PDF DRM, Why Ebooks Haven't "Taken Off" and How I Wasted $150 in Time on a $9 Ebook

Originally published: 10/2005 by J Wynia

Wherein J buys a $9 ebook from Amazon, tries to print it, discovers that it is printing too small, realizes he can't print it again until nearly 2007, learns that he can't read it on his lunch break on another workstation and wonders, not why ebooks haven't "taken off", but why as many have been sold as have been.

I've been looking into the whole publishing industry, specifically the print-on-demand (POD) portion. Places like Lulu.com and iUniverse let you plop a couple of hundred bucks on the table, upload your PDF and a cover image and your book goes into Amazon for sale.

The thing that had been nagging at the back of my mind when considering these tools is that the books "cost" the author something like $11-14 for a trade paperback (the 6"x9" paperbacks that so many business books are printed as). The setup fee I actually understood more than this. It does cost time and money to make sure the file is formatted correctly and won't fubar the POD printer, etc. However, I figured that they were aiming to make their money mostly on the first 20 or so copies of the book along with the setup fees. This is much like how portrait and wedding photographers work. They charge very little over their costs (or below in many cases) for the actual service and mark up a $3-5 8x10 to $30-50. When you buy a few, the total amount evens out their costs and they're OK with it. When I saw setup fees of $100 and per book costs of $11, I figured this was going on here as well.

Turns out it is. A single POD printer actually prints almost ALL of the POD books on the market: Lightning Source. They're a division of Ingram books, which in turn distributes the vast majority of books to brick and morter as well as online bookstores. Basically, Ingram has a great vertical market and did a great job of setting it up. Lulu and iUniverse are just 2 of a long list of "publishers" who are little more than middle-men taking manuscripts and passing them on to Lightning Source (LS hereafter). The list of places that LS recommends you go if you're an author and not a publisher yourself is a long one. If you've heard of any of these, they all use LS to do the printing: AuthorHouse, Aventine Press, Black Forest Press, Booklocker.com, Inc, BookPublisher.com, Cold Tree Press, Cork Hill Press, First Books, Infinity Publishing, iUniverse, Llumina Press, LuLu, Morgan James Publishing, LLC, Outskirts Press, PageFree Publishing, Inc., Publish America, Tabby House, Universal Publishers, Unlimited Publishing, WinePress Publishing, Xlibris, Xulon Press.

I did a little more digging and found a great blog full of information on how to become your own publisher and get access to the *real* cost of actually getting the book printed and distributed. The information there confirmed my suspicions. The setup costs are, indeed in the $100-$300 range depending on what you actually do and how long the book is, but the actual printing costs are much lower. For a 128 page book he uses as an example a lot, LS will print and deliver the book for about $3. The only barrier is being a publisher with an ISBN prefix. (see footnote for my current activities in this direction if you're intrigued).


The author of that site is really selling his book (though most of the information you really need to start a publishing company is there on the site) and it looked interesting. When I went over to Amazon to buy it, I noticed that it had an ebook version. Knowing that I start writing my novel on Tuesday, I wanted to have the information in my hands as soon as I could. That, combined with the lower price had me ordering the Adobe PDF ebook version of the book . . . my last Adobe PDF book . . . ever.

Before I continue, I want to say that the content itself has been useful and worth every penny. But, like a perfectly grilled steak served up on a dirty garbage can lid, it's not entirely the content that matters here.

I bought the book during my morning blogging/breakfast/reading/browsing time. First, Amazon required that I re-enter my credit card information. Since I actually use a designated card for Amazon purchases and don't carry that card with me (and, being in my bath robe, I didn't have any of the others either), so I had to go upstairs and dig for credit cards. Amazon has stored my credit card information for so long, this was a major irritation. They say it was because it was my "first digital" purchase. Too bad it will be my last unless they change formats.

OK. So, I had the credit card in hand and typed it in. The purchase went through and there was a download link in Amazon, so I downloaded the the file to my download location and opened it. Well, it's not actually a PDF at that point, just the digital rights management (DRM) authorization. It starts up Acrobat reader and pitches a fit because I turned the auto-update feature off a while back. So, I turn it back on and go to open the file again. It's gone. Apparently it deletes the file if it can't open things up properly.

Given my experience trying to download another copy of an audiobook that got corrupted from iTunes, I figured I was just out $9. iTunes only let me download it again "as a 1 time exception". Fortunately, Amazon has better customer service and my digital locker would let me download it again, though I was starting to wonder when it might cut me off.

I triple verified that Acrobat was able to update and opened the file again. This time it connected and did a LOT of stuff before bringing up a 181 page PDF. This wasn't the first protected PDF I'd used or anything, but the first that did this whole long dance. I'd subscribed to several PDF magazines that were encrypted with my email address but they didn't do anything this elaborate.

