Amazon on the record: Device limits set by publishers

I queried Russ Grandinetti, vice president, Books, at Amazon about the lack of clarity about how many devices can access a Kindle book or how many times a buyer can expect to download a title from the Kindle Store. He referred me to Drew Herdener, director of communication at Amazon, who replied with the following:

Russ forwarded me your note.  Thanks for your interest.  To answer your question, there is no limit on the number of times a book can be downloaded to a registered device (i.e. Kindle, Kindle DX, iPhone).  In the case where the publisher has chosen to apply DRM, there may be limits on the number of devices that can simultaneously use a single book.  If a customer has upgraded or replaced their device(s), they can delete the content and deregister any device(s) no longer in use, which enables the customer to download to new registered devices.

So, to reduce the answer to its component parts:

  • Buyers may download an unlimited number of copies of a Kindle book title they have purchased to a registered Kindle device or iPhone (and, future supported devices) that are associated with the buyer’s Amazon account,
  • unless a publisher has decided to impose a limit on the number of devices that may simultaneously have access to the title,
  • in which case, the user may go to their Manage My Kindle page and “deregister” a device to allow for downloading to a device that does not currently have an access to the book.

Publishers, not Amazon, make these decisions. Customers need information about device limits when buying, it should be displayed on the product page as a courtesy to customers. I still believe setting a higher limit than six is essential to making a book useful to a family.

I have asked Drew several follow-up questions and hope to have a bit more soon on how customers can identify books with limits and whether there is a system-wide default limit on number of devices.

A usability note based on this information: The Manage My Kindle page does not list either the number of devices on which a title  may be accessed, nor the devices on which the title is currently is readable. Both would be helpful information, the latter because it should be possible to deactivate a device’s access to a single title without wiping out the device’s library—this is doubly important because only some of the titles in the Kindle Store come with simultaneous device limits.

I may want to make a book accessible to my son’s iPhone, for example, which would be the seventh registered Kindle device in our household, by taking it off my daughter’s Kindle. If I disable all the titles on my daughter’s Kindle by deregistering it, she’d be pretty disappointed, when all she wanted to do was share a book with her brother (not that she’d be in the mood to do that very often).ManageKindleitem

My roughly hewn mock-up of what this should look like in the Manage My Kindle library is displayed to the right. There is ample room in the Your Orders listings for a book to include a device listing that allowed per-device  registration of the title. By checking the red box, one could deactivate the title on just one device, in this case “Dad’s Kindle.”

Without per-device control of titles, the system effectively limits the number of devices a customer can use conveniently to the lowest number of devices on which they may want to read a DRM-limited title. That needs to change. And it is good that Amazon is listening.

Noted News and Opinion, June 23, 2009

A few of the postings and articles that crossed the wires worth reading today:

Kindle Myths, Misinformation responds to yesterday’s GearDiary posting about Amazon download limits. Frankly, defending Amazon could become a full time job for a large team of people, and it appears to be iReaderReview’s gig. More power to them. However, when I sent a query to Amazon PR about the download limit story, I got no response, and “no comment” isn’t a barrier to reporting claims by a customer who has spoken to customer service and documented his inability to download Kindle titles. iReaderReview claims the accusation has been retracted (“Number of downloads is not restricted. Even the person who started this rumor is admitting as much now.”), but provides no pointer to the retraction. In fact, as explained in my previous posting, Dan Cohen published a clarification that makes clear limits do exist—he has been told by Amazon employees that a title may not be downloaded to an undisclosed number of devices. This, apparently, after several ass-covering fibs, like “the server failed.”

If you are going to make a statement, such as “the person who started this rumor is admitting as much now,” you should back it up with a link. If you exaggerate, you should rethink why you write, because it’s not helpful to spread disinformation. The article goes on with some valid points and a lot of keyboard diarrhea about claims, many fabricated from the writer’s agenda, against Amazon. Let Amazon defend itself, report the truth to the best of your ability, Switch11 (the writer at iReaderReview). Moreover, drop the questions of Amazon’s being “evil,” because no one can make a factual statement about a company’s moral and ethical condition—it will always be a matter of opinion until people die because of willful indifference. Not going to happen with Kindle issues. TeleRead, summarizing several of the things about which Amazon should be criticized, agrees that the iReaderReview article is a misplaced screed.

