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?

I Broke My Kindle, But Amazon is Amazing

When I turned on my Kindle before going to bed last night my heart sank when I saw the screen wouldn’t redraw properly and that my screen was probably broken. Yesterday my Kindle was involved in an unfortunate accident. I take full blame for what happened. I called Amazon’s customer service today to see what they might be able to do for me even though the broken Kindle was my fault. The problem was certainly not a manufacturing error but an error on my part.

First Customer Service Rep

Kindle 3The rep on the phone took the information about my device and what happened. I told her that the Kindle was in a box that got hit by a large object. The Kindle was the only thing in the box that was damaged (thankfully my computer survived) and there was no physical evidence that the device was harmed in any way other than the screen would not redraw.

The kind rep (who spoke fairly good English) said that Amazon would allow me to buy a replacement device for $65 (which is 1/2 the price of a new Kindle Keyboard with the same features). To me that was more than fair since I am the one who broke the Kindle. It was not a manufacturing flaw in any way. However, I don’t have $65 at the moment and told her that. She said it would be flagged in my account if I wanted to buy a replacement at any point in the future I could get the reduced price.

Amazon was more than fair and the story should have ended there.

Second Customer Service Rep

However, I searched my account and found out that my device was out of warranty by 5 days. Certainly that should not make a difference. They had no obligation to do anything for me, yet they offered me a 50% discount on a new unit. But…seeing that it was only 5 days out of warranty, I wondered if it would make any difference if I pointed out to them that the warranty just expired (knowing full well that even under warranty my mistake should not be covered).

I jumped back onto the Amazon site and, instead of calling this time, I used the live chat feature. I quickly explained my scenario to the rep. Upfront I told him that I thought Amazon was more than fair to offer a new Kindle for 1/2 price and that the problem was one that I caused. At no point did I try to hide the fact from them that I was at fault. Then I asked him if it would make any difference if my Kindle was still under warranty. Without answering my question he asked me to do a couple of tests on the device to determine if it was really broken (if he could see it he wouldn’t question its brokenness). I patronized him.

I then said that I knew Amazon had no obligation to replace the device and that 50% reduction for a new Kindle was more than generous. But I also knew that Amazon was a kind and thoughtful company. Would they consider replacing the unit for me.

My Pleasant Surprise

Without hesitation the rep said he would send me a new one. He just needed a few bits of information to proceed. I excitedly provided the info he needed and he told me that a unit would be delivered by Monday. I got an email from Amazon later in the day today (Thursday) telling me that my new Kindle had shipped and that it would be delivered at my house tomorrow (Friday before the proposed Monday delivery).

Amazon is amazing!

Will they do this for you? I don’t know, but if you have a broken Kindle it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. I think the biggest thing in my favor was that I didn’t demand anything from them and I didn’t try to pretend that the screen just broke on its own.

Amazon, Please Don’t Require Me to Use a Touchscreen on the Kindle 4

Part of the appeal of the Kindle for me is that it doesn’t have a touchscreen. First a little history, then I will tell you why I don’t want a touchscreen on the future Kindle readers.

Kindle 3I have had my Kindle for a little over 2 months. I have completely fallen in love with it. But, I already knew I would even though I had never touched a Kindle before buying mine. I used my wife’s Sony ebook Reader for the first time in January and began to see how much I would like using an ebook reader of some kind. From January to May I was saving my pennies to be able to buy a Kindle.

There are other good ebook readers on the market. But there were a couple of features that made the Kindle most appealing to me. That is not to say that the Kindle is the best option in every situation. I found a chart that Michael Hyatt created where he highlighted the features of different ebook readers. You may want to take a look at it when thinking about purchasing an ebook reader. Note that it was compiled in October 2010. There may be some major changes by the time you read the chart.

Some of the appealing features of the Kindle to me were that I could purchase books through Amazon and the sheer number of books available. Because I am already an Amazon customer and I have purchased ebooks to read on the Kindle app of my iPhone, I was very interested in staying in the same ecosystem. An added benefit was that I could read on my phone and then pick up reading on the Kindle where I left off, or vice versa.

Kindle has more books available than any other marketplace. I don’t think this is a huge issue if you are buying current best-sellers. Those are probably available on all the platforms. But as someone who reads older books, or more technical obscure titles, then I have a better chance of finding the book at Amazon.

But the biggest reasons I like the Kindle as opposed to some of the other readers is that the Kindle does not have a touchscreen. I don’t want a touchscreen on my ebook reader. I want to be able to touch the screen like the page of a book. I can underline with my finger while reading. I can also hold my finger on the screen while showing a passage to someone else. When looking through the chart of various ebook readers, I purposely choose one that did not have a touchscreen.

I don’t mind if the Kindle 4 has a touchscreen that can be toggled on and off, but I don’t want to be forced to use one. An ebook device will be smaller overall with a touchscreen than without (if the screen size is the same). Look at the Nook Touch to see how much smaller it is than the Kindle because it doesn’t need the keyboard.

I want to touch my ebook screen like a real page without flipping pages or making things pop up while reading.

Please Amazon, don’t make me use a touchscreen on the Kindle 4!