So, I read for about 15-20 minutes until it was time to get dressed and go to work. I figured I'd print out a chunk of it 4 pages to a sheet and read it walking in from the parking lot and at lunch, etc. because I was enjoying the content. I did the math and figured if I did 6 per sheet instead, I'd just get a whole copy and be done with it. So, I hit print and headed to my office to see the printout. Turned out too small for even me to be comfortable with, so I hit cancel to avoid wasting toner and paper. I went back to print it at 4 per instead and discovered one of the wonderful "features" of the DRM that the author decided to use. Apparently, he chose to "allow" printing of the book once per year. You read right. And, the 12 pages that made it out of my printer counted as my once. On every machine I ever want to use the file on.

After all of that, I figured I'd just download another copy to my workstation on the client site for reading during lunch and work with what I had. I worked the morning away and made it to lunch, when I logged into Amazon to do the whole download dance again. As I hadn't modified my Acrobat installation on that machine, I just launched it. It started up and started trying to verify the rights and then promptly died. It couldn't see the servers. Apparently, this "consumer friendly" DRM uses the LDAP ports to verify rather than the web port 80. Given the literally thousands of corporate firewalls that only allow ports 80 and 443 as outbound traffic, this pretty much meant that the file was useless there too.

I tried a couple of different ways to see if I could easily route the traffic, etc. to no avail and wasted my entire lunch hour. When I got home, I looked for a way to break it open (never even crossed my mind until it slapped me over and over), but generally don't like downloading cracking tools and abandoned that quickly. I tried printing to postscript, etc. as well as a last ditch resort. Thought I might save a copy of the PDF itself and transfer that, but the DRM kicks in again. I quit once I'd put about $150 worth of my billable time into it and figured I'd just read what I had and vow never to buy another one of these things again.

The net result is that I paid a dollar amount that most ebook publishers would be thrilled with: $9 for a digital copy of a book. I was OK with it. I barely even hesitated. I wanted the immediate delivery. I then tried to do EXACTLY what I do with every single print book I buy: read it while walking in from the parking lot, at lunch, etc. I never tried to give it to anyone else. I never "shared" it or distributed it in any way. Yet, the DRM so got in my way that I've moved from being the ideal ebook customer to never going anywhere near any ebook that uses anything similar ever again. Frankly, I'm completely amazed that they've sold as many of these things to people as they have.

And, beyond that, all of the people over the next couple of days who will read this now also know about it and many of them will avoid them as well. This is particularly ironic given the strong urging the author gives for the use of an author website and internet marketing to promote your book. That particular effect can cut both ways. The internet spreads word of mouth and doesn't care whether it's good or bad.

I'm now even more convinced that I made the right decision with Inheritance to make it completely open source and to plan to make all of the final digital versions available in the most open and transparent formats available.

*Footnote: Incidentally, for OpenFiction's purposes, my own novel and some non-fiction book ideas I've had, I've already started this process. Contact me if you're interested in publishing open source books under Creative Commons licenses with printed copies via this model. I'm really only interested in working with folks who are hip to the idea of freely available open source digital versions of those same books.

