June 26, 2010

DRM Makes Me Rethink Kindle

Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)After I posted about Amazon's recent price drop on the Kindle, a reader sent me a link to an interesting article addressing an issue one of you brought up when I first posted about the Kindle: the issue of who actually owns electronic books one would buy to read on the Kindle. This is where digital rights management (DRM) comes into play, and this definitely is something to ponder before buying a Kindle, a Nook, or a similar product.

As I understand it, the problem is that one does not actually own the e-reader versions of books that one buys. While I can live with the idea of not being able to share books, it is nice to be able to donate them to the public library every now and then. What does concern me is the proprietary way these books get locked down. Once one starts buying electronic versions of books, one is committing to a particular brand of reader hardware and/or software, and one's collection then depends on that company. I don't like that model.

This means that if you buy a Kindle today and a far superior reader comes out next year, none of the Kindle books you bought in the meantime would work with the new reader (see this article at Neiman Journalism Lab). Even though Amazon has shown considerable interest in making the Kindle software available to run on other devices, there is no guarantee that this will continue. Suppose the iPad continues to sell very well and comes to dominate the market. Apple might eventually decide not to let users run the Kindle app to promote iBooks. That would mean that consumers would be faced with the choice of sticking with the Kindle or having to buy their books over again.

There's also the issue of not being allowed to download books one has bought to a new device, even a new Kindle. Evidently, Amazon limits the number of times each Kindle book can be downloaded to a device without making this limit clear to the user.