If Switch11 is an Amazon employee writing, and we can’t know because we don’t have a name to check (“Hello, Amazon, does ‘Switch11’ work there?”), the company should put a muzzle on them until they learn to stick to the factual truth and leave customers to discuss their experiences freely.

Rob Pegoraro of The Washington Post reviewed the Kindle DX this past Sunday. He finds it wanting, despite its strengths, because of price and some of the restrictions it introduces because of limited support for non-Amazon formats and DRM. His observation about the amount of storage in the DX, “how many books do most people need to carry at once,” is shortsighted. If we’d said that a PC would one day ship with a Terabyte of storage in 1990, it would have sounded crazy, but we find ways to fill all the memory we can get.

Teleread finds a Sony Reader app that lets users customize the device. Paul Biba points to a cool tool, PRSCustomizer.

There is a ton of e-book information and plentiful links to related reading at The Know Something Project.

GalleyCat points to NPR’s call for best beach books of all time, which will be featured online and on-air on July 30.

ReadWriteWeb writes about its discussion with iRex CEO Hans Bron, who is talking about the company’s focus on the business-to-business and professional markets. They talk about the DR 1000‘s note-taking capabilities, iRex’s announcement it is working on color readers, and the missed opportunities by iRex because it does not have an e-book store.

I think the challenges iRex face include: Lowering the price of its devices, especially the Wacom-enabled products; Providing better note organization (I don’t agree that handwritten notes are “easier” than typing on a Kindle, as ReadWriteWeb argues—both are hard to use; Keeping its customers focused on current product, rather than trying to compete on future versions, such as a color e-reader, because it freezes buyers considering what they offer today.

The Mirror has video of the Cool-er eBook device. No review, just a walkthrough of the device features to music. Gizmodo had a review of the $250 Cool-er in May.

Kindle limits: The reality and solution

Dan Cohen of GearDiary published a clarification to his claim that Kindle titles downloads are limited in the form of An Open Letter To Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. He explains that he was told by an Amazon employee there is not a limit on the number of downloads of a title, the limit is on the number of devices to which any title can be downloaded.

Given that Amazon will only sell a two-year service agreement on Kindle, we can assume that they expect the device to have two years of useful life. You’d use five different Kindle devices over the course of a decade, which means you may find you can’t download an e-book from your library in the foreseeable future. Or if you expect to buy more than one Kindle per household and share books, it’s also likely that you’ll exceed the number of devices allowed per title sometime.

Amazon simply needs to do one of two things to make this right, probably both:

  • Follow Apple’s lead with iTunes activations and allow the customer to reset the number of active Kindles on an account to zero devices up to once a year.
  • Raise the number of Kindles allowed per title to a large enough number to avoid having a user ever reach the limit.

Raising the device limit will not encourage piracy, because account management is sufficiently complex that one user could never efficiently share titles with large numbers of people.

One family, including multiple generations, should be able to share a library. A devoted reader who happens to have a Kindle 1, Kindle for iPhone and multiple family members sharing a Kindle library should never run into a “limit exceeded” message. If families can’t share books, e-books are doomed to obscurity, as the libraries in many homes are full of titles passed along from generation to generation.

UPDATE: Let’s be sure we all understand the issue. The question is whether there are any limits on downloads of a book purchased from the Kindle store. The Amazon terms of service for Kindle do not mention “simultaneous device” limits. It does say:

Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.

There’s no mention of limits and, if read literally, could be interpreted as limiting the use to one device, which is clearly not the policy. According to Amazon’s Kindle DX FAQ page, which does not qualify the number in any way, in terms of total downloads or number of simultaneous devices:

Can I read content on multiple Kindle devices? What about my iPhone?

Our Whispersync technology allows you to seamlessly switch back and forth between your Kindle devices and iPhone while keeping your reading location synchronized–now you can read a few pages on your iPhone or Kindle and pick right up where you left off on your Kindle DX.

Noted Opinion, June 21, 2009

A couple of articles crossed my radar today. Some thoughts….

Zombie Publishers, a nice philippic by Morris Rosenthal with a video interview with Harlan Ellison that’s worth the link alone. I’ve been approached about writing the kind of slap-dash book by “contributors” that he describes by a surprisingly wide range of well-known publishers, it’s not a feature of “bad” publishers, it’s becoming the norm. Like Rosenthal, I don’t like the trend. Ultimately, he’s making the argument that paying a writer to write well is a worthwhile investment or, if you are contemplating self-publishing, writing well is worth the effort. Yes!