DRM, PDF, ebook, publishing, Adobe Acrobat, amazon

Comments

Dave on 10/31/2005
Great investigative post, and thanks for the links on becoming a self-publisher. Figuring out who the middlemen are in the value chain is becoming one of my favorite pastimes!
Brian on 11/1/2005
This sounds like a good story to tell the U.S. Copyright Office. Please consider submitting your story - they're listening until the end of this month, and won't listen again until 2008. http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/004089.php "... if you want to make a legitimate use of a piece of media, but have been turned back by DRM and the DMCA, now is your chance to take your case to the Copyright Office and try to make the world a happier and safer place for the next three years."
J Wynia on 11/1/2005
I'll definitely look into that. Thanks for the tip.
J Quirk on 11/20/2005
My experience has been somewhat different. I purchase a digital technical Magazine from http://www.circuitcellar.com/. The cost to me is about 1.5 times the cost of a single issue delivered to me in country, Australia. The content is in PDF format but has no DRM that I have tripped over. Just to confirm I have open the latest issue under xpdf on Linux. I am happy subscriber I can take a copy to work to read and use if required Circuit Cellar a making money from to keep a wonderful magazine alive and I am saving money. The Publisher has been doing this from before 2001 that I am aware of. He must be happy with the results as he would have stopped doing it. Mind if he changes to some horror story like you described I would cancel immediately.
David on 11/20/2005
I consider DRM an unacceptable limitation of the public's rights. Because of that, I try to avoid buying into products with DRM on them, but most ebooks, although there are some exceptions such as Baen's, are DRMed. I guess my problem is compounded by me being blind and ebooks being the only practical and convenient way for me to get recently published material. A solution I have gone for, and if someone wants to sue me they are very welcome, is buying ebooks in the Microsoft Reader format, which are very easily de-DRMed by a very useful tool called Convert Lit which I will not link from here for potential DMCA issues (I assume you live in the US, which I don't, and I wouldn't want to get anyone in trouble). The resulting content is reasonably well-formed html and an OPF document.
Paul Cooke on 11/20/2005
how's it feel to be assumed automatically to have "criminal" intent? The only DRM'd ebooks I'm even remotely comfortable with are those where watermarking with a unique identifier has been used, but you're perfectly free to make as many copies as you need for your computers and even print it as many times as you need. Anything else which involves checking in with the mothership to verify permissions is totally out of order.
John W on 11/21/2005
In this whole article, you never mentioned eReader.com. That site singlehandledly is keeping me reading ebooks. You should look into them.
Bill McCoy on 11/21/2005
Sigh, well a great post. On behalf of Adobe, I apologize and I can say we are working to do better. Many of your issues are not restricted to Adobe's platform, but that's no excuse. I hope you will give us another chance someday. I blogged a bit more about it here: http://blogs.adobe.com/billmccoy/2005/11/how_not_to_make.html
Jim Harris on 11/21/2005
I agree with J; I have bought my first, last, and only eBook, at least those that have anything to do with Adobe. They have ineptly (or intentionally; it does not matter to me which) made a system so mysterious, complex, fragile, restrictive, user-unfriendly, poorly supported/documented, and otherwise screwed up, that I want nothing to do with it ever again, as J said. Even their "User Support" is minimal and unfriendly; it consists of a forum inhabited by few Adobe support folks, which has many posts of horror stories much worse than yours (e.g. people losing whole collections of books worth hundreds of dollars, begging for help, and Adobe apparently not even listening, let alone trying to help). I don't see why they can't just issue a key with each book, like a software CD key, and let _customers_ file their own, make their own backups, etc. so if we want to move our collection to a new system, perhaps one not even connected to the Internet, we can do so by simply copying the keys. They would only lose a little business to people smart enough and crooked enough to crack the keys, instead of losing the entire market due to the fact that virtually no one can stand to use it the way it is now. If I were Adobe, I would issue a public apology, unlock all their products for everyone, and start over. Continuing down this path seems a clear recipe for disaster for their image. Or at least fix their software and support so that both actually work. Jim
DRM, Groklaw, Adobe and Ebooks-- The Glass is Too Big - J Wynia on 11/21/2005
[...] This post is a followup to my earlier post on my experiences with buying an Adobe PDF ebook from Amazon. [...]
J Wynia on 11/21/2005
I've written a followup posting rather than individual comments and replies to the emails: http://www.wynia.org/wordpress/2005/11/21/drm-groklaw-adobe-and-ebooks/
John S. Walker on 11/23/2005
I have bought a lot of sci-fi e-books from Baen Publishing, and some from some other sources too - for use on my Palm E2 pda with MobiPocket Reader. If I can't get it conveniently onto the PDA, I'm not interested. I don't care to read books on the computer screen - the portability of the PDA is of supreme importance. Baen makes their offerings available in several formats, and once you've paid you can return to the well for additional downloads in multiple formats. According to Baen they're making good money and they are extremely user friendly. As far as Adobe goes, I know it's used a lot, but I think it is irritating at best, and nightmarish at worst. I have yet to buy an Adobe e-book, and probably never will. (I can get Adobe onto the PDA, but the format is almost impossible to read there!)
Francis Crossen on 11/23/2005
There is an interesting point to be made in relation to this article and consumer laws. Of course these vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but in Ireland the main one is the "Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act". This law quite plainly states that the goods (or services) you buy must be "fit for the use intended" and also "of merchantable quality". Clearly the eBook in question violates both - you can't reliably use it and you cannot reliably read it! If you had bought it in Ireland (or from an Irish company) you could demand your money back!
