Tag Archives: DRM

Is Amazon Cornering The Market Because Of DRM?

Last week a number of independent booksellers filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit against Amazon and a number of its publisher partners over the use of DRM. Specifically, they feel that Amazon’s DRM restricts eBooks to being read only on Kindle based devices, and that since many of the publishers named only provide eBooks through Amazon, it effectively cuts other eReaders and potentially even other brick and mortar stores (more because of price) out of the market. The suit floats the possibility of “open-source DRM” which would allow a book to be protected, but still able to transferred across devices.

I am no great fan of DRM, and as an author think it’s best to sell without it, even with the risk of piracy. Even though piracy can take a sale away, it can spread buzz about an independent author who’s making his start which may lead to more sales in the long run. But let’s unpack whether Amazon unfairly restricts DRM.

Amazon’s DRM is device specific. In other words, if you own two Kindle eReaders and download the same book to both, those files are not actually the same. Each is encoded against the serial number of your device. You can’t move a book downloaded to one device to the other unless you do it through your Amazon cloud archive. The difference is especially noticeable when we’re talking about Android based readers like the Fire or the Kindle app. This being said, the Kindle app makes Kindle books available on any phone, tablet or PC. The main restrictions is eInk eReaders, for that you’ll need a Kindle.

Amazon’s DRM policy is only really restrictive when we’re talking about eReaders (and magazines since these are not archived in the cloud like all other books). I think the real basis for any complaint would be that certain publishers are only selling through Amazon, which has nothing to do with DRM.

Open source DRM as I understand it would take away the serial number part of the DRM encoding. In other words, if I had two Kindles I could transfer a book I downloaded to one to the other through my computer and not through the cloud. The file would still be restricted to be re-encoded into another format (which would still make them unreadable on the Nook, Nooks read epubs and Kindles read mobi). Maybe the seller could provide software to convert while preserving DRM (only convert to DRM supporting formats) but I don’t see much of an incentive for them to make their books easy to port to another device. And open source doesn’t really apply in this case. Open source implies the source code for the DRM is available to the public, which would effectively defeat the purpose. Open source DRM is a contradiction in terms.

I don’t like DRM, as I said above, but the way to fight it is not through lawsuits. It’s through individual authors making the choice to sell without DRM (which you can even do on Amazon (all of TOR books for example)). And it’s through consumer demand, refusing to buy a product unless it doesn’t have DRM. Amazon doesn’t make its money with its eReaders, but the books themselves. If you really want to read on another device, buy that one, and complain to the publisher if a book is not available for it.

Full disclosure, I own a Kindle Touch, Fire and an Android device with the Kindle App, as well as using the Kindle Cloud reader on several devices, though some of my books are purchased in DRM free format and converted to MOBI using Calibre. I made the decision to buy Amazon devices because I thought the hardware was the best, and I already had established accounts in music and video. I think if we want to talk monopolies and DRM, we need to bring the whole media infrastructure into the argument, but that’s a blog post for another time.

What do you guys think, is Amazon cornering the market? If you’re an author have you taken the DRM free pledge?


Filed under Books + Publishing, Trube On Tech, Writing

Haulin’ them megabytes

Remember how I said designing an eBook was like designing a web page from the late 90s? Well, there’s one more way eBooks are like old technology, they charge by the megabyte.

I’ve been taking a closer look at Amazon’s 70% Royalty sharing option and found something interesting. The royalty is 70% of digital list price, minus $0.15 for every megabyte in size of your eBook. Now for most people this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Their books probably don’t clock in over the half a megabyte mark.

But I’m writing a book on fractals. There are, you know, pictures and stuff.

I’m estimating the final product will be about 8MB in size (which is actually pretty compressed from the original word file). At $0.15 a megabyte, that’s another $1.20 out of the royalty (per book), knocking the approximately $3.50 I was expecting (out of my $4.99 digital list) down to $2.30. It’s still better than the 35% option, which does not have the delivery fee, by 11%. Somehow I doubt Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing could get people as excited about 46% royalties.

