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?