Paula Berinstein on 12/18/2005
Great post, J!! I am going to make a blog entry on The Writing Show linking to it. Everyone needs to hear this.
The Writing Show » Blog Archive » Commentary: Why E-Books Haven’t Taken Off on 12/18/2005
[...] J Wynia, who was on The Writing Show a couple of weeks ago, has written a great blog post about his bad experience with DRM-managed e-books. Here is his opening: [...]
Yvonne on 1/18/2006
Hey, just want to let you know that I have published 8 books on Lulu. They are free to publish - there is no cost, except to buy the book when you are done AND they don't use lightningsource. Its true that the other PODs charge an upfront fee, and I don't know who they use to print, but I am sure that Lulu is free and they use an indie printer in NY somewhere.
J Wynia on 1/18/2006
Lulu is indeed free, but didn't used to be if I recall correctly. They are one of the user-friendly front ends to Lightning Source, as mentioned in the posting. While they don't charge the up front fee, they do charge on each book pretty heavily over what Lightning Source charges them (and now me).
Jacob on 2/15/2006
I ran into this exact same problem, a while back... but found a solution to it, using Macromedia/Adobe's own tools (so it's not really so much of a "hack"). There's a little utility called "FlashPaper", made by Macromedia a while back, which automatically converts files to/from Flash and PDF. If you use this to convert your DRM protected PDF file to a PDF file, it will strip all of the DRM protection off. Mighty handy for making your legally purchased e-books more portable and printable.
Lyle on 2/23/2006
I bought a ebook the other day from Amazon and it will be my last. I thought it would be convenient because there would be no wait time and I would always have an electronic copy. I was quite disappointed to find out that it couldn't be printed. If I had been aware of the printing restrictions, I wouldn't have bought it. I think that sellers of ebooks should be required to disclose printing restrictions and any other restrictions up front and not in the fine print.
John Haines on 2/27/2006
Never mind EBooks and DRM's etc, Adobe have made a right pig's ear of their cherished PDF's full stop ( period to you guys! ), that the flippin' scroll bar vanishes for no valid reason ( well, there is a reason, but it certainly aint valid in the usual sense. ) and it has to be closed and opened again. If Adobe keep this up, creators will simply groan, roll their sleeves up and try to get to grips with MSW's temperamental page numbering and H&F'S, and simply push 'em out as Word Files, or even a smarter looking Open Office file. As a reader I wouldn't be in the least bothered if this were the case, and I don't think there is a law which states that EBooks must be in a certain format. One final point, Lulu are competitive price wise, give 'em another go. I push out a 374 page book for $15.00, what's wrong with that? It's neither the dearest or the cheapest whether compared with POD or mainstream, but bang in the middle.
Cole on 3/3/2006
Great discussion. Kudos to ya.
Alex Rollin on 3/6/2006
This is an excellent post. Thanks J, very much, for sharing your research. There are a hundred different small programs for encrypting info for distribution pruposes in ways that retain formatting. Adobe's tools are by no means a monopoly, but the services that combine POD with per user authentication are certainly working the territory. I look forward to hearing more about your exploration, and I hope that writers of the world find inspiration in your model. Charging for print and opensourcing data is the financial model to work with. Seth Godin's new 'Knock Knock Joke' ebook is one idea about how to monetize the data portion, and POD is obvious. He is a producer, though. For producers who are continually contributing, DRM becomes less and less a requirement. The simple implementation would be a boon for the novice producer who fails to create out of fear of loss, but even that would not 'solve' that problem. Creating in the face of fear is the only way to solve that problem.
Alex Rollin » PDF DRM and the Failure of Adobe on 3/12/2006
[...] J Wynia has been very generous in documenting his research into Print On Demand (POD) and Portable Document File (PDF) Digital Rights Management (DRM).  You can find his post here: http://www.wynia.org/wordpress/2005/10/29/pdf-drm-why-ebooks-havent- [...]
Dave Kanter on 4/8/2006
Hilarious! I actually worked on a project thinking about the next gen e-ink (smartpaper) reader and so have been up to my armpits in the issues. Seems we'll have more suceess when the owners of the content are also the users (law firms, medical offices, etc.)...or keep your fingers crossed. I'm actually here because I bought an e-TextBook from Amazon, it opened once, and then never again, giving me an arcane error that dozens of Web searches have only come close to. I'm not the "average user," I teach graduate level computer programming, and I can't figure out what's wrong. Both Web sites are extremely helpful in solving problems I don't have after which Amazon says ask Adobe, Adobe says ask the vendor, and I'll never buy an eBook again.
Trade Ecurrency on 4/10/2006
Good work on the posting! I've been looking for an inexpensive way to print ebooks. After printing out one on my inkjet printer and running out of ink, I realized that a $35 ink refill for a $12 book is not cost effective.
Alex on 4/13/2006
Grassioisos.Very GOOD tip...
Joseff on 4/28/2006
interesting story... Thansk..
money tree on 6/17/2006
MONEY REALLY DOES GROW ON TREES............
Bonnie Taylor on 7/20/2006
I wanted to know if you actually published something with Outskirts press and did you make any money?
Kate on 8/6/2006
Hear hear. I was foolish enough to optimistically buy an e-book (from ebooksdotcom) and that has put me off for life. I don't need an armed guard standing next to my bookshelf and dobbing on me every time I read my book, and I agree wholeheartedly that the limitations (no printing, MUST have latest version of Adobe Reader etc) need to be made 100% clear BEFORE people part with their money, NOT afterwards. Farewell to ebooks from me.
Tiger Zon on 8/13/2006
Very good story. I had similar experience. I create a discussion group and a page. Can I post the contents of this page to the discussion groups? http://groups.google.com/group/paspda I just created it today. No other contents yet though.
Christine on 9/26/2006