I wasn’t sure why Amazon did this until I thought about cell phones.

Amazon does make a few 3G eReaders, and because the transmission size of eBooks is usually pretty small, it doesn’t charge its users a data plan like most cell phone carriers. Well, here’s where there making up for some of that money they left on the table.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the Fractal book at the moment. Kindle Direct Publishing is still an option (and for novels it’d be fine), but something about this strikes me as … cheap.

Here’s what I’d like. A couple of months ago the Humble eBook Bundle put together 13 books from a variety of authors (DRM free) and sold them at a pay what you want level, with a minimum of a couple bucks or so. If you paid a little more, you got a little extra. It’s a nice model and one I’d like to do some investigation of. I could see selling the Fractal book for say, a base price of $2.99 (better than I’d be doing on Amazon), and have some bonus content if you beat the average price (not sure what that’d be, maybe a book of the blog for the last year…). I’m not sure how the hosting would work, or any of the other details, so it might take some more time to set something like this up. It might even be nice to get a couple of my fellow blog authors in on it (hint hint nudge nudge wink wink).

I’m also looking into Smashwords, which while it doesn’t seem to have the distribution power of Amazon, seems a little more generous though there are fine print things with it as well.

All this is to say that it’s worthwhile to read everything before you commit to a certain program, and that I may need to spend some time finding a better distribution channel for the Fractal Book before it can be released (sorry 😩 I’m working as quickly as possible). Truth be told, I like the pay what you want model and DRM free content, and I was never exactly thrilled about restricting the Fractal Book to a DRM release only.

I’ll let you know as I have more information. Anyone discovered a better channel for sharing books (one that doesn’t charge by the megabyte (actually kilobyte if you read the even finer print))? Anyone interested in taking a weird experimental plunge with me? I promise there’ll be cookies…


Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing

Amazon Instant Video Users Beware!

I love the Simpsons, specifically the Treehouse of Horror episodes around Halloween.

I own many of them on DVD, but Amazon has fortunately been able to fill in the gaps for me so this year was the first I could do a full marathon of every single episode. Since streaming (even with “high speed internet”) can be a drag I downloaded the Amazon episodes to my laptop using the “Unbox Video Player”. Each episode gives me two licenses for downloads to devices like my laptop, and two more for portable devices (like my Fire).

Yesterday I was doing some house cleaning and wanted to free up the 4GB those episodes were taking up on my hard disk (about 400MB per episode BTW). I deleted the video from Amazon Unbox while I was connected to the internet assuming that this action or some other menu item would release the download from this device and give me 2 of 2 downloads so I could do this for the years to come.

Not so.

Here’s how you release a license download to a device like a laptop:

1) Download the latest installer for Amazon Unbox.

2) Run the installer and select the remove function.

3) Choose the full removal (not the temporary). This will erase any Amazon videos from your computer, but it will also release their licenses.

4) You must be connected to the internet at all times during this process.

In a nutshell, you have to UNINSTALL Amazon Unbox Video in order to release the license for an individual video.

Amazon get your act together!

1) This only works from the device you downloaded the videos to. If for some reason the machine dies, you can’t release the videos downloaded to it.

2) Amazon branded devices (the Fire) can release portable licenses just by deleting individual files. This functionality should be available across all their platforms. That’s an industry standard these days.

3) DRM’d video files maybe make a little more sense than MP3s, but that eliminates any ability to backup files and transfer them to another computer if the one you are using dies. Personally, I hope video goes the same way as music in the next few years on this front.

4) Unbox wants to run all the time instead of being auto launched whenever you download an episode (unlike the Amazon MP3 downloader).

5) BTW you can and I did download twice to the same device (Download->Delete->Download), which caused me to use up all my licenses.

Fortunately my downloaded library is small and uninstalling was not a big deal to me. I’ll just download and re-install next year, but hopefully by then someone in Amazon technical support will get the hint that this needs adjusting.

Happy Friday!


Filed under Trube On Tech