With No Name says:

      Well, you’re only viewing the economic equation from your side of the bargain. Publishers would much rather sell you a physical copy than an ebook. Thanks to the economy of scale, any of the Big Six can print, ship, warehouse and distribute a paperback novel at a higher profit margin than selling an ebook through Amazon. And that’s without any of the hassle of releasing easily-pirated electronic copies of their books into the wild.

      Most of the profits associated with ebooks come from selling ereaders and from distributing self-published native ebooks. As far as the publishers are concerned, ebooks are expensive and scary, and they’ve got no reason to encourage you to buy them.

    • anonymous says:

      They aren’t priced by the right. Rights contribute nothing to burdened overhead, so fewer rights doesn’t reduce cost. And in fact, you’re really not getting any fewer rights than with print. The fact that you can’t sell it stems from its lack of physicality. The only reason you can sell a print book is because you own the paper its printed on, and there isn’t a practical way for the copyright owner to make you bleach the pages on transfer of ownership of the paper. You still can’t do public performances, produce derivative works, make copies and all those other rights retained by the copyright holder.

    • Paper, printing, shipping and warehousing only account for 15% or so of the price of a print book, and for ebooks, some of the savings is offset by the increased costs of maintaining multiple digital workflows and the added costs of technical staff. Most of the cost of a book is burdened overhead — salaries, royalties, marketing and advertising, art, production and pre-flight and so on. So ebooks really aren’t appreciably cheaper than print for the traditional mainstream publishing process.

  5. Just don’t buy a Kindle. I don’t trust Amazon for beans.

  6. Kindleowner says:

    I own a Kindle although sometimes I wonder if it is really mine. I wanted to buy books but found that my kindle requested an American credit card. Yet, they allowed me to buy the kindle with the same credit card. I believe that I bought the device and so it is mine to do whatever I want with it, or so it should be. If I buy a paper book and read it, I can then give it to whoever I want or I can sell it to a 2nd hand shop to re-sell it. I can’t give my ebooks to anyone because a third party/supplier/controller doesn’t agree…baloney. We should not put up with this violation of consumer freedom. We need a consumer website that advises us before we buy. Had I known about DRM I wouldn’t own a kindle.

  7. I read this article with relief! After coming across two issues over ebooks I had been wondering if anyone else was writing about how we don’t seem to OWN what we pay for in terms of digital content. So far I’ve come across these two issues:
    1. I sent a kindle book as a gift to someone in a south asian country and he couldn’t access it – “the title is not available to customers in xx country”.
    2. I bought two books on kindle and found out that I couldn’t lend them to anyone! Of course I returned the books.
    I realise these issues are by the publishers and not kindle/Amazon, and I am happy to know that there are ways to circumvent them. It is sad, though, that we have to resort to these measures.

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