Why DRM Frustrates Legitimate Users

I have never been a fan of DRM (Digital Rights Management). This is the system that is supposed to stop people from illegally sharing files across the Internet. I don’t know of any DRM that has completely stopped file sharing. It is trivial to do a search on the Internet for the file you want and download it. DRM hasn’t accomplished its goals.

It has, however, managed to frustrate and punish legitimate users. Here is my story of a book I acquired legitimately but yet find almost impossible to enjoy. To the point I have stopped reading it.

A Trip to Amazon

I love Amazon. I am a prime member. I buy what I can at the site when it is cheaper, which it isn’t always. I also love my Kindle. I love their customer service. But this isn’t about Amazon, it is about a book I wanted to buy there.

The book is The $100 Startup. I have heard several podcasters talk about the book and I have read quite a few reviews. I took a trip to Amazon to get the book for my Kindle. A few things stood out as soon as I got there. First the hardcover version of the book is only $13! That’s a great price for all that paper and ink. Independent bookstores are selling the book for less than $11 through the Amazon marketplace. That’s an even better deal!

But I don’t want paper, I want a Kindle version. I know plenty of people say that the ebook version is not as good as paper. I used to be one of those. However, I now see the digital version as being superior. I can highlight passages and take notes on my Kindle. I can then view all my notes and highlights online and use that information anywhere whether my Kindle is with me or not. Try that with paper. One other thing about digital is that I am paying for the content and not the paper.

Checking out the Kindle version of the book I saw the price was $11.99. That’s more than what I could buy a paper and ink version of the book for. I then noticed that Random House was the publisher. They have a history of setting prices at Amazon for their ebooks. Though they are not part of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Apple and five publishers for collusion, the result is the same in that they set the price of their books and not Amazon.

I am spoiled by Amazon’s price of $9.99 for Kindle books and I don’t like paying more than that. Rarely do I even pay that much for a book since I can often find good sales on books I want. And I certainly don’t like paying just $1.15 less than the hardback version of the book (or less if I buy it from a third party).

A Trip to the Library

I looked up the book at our local library hoping to score a copy for free. I did not find a physical copy there, but they offer it through their digital library system which is handled by Overdrive. “Great!”, I thought. That would be even better. I can take notes on my Kindle and have the book in a format I prefer.

When I got home I logged into the digital library system and found the book. Disappointingly it was only available in EPUB format and not the Kindle format. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal to get the book as an EPUB and then convert it to .mobi (the format for the Kindle).  However, after waiting in line for a couple of weeks to get the notification that it was my turn to borrow the book (yes, you still have to wait in line for other people to “finish” reading the book and “return” it to the library) I eagerly downloaded the book to my computer.

Opening the Book

DRM - No One AdmittedThe file wouldn’t open in anything I had as a reader. The file was DRMed with the Adobe Digital Editions system (ADE). This means you have to have some type of approved reader that will allow you to authenticate with an ADE account. There is no such reader available for Linux that I could find. So no way to read the book on my computer or convert it (without breaking the DRM and facing prison time for a DMCA violation).

Here is the problem with DRM. I legally obtained the book. I have done nothing inappropriate to acquire the book. Yet, because of DRM I am not allowed to read the book on the hardware I have. From my understanding, if I had a Barnes and Noble Nook eReader which has ADE on it, I still would not be able to transfer the file through my computer because I am running Linux. The file I got from the library was not the book itself that could be placed on the Nook. It was an authentication file that has to be approved by Adobe which then lets me download the book to place on the reader. All of which would have been impossible as a Linux user.

Using My Phone

I downloaded the Overdrive Media Console (the Overdrive ebook reader) for my Android phone. Thankfully I could download the book using Overdrive’s software. I even started reading the book.

The reading experience on Overdrive’s Media Console was worse than a paper book for me. I have not found any way to make notes or highlights within the text of the book. Right at halfway through the book the author gives a 39 step checklist. The perfect kind of thing you would want to highlight and save for future reference. I can’t do it. I don’t even have the option of sticking my phone on the copy machine and grabbing the list since there are so few words that appear on a page with such a small screen. The list takes up 20 screens worth of text. I don’t want to make 20 pages worth of copies to get this seemingly valuable list.

On top of that, almost every time I open the book using Overdrive’s software it opens to the page previous to the one I was reading when I stopped. I say “almost every time” because 3 times so far I have been returned to the start of a chapter and had to click through several pages before getting back to where I left off.

The app is slow too. It takes 20 seconds to open the book. Then each time I change chapters it takes 20 seconds to load in the next chapter. That is just opening the book once the software is running. My Kindle takes just under 2 seconds to go from an off state to reading a book.

My solution? I am giving up on The $100 Startup. Chris, I am sure your book is a fine one. I have heard you interviewed by several podcast hosts that I respect; however, to legally read your book within my requirements of price and convenience I just can’t do it. I spent 2 weeks waiting for the book from the library. I have had the book for 11 days and am frustrated by the reading experience (which has little to do with the quality of the book). I’m done with it.

