Amazon, Censorship, and DRM

I freaking hate DRM. Hate hate hate. DRM absolutely affects my buying decisions. Absolutely. I’ve been an ebook fan for a while now. My device was pretty expensive, because the technology was newer when I bought it, but before agency pricing I was able to save enough money on my book-buying habit to make it worth the price, because back then you could get a lot of good deals on ebooks. (And you still can, if you stick to cheap, DRM-free indie reads.) What really made the decision for me to embrace ebooks at the time was how much I love getting digital books from the library. So my choice of ereader was the one that worked with the library’s DRM.

I’m going to want a new device down the line. I’m already looking. But in purchasing a device, I want to concentrate on device quality and features–not the quality of the store to which the device is virtually tethered. A main reason I don’t buy DRM-encumbered books is because I want to be sure my library is as future-protected as possible, and that I’ll be able to read all of those books on my next ereader.

There may be some of you who are confused about what I’m saying here, so let me pause to explain. But do keep in mind that I’m not a technician and I don’t play one on TV, so my understanding and explanation may be technically flawed. An ebook is a file. When you purchase an ebook with DRM, that file is locked by the DRM. You need to have a program that contains your (or your device’s) individual license in order to unlock that file and enjoy your purchase. That program and information is contained in your device, and you may or may not also have that on your personal computer as well. As long as the DRM encumbers your purchase, you will need to rely on that program and license info any time you want to experience the media you bought. Depending on how much you buy, that can start to require a lot of faith on your part. Faith that your license will always be honored.

And the fact is, a lot of people just don’t think about or care about actually owning what they buy. But I’m not one of those. Books have never been throwaway purchases for me, and I don’t have a different attitude toward ebooks. All my ebooks get saved to my hard drive, backed up, and the selection I want to keep on the device gets side-loaded (moved from PC to device by cable) on and off.

So guess what’s not going to happen to my DRM-free books. And here’s where the inspiration for today’s post comes from: I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and find that the willy-nilly Amazon censorship committee has dicked with my personal library. Unless I very much mistake how the world works, if it’s DRM-free and I’ve backed it up, they can’t take it away from me. And, of course, I can convert it to any format I want, to read it on whatever device I choose to purchase going forward.

It’s my money and my purchase. I deserve that security and that freedom to be able to own what I buy. And my readers deserve it.

All the DRM has been cracked. The amount of effort it takes for a pirate to strip a book of DRM and fileshare it is about as much effort as it takes you and me to check our email. Yes, DRM will prevent casual sharing. It will prevent Sally from telling Jane, “OMG, I just read the greatest book. Read it nooowwww,” and attaching the file, in the same way she, and probably you, have lent out paperbacks in the past. And yes, I agree that there are no controls on the number of copies the enthusiastic Sally can fileshare, and that’s a problem inherent in digital media.

But at the end of the day, I trust Sally, my reader, more than I trust the corporate entities that are currently screwing around, back-room dealing in DRM to control my purchases and spending. And I’d kind of rather be a little dicked over by Sally’s enthusiasm than dick her– and my other readers, scrupulously honest readers– over by not allowing her to take my book with her to her next device purchase or to find it no longer available to her when the retailer from which she purchased it decides to remove her access.

Want an example of the controlling bullshit going on with DRM? Sony Reader reads EPUB, and DRM’d content for the Sony is “protected” by Adobe. Wow, same with NOOK! So that means Sony owners have a whole new store to shop! Um…no. Notice how Sony’s not on the list of supported devices. Why? It makes no sense. Same file format, same program for licensed content. What’s the deal? I NEVER got a straight answer out of B&N customer service. At first I think they wanted to talk about the wireless stuff. Um, I don’t CARE abut the wireless stuff, my device is pre-wireless. Why can’t I just purchase the content, open it in Adobe Digital Editions, and side-load it? And I actually think that customer service just wasn’t educated enough to answer my questions.

A lot of Googling finally informed me that just because both devices go through Adobe Digital Editions, doesn’t mean it’s the same DRM. I read somewhere that NOOK DRM is a variation on the previous Adobe DRM, and that’s why it won’t work for the Sony Reader. Why? Or maybe because they’re following Amazon’s model: if you want to shop our store, you’re going to have to buy our reader (we’re just not even going to talk about smartphone or PC apps because who wants that?). Maybe because everyone else who’s been dealing with Adobe got together and pressured Adobe: No! Don’t let them have the same DRM as us or we’ll lose all our ebook customers to B&N! Who knows?

But what’s any of that got to do with piracy?


Indies have the choice to DRM or not to DRM with some retailers. Many DRM without even thinking about it. Oh yes, protect me from the dreaded pirates! when it’s got so little to do with piracy and so much to do with controlling the market. We can’t always control what happens to our uploaded content at all retailers (I’m sure Hush Money is DRM-encumbered at Kobo, Sony, and Apple, for example), but we can give our customers choices.

My readers don’t deserve to be encumbered by bullshit DRM, and I won’t choose it.

PS. Everyone who commented yesterday was a winner. I’ll send those prizes out today. Thanks, guys!


Filed under rant

23 responses to “Amazon, Censorship, and DRM

  1. Well said. These are exactly the problems I have with DRM. Honest readers are the only ones who end up punished by DRM schemes.

    • As indies, we put so many eggs in the ebook basket, yet it often feels like so many indies don’t make any effort to educate themselves on devices, formats, or any of it. It kind of makes me crazy. I know there’s SO MUCH going on that a new author has to learn to get in the game, and I kind of get that, but…still with the crazy.