I'm on the other side of the equation, although I've bought an awful lot of ebooks too. This is my problem: I spend years researching and accumulating material, and then write it up in a book. Eg my books on treatment programs for various mental health problems, a training manual for sales managers to use with their teams, a practitioner training manual for NLP. They're not some 25-page book on how to sell more on the internet. They're high-quality books. The first month my books come out, they sell relatively well. After that they rarely sell at all, but heaps of people have copies. In the case of one of my books I actually know this is in the high thousands, even though I have received less than $1000 all up in revenue. I get mails from all over the world from people who've read it and want free help, but never paid for the book. I've found web sites selling my books and keeping 100% of the profit. After a while this gets to you because you realise that probably the majority of people will pass on an ebook, thereby robbing you of your income. I think authors are pretty desperate right now to find a solution to all the thieving that goes on and could care less about the sensitivities of people who want them to remain vulnerable to piracy. So this is an issue that has honest folk on both sides of the equation tearing their hair out.
bernard on 9/30/2006
Great story and discussion. Just thought I'd contribute by adding that I too (until the DRM issue is sorted out anyhow) opted never to pay for a ebook again after going through the sort of experience described above. But, spending a lot of time at my PC as I do, I've taken to download free pdf/lit novels available here and there on the net. And there's a lot of decent free stuff out there (currently enjoying some thriller called The Lost Son which I understand was made into a film though the author got problems getting it published - thus his giving it away for free as a pdf book). I just checked the permissions, printing is not allowed, but like most free PDF novels you come across, at least the file can be copied from one computer to another, so can be read anywhere with a laptop/computer, which may not be goog enough for everyone but does me just fine. Still, you got to ask why corporations such as Adobe & Co. can't get their act together enough to come up with a reader-friendly DRM system. It shouldn't be that hard...
Andy Beard on 10/10/2006
Christine you should publish your books yourself as an ebook, through a service like Clickbank. There is plenty of information on the web on how to setup a website selling your ebooks with clickbank. Whilst you can do something to protect your work, most ebook publishers with Clickbank don't worry about it. Clickbank customers have a long grace period to claim a refund, and many do. But because they have no DRM, more people do buy, with that assurance that the ebook will be worthwhile. In the right market, especially ebooks which solve problems, 100s and sometimes thousands of copies are sold. I have personally spent more than $500 on ebook from Clickbank in the last year, and maybe £30 on hard copy.
Christine on 10/10/2006
Hi Andy Thanks for taking time to comment. I have used Clickbank, and found that thousands of my books were all over the net, but perhaps only 50 actually sold. They just got passed on. I even found 2 sites that were selling it and keeping 100% of the profit. The way I see it, the only way to make a return on a book is to have a mailing list of many thousands, so many people are exposed to the book at one time. After a short period, the book becomes worthless to the author because everyone just passes it on. No need to buy it because it's freely available. Not all authors can do it, but probably the best thing is to release the book as usual, but tie the book heavily to backend products which have to be purchased, like memberships, consulting, or hard copies of stuff, using the book merely as a marketing tool instead of as a product in its own right. With my latest book, people have to have a receipt for it before they can access free follow-up consulting. I have no idea if it'll work - it's an experiment to see if I can actually get value back from something I spent 4 years on. Cheers Christine
Judy Cullins on 11/13/2006
Wow. This $9. eBook from Amazon is my book. Write your eBook or Other Short Book Fast. Just to let your readers know that I have a love-hate relationship with Amazon and my publisher. I sell a lot more eBooks from my site on book writing, publishing and internet promotion in one day than Amazon for the year. I give a 100% guarantee. I wonder why authors still think that Amazon is the way to sell their book. Not so, have faith in yourself and get more of what you deserve $$ for your efforts. So, don't be discouraged out there with eBooks, You can get printable ones (eDocument) from many pros who write well and give you quality informatin at their site. If you are selling one, I recommend a low-cost site to sell your books from and then to get all the qualified visitors you want with article marketing. Amazon just doesn't do the job for me either. Judy Cullins
Andy Beard on 11/13/2006
Christine I missed your reply Have you read Harvery Segal's Ultimate Supertip? You can use the same process he uses for branding affiliate links for a free ebook, to "brand" an ebook with your customer's details, such as a visible Name and email address. Customers would be much less likely to distribute an ebook that is branded with their personal information.
Christine on 11/13/2006
Thanks for the info - very useful. I was just about to start jumping hoops for Amazon but I see the sense in what you're saying Judy. Andy, I haven't seen Segal's technique before but it sure sounds worth investigating. Many thanks for letting me know. I missed your previous note - thanks for that also. I've since set up a secure store on my site with a shopping cart template that works with PayPal. Now I'm busy with a planned rollout of 30 articles (one for each day of the month) that I'm releasing partially manually and partially by Article Post Robot, hopefully appropriately loaded with the right keywords to attract more traffic. We'll see what happens :-) Warmly Christine
joanna "the Baker" smyth on 12/20/2006
I tried adding some of these to mine and it wasnt the greatest. I will try again!
e-book on 12/24/2006
I found what I was looking for,an easy blog to get round,great info.Ta.
Stephen Brooks on 2/19/2007