Circumventing DRM

I will admit that I did a little digging into the process of breaking the DRM on the book. It seems trivial. I have never done it on an EPUB, but I have converted a few Kindle titles that I own that I wanted to read on another device. For the Kindle books I have done it takes importing the book into Calibre with some special plugins and clicking a button.

For The $100 Startup it only took a few seconds on Google to find an Kindle formatted copy on the Internet for free. I could illegally obtain the book for my Kindle with much less hassle than the legally obtained DRM version of the book. Plus I would have a much better reading experience. However, I won’t do that. I am happy to pay the author for the content at a fair price (as determined by me). What I don’t want to do is pay a publishing company essentially the same price for the content that they are charging for the content, paper, ink, pretty cover and something I can put on my bookshelf.

Again, I don’t mind paying the author for the content. The truth is though, with the pitiful amount he will be paid by the publishing company for each copy sold, he could probably self publish the Kindle version, sell it for $3 and make 250% more per copy than he does currently. This sounds like it would be more in keeping with the spirit of a $100 startup than using a traditional publisher that has no interest in the author–only in their pocketbooks.

What’s your thoughts on DRM?

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I have not been a fan of Roald Dahl since I read James and the Giant Peach. I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember that he was very disrespectful to authority and James, the main character, ran over an aunt or grandmother with the peach and killed her. It was a happy occasion in the book. Something did not sit well with me on that one.

But, I was going through my son’s bookshelf the other day and saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had never read it.

Surprisingly the movie Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is very close to the text of the book. Some of the dialog is different, but the events are similar. There are only three glaring differences between the book and the movie (that I can remember). I have not seen the movie in maybe 20 years, so I may not remember too well.

The differences are that the spoiled girl in the book is taken out by squirrels, where in the movie she is done in by geese. Charlie and Grandpa Joe do not get involved with the bubbly stuff that makes them stick to the ceiling in the book. The movie makes a whole scene of this, the book just mentions the substance. The third difference is just the way the story culminates. It ends more abruptly in the movie version than it does in the book. Also there is a bit of a twist in the movie that is just a straightforward set of events in the book.

I thought it was certainly well written. It held my interest better than most books. I can see why it is popular among young teens. My son (9 years old for 1 more week) would love the humor and naughtiness of the children. Though Dahl is still disrespectful to others, it is more on a peer level instead of children to adults. Where there is disrespect to authority, the offender is reprimanded or punished. In James and the Giant Peach the disrespect is applauded.

I cannot recommend James and the Giant Peach to a child for reading, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seems harmless enough.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dhal, (the one I have) Bantam Books, 1984, 160 pages.

Review: William Carey: Obliged to Go

In their book William Carey: Obliged to Go, authors Janet and Geoff Benge tell of the hardships and victories in the life and ministry of the Father of Modern Missions, William Carey.

While reading this book it gave some great background to many stories about his life that I had only heard referenced before, but had not heard the whole story. For example, many people have heard of the saying that the people in the supporting churches “hold the ropes” for the missionary on the field, but probably did not know that this comes from an event in Carey’s life (pgs. 68, 69). Also Carey’s famous saying, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”, comes from a meeting he had with other ministers who were content to let God do His own work (pg. 63).

He really endured some hard times as a young man. It almost seemed that he was not able to get ahead of tragedy and hardship until later in life. But he never quit. This book is written very positively in the way he handled problems. I have never read his journals, but I am sure he struggled at times with what was going on around him. This book also does not point out some of the failings he apparently had as a father. I have read in other places some harsh criticism about Carey in the way he treated his family. I think it is easier to criticize the actions of people without understanding the times in which they lived.

Like other books in this series, I think the point is to give a general overview of the events in the subject’s life and not get too detailed in reasonings behind why a person made the decisions they did. I also feel that the target audience of these books is for a younger teenage audience as opposed to historians wanting full details of the life of the subject.

Unlike their book about David Livingstone, this one did not seem to flow into a nice easy time line and event structure throughout his life. I think that was more due to the way things worked in the lives of these two men, not necessarily a fault of the writers.

I have friends who have several books in this series and I am very excited about reading each one that I can. If you are interested in Christian missionaries then you will not be disappointed by reading other books in the Christian Heroes: Then & Now series.

William Carey: Obliged to Go, Janet and Geoff Benge, YWAM Publishing, 1998, 211 pages.

Review: Shoot For The Star

Shoot for the Star is the autobiography of the inspirational speaker and Dallas Cowboys football player Bill Bates. This is not a new book. It was written just after winning his team’s second trip to the Super Bowl. Bates went on to play four more years and win one more Super Bowl ring.