      “Scheme” is an excellent word.

  2. I also hate DRM. I would never DRM my books on purpose. I didn’t even think about the fact that Kobo, Sony, and Apple might do that automatically. But when retailers I’m loading to ask if I want to DRM I never do it.

  3. I think DRM wouldn’t be so bad if it allowed similar freedom as one would have with a print book. When I purchase a book, I receive one copy. But I can share that one copy with as many friends as I want.

    I know some stores have a method for sharing books. However, you’re still stuck with one format which makes it rather inconvenient. We have a Sony Reader in our house, but in order to read a DRM file from any other store, we’re stuck with the computer. Kind of takes the convenience of owning a Sony reader away.

    I wonder why companies don’t take a clue from Smashwords and offer all formats. If they stuck the DRM feature in the files but offer a variety of formats it wouldn’t force the readers to stick with one stores. At the same time, they could still manage the pirate issue in their minds.

    • Reena, I really think that it’s because piracy is what they tell us it’s for, but it’s not all of it, or even number one with them.

      • And I almost never buy books from the Sony store. It’s never impressed me as a bookstore.

        • I’ve never purchased a Sony book either. My daughter received it as a present one year from her grandfather but never got into eReading. Electronics aren’t allowed at her school so she doesn’t even like starting books on it. 🙂 I’ve ordered a couple of books through Smashwords to use on it though. It’s a shame it mostly goes to waste though.

          • For DRM’d stuff, you should be able to get EPUB books from Borders, Kobo, Books-A-Million, and Diesel. You can buy anything for Kindle that says “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited” and covert it to EPUB. There’s DRM-free stuff at BN, but I haven’t figured out how to spot it yet. And if your library is part of Overdrive’s program, you can borrow books from there.

            Not allowing ereaders, especially those that can’t access the internet, in school is fail. (as zero-tolerance often is)

  4. Well, I must say that I’m one of the ones who wants smartphone apps. I like being able to have all my digital gadgets on one toy. (Though I’m considering changing that when my current contract is up in a year and a half. we’ll have to see.) But all the same, it’s annoying to have to switch between apps trying to figure out which book was purchased via which store. And some of the apps have a better interface than the others, so I’m happier with the reading experience from the start — something which can color my enjoyment of the book before I read a single word (which is not fair to the book or author).

    I’m convinced there’s got to be a better way than DRM, and I’m equally convinced that the Powers That Be see no reason to go looking for said better way. Highly annoying.

    • I’m not in any way against smartphone apps. I’m against someone saying, “You can read it on your smartphone!” Why would I pay $30/mo (what my provider charges) extra so I could have a cell phone that does everything when I rarely leave the house? Some people need that, but since I’m not excessively mobile, that’s excessive for me. So I have an ebook reader which is comfortable to hold and doesn’t get overheated on my lap like the not so aptly named laptop, and I can also drop it in my bag when I DO go out.

      I have an overseas friend who has multiple devices because regional restrictions mean she can only get certain books from certain vendors. That’s just wrong. (And my friend rocks for loving books that much.)

      They cause no end with trouble with their “safeguards” and they just don’t care. The attitude toward customers is pretty sucky in a lot of areas right now.

  5. What a coincidence. I just spent hours the other night investigating why I couldn’t transfer an ebook from my computer version of Kindle to my iPhone version of Kindle. I cannot read books on my computer as much as on my phone since it is not as portable. I still have not figured out this dilemma. They are both Kindle and both in my name, so what’s the problem? I share your frustrations.

    • That’s interesting about it not transferring. My first thought is that maybe your computer book is a PRC (or AZW) file and your iPhone may want to read PDB or something else. I don’t know enough about Kindle or iPhone though.

  6. Another DRM-hater here. *Boo, hiss*

    I’m not bothered by piracy but I am bothered by inconvenience and that’s all DRM does, make it a little more inconvenient to read things my way.

  7. Claire

    Great and informative post! I’m only just learning about all this DRM nonsense. I’ll join the booers and hissers up above. Mostly seems to benefit corporate entities and harm individual readers. Ridiculous!

  8. Hate DRM with a passion. I’m not sure how DRM is connected to censorship, though — I’d wager it has more to do with the first sales doctrine (which consumers just lost for digital goods in a court case a month or so ago).

    Are you referring to the S.K. / Amazon mass purging thing? Amazon has really pissed me off. I’m downloading all of my archived books now. I think one disappeared, but it was a free book and I don’t even know which one it was because I never read it. Guess I know the approximate subject matter now1 Maybe. Who knows? *eyeroll*

    I’m going to sell on Amazon, but damned if it’s going to be my first choice for ebook stores anymore.

  9. Stacey Wallace Benefiel

    Unfortunately, I put DRM on Glimpse when I first published it on Amazon-this is before I knew anything about it and just thought that you were supposed to do it. Of course, I have since learned not to. Thank goodness for Smashwords, or I would have lost out on all those readers that don’t have a kindle or use kindle apps. The thing that has pissed me off the most about it is that now that I know better, I can’t take it off. I’ve uploaded the enitre book a few times, but they continue to put the DRM on it without asking me if I want it again. Grr.

    • I did the same with Control Freak. It wasn’t until I ran a giveaway for Hush Money a few weeks ago, and Susan mentioned DRM-free that I realized it mattered. Also found out that I couldn’t change it afterward. Oh well. Lesson learned, right?

    • I totally don’t get why they won’t let you make that change and I think it really stinks. I wonder if anyone knows what that’s about.

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