Democracy’s tough, but Amazon’s role isn’t pure as switch11 argues over at iReader Review. First off, I agree with the initial points made in the article, that Google v. Amazon, Kindle v. Sony Reader, Plastic Logic v. Kindle DX are all distractions from the real transformation of the publishing market. They are sideshows, as I wrote yesterday. However, the article then veers into the ideologically charged topic of “democratizing publishing” an identifies enemies of progress. The author throws unfocused charges about misinformation from publishers and “other sites, and bizarrely characterizes Scribd as an enemy of democratization, apparently because it will “let Publishers determine pricing.” “People who are stuck in the past” are also enemies of progress; I’d argue they are barriers to, but more likely poised to become victims of, progress. There is also discussion about misinformation, which is rampant in this market, though it seems to me to be coming from many different sources, not just the enemies identified in the posting.

Stay grounded during an industrys evolution

Stay grounded during an industry's evolution

Switch11 goes on to say that Amazon’s position in the market is essentially “democratic,” even though it acts as a pricing arbitrator. Governments that set pricing ruin economies. Amazon is making useful early suggestions about pricing but is smart enough to know it must let prices find their own level. Building on the Amazon qua democratizing hero, Switch11’s argument goes: “Publishers are used to the status quo i.e. they control what gets published, they make the lion’s share of the profits, we read what they decide we should read, and so forth.” There is also the standard “we are at the beginning of a revolution” rhetoric, but really, it’s an evolution. Revolution is what is happening in Iran. In publishing the krill shrimp that were authors and small publishers suddenly are equals in the food chain with industrial publishing whales. The big question now is what to do with all the blubber in the old system, and that’s Switch11’s point, though it is buried in a lot of finger-pointing.

Kindle didn’t start this change, desktop publishing and cheap printing exploded the economics of the publishing industry in the 80s, as did the Web in the 90s. Self-publishing innovation has dramatically expanded the number of titles published in paper each year, with more than 10 times as many titles published in 2008 than in 1990 (a link to this coming, in the growing BooksAhead statistics pages). That’s an order-of-magnitude change in paper titles published. You won’t see one often. We’re early in a long change, but not a competition between aristocratic publishers and the reading public, rather it’s a rising tide of competition within publishing, from all corners of the map, that cannot be accommodated by existing distribution and marketing infrastructures.

Putatively, anyone can reach an audience with a book, in either paper or electronic form. The reality is that it is hard to reach a large market, but the economics continue to change. For this market to develop most efficiently, a distributor like Amazon cannot be setting prices. Instead, all publishers should be free to set prices and let the market work out what the right price is for each intellectual product out there. My guess is that Simon and Schuster’s price experimentation with Scribd will be useful as an exercise in facing reality, as Amazon has set the market’s expectations at $9.99 for a recent bestseller. But even Amazon doesn’t enforce a single price point. One price doesn’t fit all, and it’s good that we’re seeing price-based competition in the market. What we really need, in addition to that, is more innovation in the idea of what a book is. We haven’t even scratched the surface of how texts and culture will change as a result of innovation.

Switch11 writes that “by 2012 we’ll be living in a world where the majority of the power and benefits lie with readers and authors.” With publishing margins in low single digits, it’s clear we live in that world now. What will continue to change is the number of people and companies that will be publishing for a profit, as well we’ll see a flood of quality free publishing efforts that seek other compensation, such as social influence, political power and commercial relationships with an audience. If we’re going to measure the success of this “revolution” by the shuttering of publishing house offices, that is the mistake.

There is no enemy, and no need for enemies, just for more participation.

Noted News & Opinion, June 16, 2009

Global entertainment and media spending will reach $1.6 trillion in 2013, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers annual industry projections, AdWeek reports. The U.S. media industry will not match growth in the rest of the world, increasing only 1.2 percent annually, compared to the global rate of 2.7 percent, reaching $495 billion in 2013. Digital revenues are predicted to grow from 17 percent of the market today to 25 percent, for a total of $124 billion annually, four years from now. Bad news for magazines and newspapers, where revenues are expected to continue to head south.