Unlike some of the other sports biographies I have read recently (Armstrong, Runyan) this one did not have a universal theme of overcoming incredible odds to be in the position he was in. Therefore, you really have to be a football fan, or particularly a Cowboys fan, to really enjoy this book. Fortunately for me, I am a Cowboys fan and my years of greatest interest in football were from 1984 to 1998. Bates played from 1983 to 1997. Not knowing it at the time, I basically watched Bill Bates his whole career.

The great odds that Bates did have to struggle with are the types of things that makes him a good motivational speaker today. His biggest struggle was that he was an average guy trying to make it in a game that favored the exceptional. At 6’1″ he was not overly large. I don’t know what weight he finished his career at, but at one point in the book he talked about only weighing 183 pounds. That is not very large when facing guys like Herschel Walker’s 6’1″ / 225 pounds. Bates never had a multi season contract (at least through the writing of the book) that guaranteed him a spot on the team. Each year in training camp he had to fight 150+ other men for one of the coveted 47-53 slots on the team roster.

Bill Bates is an example of your average person who wants to go out and leave a mark on the world. He shows that through hard work and tenacity a person can often beat out more talented and naturally gifted people to achieve what they desire.

This book was definitely written with the football fan in mind. It was nice to be able to read a book that did not feel like it had to explain every position on the field and what all the terms mean. That said, this is not a book that would be very interesting to someone who only has a casual knowledge of the sport.

There were just enough stats and records mentioned in the book to keep a fan intrigued without overwhelming someone with too much information.

Some of the stories he tells are incredibly hilarious. Many of the anecdotes I had to share with my wife. We laugh at some of the great antics that went on in the delivery rooms for our children. It is fun to read stories of other people’s experiences that are just as hilarious. Just imagine this: 25 people in a stressful delivery room to deliver a set of very pre-mature triplets and in the middle of them all is an excited first time, football-playing dad calling a huddle with the doctors and nurses so he can give a pep rally speech moments before delivery!

The stories from the field were especially interesting to me because many of the plays that he recounts in the book were plays I remember seeing while glued to the TV on a Sunday afternoon.

Great book for the football fan that is looking for some motivation. Probably not a book that would interest my mom. However, unlike many biographies today, this one was completely devoid of cursing and I don’t feel I missed any of the emotion shared between the players. My hat’s off to an author who manages to keep it clean.

Shoot for the Star, Bill Bates, Word Publishing, 1994, 238 pages.

Review: It’s Not About the Bike

I have to give high praises to Sally Jenkins once again for her writing skills. Like the previous book I read which was co-written by her, this one is well done. This time she teams up with Lance Armstrong in his first book It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.

I have not previously known much about Lance Armstrong other than he is an amazing cyclist and the winner of 7 straight Tour de France races. I also know him as a marathon runner in the last two New York City Marathons.

The first of the book outlines a bit of his childhood. It does not dwell too long on it, for which I was thankful. Lance proved himself to be a angry kid with a chip on his shoulder, a typical jerk. The quicker we moved away from that, the better. Unfortunately, I think that is a character trait that he never outgrew. He may have softened in some areas, but, by his own admission in the book, it lasted quite some time. He bares it all in the book.

The fascinating thing about the book is his journey through cancer. He had testicular cancer which was not discovered until it was in a very progressed, late stage. By the time it was found in October 1996 it had already spread into his lungs and brain. Though I knew he had cancer, until I read this book, I did not know how severe his situation was. The whole process of chemotherapy, physically and emotionally, was inspirational as well as very emotional. I had no concept of what chemo did to a body. I know that not everyone goes through the same type of treatments for cancer, but I have a new appreciation for the emotional strength it takes for someone to endure such events.

The book then covers his physical recovery from the cancer and details his emotional hardships to overcome the fact that he was a survivor. His “jerk” status that he established as a kid (for me) was confirmed in the year after his fight with cancer. He basically lived the next year totally defeated. This was taken out on everyone around him who tried to help him through the struggle. Eventually he was able to snap out of his funk and get back to what he loved doing.

The final part of the book is his account of winning his first Tour de France in 1999. He talks a great deal about his wife during this part of the book. He emphasized the fact that he was going to be the best husband and father he could be. Since the book was written 7 years ago he has royally failed in those areas. Though I said I don’t know much about him, I have heard about some of his relationships since his break up from his first wife. Not much of a model father and husband.

I found it ironic tonight as I was thinking about writing this review, I looked up his wife to see what she is currently up to. She is now living life as a committed endurance runner. She writes for Runner’s World and while Lance was running the NYC Marathon yesterday, she was running a half marathon in California.

While I may not think very highly of Lance Armstrong as a role model, I do respect him for his amazing feats of athleticism. I cannot fully put my stamp of approval on the book since the amount of cursing was way more than I was comfortable with. However, if you are curious about the toll taken on someone’s life in the process of fighting cancer, I don’t know of a better introduction to the subject. It is an inspirational read.

It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, Lance Armstrong and Sally Jenkins, Putnum, 2000, 275 pages.