I enjoyed your article, and found it very informative. I picked up some things that I did not know about. But to be perfectly honest, for a person who is in the know about e books and computers in general I think to many things went wrong in your case for them to have actually occurred. In other words I think you invented some of the detail to make your story more informative. I have known newspaper writers who do the same thing.
J Wynia on 2/19/2007
Sorry to disappoint you, but every single bit of that incident is 100% true. I'd swear to it in court, take a lie detector test and poke a needle in my eye. I couldn't make a story like this one up. And, if you still don't believe me, you're probably giving me too much credit.
P Dingus on 8/10/2007
J: We're a small online book and ebook publisher. For ebooks we use PDF format, but not the Adobe DRM system. In fact we use no DRM at all. We choose PDF for platform universality, stability, and file size. Print sizes are those you find in a regular paperback and we allow unlimited printing and unlimited portability. The only restriction is that we assign a password that you make up--period--no other restriction. We only do this to assure that you have given your book to someone else and so have included the password.
P Peter on 9/10/2007
Hi P Dingus, This method doesn't assure that the ebook cannot be republished. Just print it to a PDF printer, and you have the ebook in an other PDF file which is not password protected... :-(
Julian on 4/30/2007
Mal, you're lucky. I had the experience of losing the computer on which my Amazon eBooks were activated. When I tried to re-activate the eBooks (which I'd backed up conscientiously) on my new computer, Acrobat asked me to 'first re-activate on your old computer'. As this was stolen by airline staff last year, it was impossible. Adobe tech support were helpful but totally ineffective. Amazon was worse - they refused to help because 'we have removed eBooks from our product line'. This despite the statement on the Amazone website: "Rest assured, any e-Book that you've purchased from Amazon.co.uk in the past will remain available for download." But guess what! I can now get my eBooks from Mobipocket... an Amazon company! Something stinks, and it ain't me... So, no more eBooks until I get the same guarantee I do with a paper copy, that when I've read it I can pass it on to my friends. Julian
Ming on 9/16/2007
I bought my first and last pdf ebook two months ago and I have experienced more less the same problem that J. Wynia has described. I didn't buy it from Amazon, but from a college book store. The book is a text book published by Universal Digital Textbooks. No more ebook until I can copy it to another computer, print it, however many times I want. I do simpathize with the authors/publishers, but as of right now... I don't think I will ever attempt another ebook... ming
Mal on 4/3/2007
I too have bought my first and last eBook. I went to open my (Acrobat) eBook the other day to find it would not allow me to open on my computer claiming I was not licenced to use it,and to contact the vendor for a new download copy. Then I recalled my HDD has been replaced so I have lost my DRM. Upon logging in to Amaazon to get a fresh download from my media, I find it is not there. A record of my purchase is there, but the link is gone. I contacted Amazon and they advise they no longer have eBooks and all of my eBook links have been removed my media. End of email. So I wrote back and asked, "so how do I view the book I have paid for but can't open?" They replied a few days later with a full refund! So if you are stuck with an eBook from Amazon that you can't open, I suggest you complain loudly and you may get a refund. Cheers, Mal
Craig on 6/29/2007
Hi there J, I get what you're saying. It's like acquiring a license to puretracks, which many know is a legal MP3 download pay site. If your computer is screwed and clean installed over again, getting that license back sees you your ripping out hair. That said... Being the author of a book, I have to agree with Christine. I don't want my book being sold by somebody else and screwing me over. Let's face it. For every one of you legit customers out there, there are 10 "jerks" looking to rip someone off freely. With that kind of ratio, I'm not looking to hose the legit guy, but I have to evade those 10 jerks to find him. When I do find him, the jerks have just posted my ebook up on their websites and making money on my time. Is that fair? Absolutely not. However, I do have to say that some authors need to practice some faith and loosen the noose somewhat. Because in order to shield ourselves from the jerks, you legitimate customers are getting messed over in some cases... And that's not fair either. In this case it's a no-win situation. I don't want people swearing off e-books, so I'm not going to make them give me a DNA sample. (For the record, I haven't posted my book as an e-book yet. I've learned a lot from your article J, and I will exercise leniency when I do.) In another example, let's look at a multi-billion dollar software company. Like authors, they pour a deal of effort in getting their product out there for profit. Now tell me this... Who hasn't heard of someone placing an illegal copy of Windows 98 or XP on a computer? (In the XP case, the Pro version.. Not saying I have, just saying). Now Microsoft has that evil WGA to check if your copy is legit.... Oh! The world went and got themselves in a pissy state! How dare they do that!!! Who do they think they are?? A hint... They wrote the program that you MUST buy to operate your computer. It's not a freeware you can get off your neighbor. That key code was written for a reason and in XP Home ed, you must activate it. Yes big brother maybe watching you, but if you got ripped off a few times, wouldn't you do the same? As the future recipient of profit from an ebook, I most certainly have to in order to keep those profits safe, just like Christine stated.
Henk on 11/11/2007
Sorry for responding so late, but I just came across this great blog. Thanks for sharing yr research with us, J. Being an eBook author myself, I am about to launch a solution for eBook self-publishers, like Christine, Craig and thousands of others. The platform we offer is a pdf encryption on a fee-per-sold-copy basis. We do the encryption and the license selling - the author its own production and marketing. This way, the author retains complete control on # of prints, on how many PCs it can be read, for how long, etc. The great thing is that downloading the book is 24/7 so no hassle with disrupted downloads after payment. The license is 200B so chances this goes wrong are remote. The DRM software is pretty advanced, although a dedicated reader is required (free of course). I am sure for eBook authors/self-publishers this is a good solution. (btw, print to file is disabled, P Peter). Just to put my toe in the water here: In a few weeks I publish Mastering Microsoft Word for Scientific Reports. I wld be happy to give readers of this blog a free license in exchange for their reaction whether does this business model makes sense. Just drop me an e-mail.
