Book and Reading News

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.

Book and Reading News

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.

Book and Reading News

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.

Book and Reading News

Kindle download limits are the publisher’s prerogative?

Dan Cohen posts a well-documented proof that Amazon limits the number of downloads of Kindle titles on some, but not all, books in the Kindle store. He found this after attempting to load a reference book on several devices before the weekend, at which time he was told that the publisher, not Amazon, had set a limit on the number of downloads.

This sounds plausible, because Amazon is particularly sensitive about its relationships with publishers. Yet it is a grave mistake by Amazon, because the one feature of the e-book buying experience they should be enforcing is ongoing availability. Once purchased, a book should be accessible to the buyer for download forever, which is the advertised offer (“Automatic Library Backup: Download Your Books Anytime for Free”), otherwise the e-book becomes less reliable than a paper book and its primary value, its re-usability, is defeated. For example, my family has three Kindles, and if I wanted to share a book with all those Kindles, a book I’ve paid for, but the publisher thinks I should only be able to download the book twice, that’s an inconvenience I would not have with one of the thousands of paper books around the house. Hence, paper becomes the more attractive and flexible option and Amazon has shot itself in the foot by catering to the publisher’s wims on copy limits.

Because Amazon factors in the cost of delivery via its Whispernet service, there should be no limit on downloading imposed by publishers, since those fees are not passed along to them. Amazon, as the distributor and the seller of the Kindle reader, is taking on the cost of providing ongoing access. This form of curation, as I wrote at ZD Net a couple months back, is essential to growth of e-book adoption. Customers do not want to have to repurchase books for different devices, nor to keep up with changes in e-book formats.

A bookseller needs to provide ongoing access to the book, including upgrades to formats needed to support new devices, just as the music industry has had to do when offering downloadable music—it is common for a music rights holder to pay $1 million or more to convert a library into a new format it wants to sell. Only Apple has managed to get away with fees for upgrading music to its DRM-free iTunes-Plus format, but those fees are the least popular decision Apple has made in recent memory, one it ultimately had to change from a bulk upgrade-only model to one that allows customers to choose individual tracks and albums to upgrade.

As Dan Cohen writes, the problem becomes one of a seller obviously misleading the buyer if the terms, including the number of downloads one is purchasing, is not explicitly described with the pricing. It cannot be buried in fine print, because it makes every purchase potentially unreliable, eroding customers’ confidence in the books and the company from which they are buying.

I’ve queried Amazon PR about this but received no response. Will post an update when I hear from them or one of my Amazon contacts.