Surprise, Jeff Bezos doesn’t like the Google-Author’s Guild settlement. But he won’t say why, according to CNET: “We have strong opinions about that issue which I’m not going to share,” Bezos is quoted as saying during the Wired Business Conference. “There are many forces of work looking at that and saying it doesn’t seem right that you should do something, kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights.” The article also suggests that Bezos said Kindle sales now account for 35 percent of paper book sales, which I believe is a misinterpretation of what he said, as I discussed yesterday. What he appeared to say was that when a book is available in paper and on Kindle, 35 percent of the sales are in Kindle format.

Author Jeff Matthews suspects Google’s good for writers. He’s fond of Google Books as a research tool, as I am, then relates an interesting story about discovering why his grandfather won a medal in World War I through a book scanned by Google. It’s a touching story and is completely valid with regard to out-of-copyright books, but that kind of title isn’t what the Google-Author’s Guild covers. I have a different opinion, but I found Matthews’ story compelling.

S&S e-books venture is doomed. Author Anthony Policastro (Absence of Faith and Dark End of the Spectrum on Kindle), writing on his blog, argues that Simon & Schuster’s announced distribution deal with Scribd will fail because the pricing strategy is wrong. “Most people won’t even pay even $10 for an eBook,” Policastro writes. “The reason is that they do no perceive the value the same as the printed version.” I disagree, not because of the price point, but because the e-book as it is today is no improvement over reading a book and, in many ways, diminishes the reading experience. Someday, readers will pay more than the Jeff Bezos price ($9.99) for a book, because it will be a portal to new experiences through reading. But Policastro is right about S&S’s pricing strategy: If they want to succeed on Scribd they must compete on price, going below Amazon’s pricing.

Mitch’s Perspective: Today’s e-books have been positioned as less valuable than a mass market paperback. That needs to change, which means the features and services associated with the e-book have to change, for the better.

Amazon would be boycotted, if Science Fantasy publisher has a say. Antellus, a publishing company operated by its only author, Theresa M. Moore, has complained that Amazon is slow to respond to publishers experiencing problems with its DTP publishing platforms’ management of ASINs and and associated accounting systems. She also says Amazon should be faster in its deployment of a color Kindle. While the former may be a real problem, condemning Amazon for a “seller agreement, which allows Amazon to modify and/or sell books from its suppliers in whatever format it chooses at its own discretion,” which is key to providing book buyers archival access to titles without having to renegotiate rights each time it updates file formats, and failure to be the first to deliver a color reader diminishes the force of her arguments.

Kindle DX sold out in three days—not so much

UPDATE: Reader David Sloves notes that shipping schedules may be the culprit in the shortage of Kindle DX. In fact, the Amazon site now says Kindle DX will be available on June 22 (as of Tuesday, Amazon says June 22; last evening, it said June 17), so we have the answer. No, the Kindle DX didn’t sell out in three days.

Original text:

First manufacturing run of Kindle DX reportedly sold out. CRN reports the first, undisclosed number of Kindle DXes produced for Amazon by Prime View International, has sold out in just three days. The device, which sells for $489, was introduced earlier this year and launched on June 10. No wonder Prime View bought E-Ink Corp. earlier this month, they’re cutting their costs as Kindle sales accelerate.

You know what would be nice as Amazon reorders? Spec in a removable memory slot in both Kindle 2 and Kindle DX.

Keep in mind that Amazon hedges its bets. Kindle1 shortages were the result of short production runs. This time, though, I’ll bet the manufacturer kept the production line intact.

Kindle de-coupled from book sales? No.

The New York Times reports on allegedly revelatory statements by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos at a Wired conference in New York today.

In the future, Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book reader will display more book formats beyond its own. And you should also expect to see Kindle books on a lot more devices.

Amazon has, of course, acquired several of the developers of leading e-book formats, most recently Lexcycle, maker of the Stanza Reader that dominates the iPhone platform, or did before Amazon released Kindle for iPhone. It is not surprising that the company will support non-Amazon formats since it already does, including Adobe’s PDF format in the Kindle DX (though without support for internal or external linking and standard navigational features of the PDF), amongst other non-DRM formats, but it is sheer speculation to say that ePub support (which Amazon should support) is coming soon.

What of the question of Kindle hardware’s independence from the Kindle bookstore, which The New York Times says is a startling disclosure? The two groups have long operated separately, but Bezo’s comments today to the effect that he wants to see many different titles in many formats on the Kindle at the $9.99 price point contradicts the significance attributed to his remarks. If a book format Continue reading