Cosmic on 1/30/2008
We make pdf documents that people can freely download from our site. We don't usually put passwords on them or lock them down at all - maybe we should. What do you think ?
D C on 1/20/2008
A small time author and photographer, the idea of people stealing my work is loathsome. My books contain images; high quality images I sell separately as wallpapers and other entities. A pity the costs are high for people trying to get into the field, as THEY are the ones who hurt most by piracy. As for that software maker, if they want to use USB keys for their Bitlocker encryption service, why can't they distribute USB keys with the authentication code for their operating system; a standard procedure done by other companies for their software products? The irony is sad; especially as WGA breaks on legitimate users. (Who programs and tests it?! Wouldn't have otherwise saved all the money gone to those "talented" programmers to just hand out coded USB keys instead? (BTW: An article on money.cnn has Gates saying he tolerated piracy in China... "How Microsoft Conquered China", 7/23/07... Mind you, his company is large enough so he can survive by allowing it to happen.)
white feather on 8/31/2008
It is ironic that with the freedom of the internet and all the potential social benefits which could be garnished by true global communication, we are still hung by issues of commerse almost as a throwback to a past we need to shake off. Writing good books takes dedication and sacrifice - respectful readers understand this and pay, are they a majority? I doubt it otherwise why need dsm's. We live in a world which chose oil when Tesla lit another way, we chose cars when Schaunberger offered us the stars, untold and countless adaptations to themes of resononance could deliver us tommorrow from global torment and debt yet we go around in tired old circles. It seems that in terms of ebooks - business web sites will make the money and artists/producers not - respect and being respectful emerge as the central themes here. Perhaps there is no answer for this because given the scope of todays society you can't expect respect from stranger humans, writers are left (as usual) with a limited set of options, and meanwhile the only entities who benefit from our lack of respect toward each other are the corporations who don't seem very good at providing the services they monopolise. I think it's all delicious and actualy quite exiting for our souls.
Rasmus Ostenfeld Holme on 1/11/2009
Mr. Rosenthal has removed DRM from the book you mentioned, he also uploaded a short video to Youtube on the subject (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shmc7hUKTI0) so it seems your writing made an impact. Apologies if someone already mentioned it. Just thought you would like to know :)
dave on 12/1/2008
3 years later and it's pretty much exactly the same story for me. Although I didn't try printing, all I wanted to do was read my ebook at the office. After futzing with the "Adobe Digital Editions" software, trying to get it to work right on my computer (My Documents is not in a standard location) it cuts me off with "too many activations" error. I only successfully managed to activate my home comp, and now I've used them up. What happens when I want to reinstall Windows in a few months? When I upgrade my computer? Adobe has managed to put me into a position where I *can't* buy any more ebooks because I literally can't use my own account. This stinks. I pay money to get treated this way?
Christine Sutherland on 12/5/2008
Hi and yes, good time to revisit to see whether the last 3 years have seen any advances in the whole problem of protected content, and I agree with Dave that the whole thing is just a train wreck. I started publishing using DRM because I found that there were literally thousands of my pdf books being freely passed around the net, and even sold on sites all over the world, with the thief of course retaining 100% of the profit. But this costly experiment failed because so few people were willing to buy a reasonably-priced book in DRM format. I went back to producing books in pdf because that's still the only format widely accepted by the market. But what I've done is put the prices up, and include high-quality and personalised on-line support for each book. I've also laced each book with references to other sites and other content, so that even at worst case, it's acting as an advertisement even if it was stolen. I've found the price makes no difference to sales and I'm satisfied that while criminals may steal my work, they can't steal my personal support. And if anyone steals and sells my work, they risk immediate action by an unhappy buyer who can't get what they paid for, the totality of which is clearly stated in the book. The more I think about it, the more I think DRM can't work for anything but software, and even that can be problematic for purchasers, switching from one computer to another. Best Christine
eBook Information on 7/27/2009
Def some good info here - keep it coming
M.L. Browne on 12/12/2008
I reached this article after my own recent abortive attempt to purchase, download, and then read an ebook I couldn't get in hard copy. What a joke. First, the purchase was at print copy prices ($13.95), and only AFTER the purchase did I discover that I'd have to install and use Adobe's Digital Edition reader to access the book. I'm picky about the software installed on any of my computers, so I attempted to use the offered "eb20" browser-based reader, to no avail (the only page visible in the whole book was the title page). Next, I downloaded and installed the Digital Edition reader, which proceeded to glom onto 24 ebooks I've had for years (it apparently goes hunting the entire My Documents>My eBooks folder for PDFs. I didn't want those books in my "bookshelf," but the primitive UI didn't allow for customizing much. Finally, and this is the death blow, as far as I'm concerned, I couldn't successfully prove to Adobe's satisfaction that I'm the legitimate owner of the ebook. It's on my PC, and I paid MY CASH for the right to have it there, but that's not sufficient in Adobe's eyes--they tell me I have to prove my ownership by getting permission from the seller! When I buy a book, regardless of format, I expect not only to keep it where I want, but to use it in any way I want, when I want, without having to ask permission of anyone for anything. If I want to mark it up, tear pages out, or insert my own notes in the form of pages, that's MY business, not the seller's, or anyone else's. I will NEVER AGAIN purchase any ebook that has DRM applied to it. My time is valuable, and my patience with this kind of baloney is non-existent. Thanks for documenting your struggle, though. I hope people pay attention.
Ron Lemire on 2/6/2010
As a professional writer, I'm surprised M.L. Browns doesn't realize that a reader never actually owns any book that he buys. Sure, he may own the medium, the paper and ink that the book was created with, but the "book" contents are copyright protected and still belong to the author. Therefore, even in the case of a physical paper book, the buyer has only purchased the right to read the authors words. For example, the purchaser cannot copy the contents of a book and resell the work as his own, in whole or in part. The same protection applies to all electronic copyright material including PhotoShop, Microsoft Office and commercial eBooks. DRM is not about ownership, it's about ensuring that a customer has paid for the right to use or read the content. DRM has a bad reputation because customers see most DRM systems, such as Adobe, B&N or Amazon, as invasive, frustrating and complicated. Authors, on the other hand see them as expensive and too easily bypassed or hacked. DRM is not going away. For those authors looking for something better, a DRM model does exist that makes security more acceptable and less of a handicap. Why put up with online login and tracking when you can have the DRM managed on the customer's own computer where the eBook only needs to be activated one time.
M.L. Browne on 2/6/2010
I'm not complaining about the author's right to be compensated fairly. I'm a professional writer, and I completely understand the frustration writers experience when they don't receive royalties because people borrow books (you don't want to know my opinion about stocking fiction in libraries). I'm arguing about the private ownership of a book, whether it's electronic or not. It's a transaction. The writer must agree to the terms of the transaction, as must the buyer. In my case, I was led to believe I was BUYING a book (irrespective of the medium), and what I discovered was that I was buying ONLY the right to READ the book. This wasn't explained by the vendor before I forked over cash, and as a result, I felt ripped off. Ron Lemire's opinions about improvements in the simplicity of use notwithstanding, it'll be a really cold day in Tartarus before I invest another nickel in supporting eBook distribution through Adobe, B&N, or Amazon. As far as I'm concerned, the "enhancements" he describes are really the exemplar of "lipstick on a pig."
M.L. Browne on 2/12/2010
Mr. Lemire's comments about what I do or not know as a writer notwithstanding, his argument does not hold any weight or import with me. When I walk into a bookstore, buy a book, and walk out with it in my possession, the physical book in my hands is mine to do with as I choose. I can mark it up, deface it, shred it, burn it, wipe myself with its pages, alter its content with erasure or additions, and give it to any other person I choose, all without having to first contact the bookseller and get permission for anything. My only obligation to the author is that I will not plagiarize his words or infringe upon his copyright. I have ZERO obligation to the bookseller, having once concluded my purchase transaction. This is definitely not the case with DRM and ebook vendors who seem to feel that they have the right to restrict the number of people with whom I can share my purchase by curbing my accesses and usage of their products. If they want to do that, perhaps the sales model they should use is a rental, rather than a purchase, and make that clear in their advertising. Look at the flak Amazon caught when they pulled Orwell's book from their customers' Kindles without notice. The battle lines are being drawn, and I am on the side that says "no" to anything or anyone that interferes with how I use what the reading matter I buy. I will reiterate my original point, in case anyone missed it: I will NEVER AGAIN purchase any ebook that has DRM applied to it. My time is valuable, and my patience with this kind of baloney is non-existent.
Ron Lemire on 2/1/2010
Another year passes but change is here at last. While I sympathize with eBook readers who believe that everything on the Internet should be open source, this notion is delusional. The only information freely available on the World Wide Web is pubic educational material, personal comments and opinions, advertising and other materials without (monetary) value. The only free "content" you'll find on the Internet that you can't find in your local supermarket is pirated software. In our "free enterprise system" authors have just as much right to protect their intellectual property as a supermarket trying to protect itself from shop lifting. While the supermarket has 911 and the police for protection, the only protection available to an eBook author is DRM... Fortunately DRM (for PDF files) no longer needs to be erratic and complicated. A "stand alone" PC application now exists for PDF/eBook authors that allows them to take complete control of their own eBook security. This hacker proof "do it yourself" security system is easy to use for both the author and the eBook reader. While the HYPrLock system prevents copying, modifying, sharing and printing (if desired) and manages everything from download to refund disabling -- customers only need to enter their e-mail address to get instant password access. Authors can instantly reactivate an eBook if a customer's computer crashes or issue additional access if desired. This unlimited "royalty free" system is not an online security service and there are no monthly fees.
self publishing on 7/10/2010
I ran into this exact same problem, a while back… but found a solution to it, using Macromedia/Adobe's own tools (so it's not really so much of a "hack"). There's a little utility called "FlashPaper", made by Macromedia a while back, which automatically converts files to/from Flash and PDF. If you use this to convert your DRM protected PDF file to a PDF file, it will strip all of the DRM protection off.
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