Category: The Issues

Digging Deeper Into Amazon’s Orwellian Moment

When media historians write the history of DRM they may well devote a whole chapter to the day that Amazon customers awoke to find that their Kindle editions of “1984” had vanished into a memory hole and that Big Brother Bezos had apparently turned George Orwell into an unperson.

You would be hard pressed to invent a more apt or ironic example of the dangers of DRM. Surely this will be the incident that finally raises consumer awareness of the risks involved in buying DRM protected media.

And yet, after digging deeper into this story, I’m not convinced that this was a DRM issue at all. At least, not in the truest sense.

Further, this incident raises a host of interesting rights related issues that have largely gone unexplored in the days since.

Consider the following: (more…)

Why Kindle’s DRM Free-for-All Is Bad for Consumers and for Amazon

The Kindle is popular for a reason.

Amazon has created the most painless ebook experience any consumer could possibly ask for. No other system makes the discovery, purchase, and transfer of ebooks so frictionless. As a result, Kindle has become the standard everyone else in the ebook business will have to match just to compete. So far no one comes close.

But Kindle has a dark side that is starting to emerge with startling regularity.

This past weekend Dan Cohen was surprised to find that he could not re-download some of his Kindle books. After several lengthy exchanges with Amazon customer support Cohen was informed that some (but not all) Kindle books have download limits. Or maybe it’s a limit on the number of devices they can be transferred to. Or it might be both…

To be honest, Amazon’s customer service department isn’t entirely sure of what limits are imposed on DRM protected Kindle books. (more…)

Podcast: Assessing the Impact of Piracy and Free Content on Book Sales

It’s nearly impossible to have a meaningful discussion on the issue of media piracy. Strong opinions and anecdotal evidence dominate every conversation. There is seldom any hard data to back up the various claims of damage or lack thereof.

The recent New York Times piece on book piracy is typical of the kind of coverage we’ve come to expect from major news source. The story is long on speculation and short on deep thinking or meaningful data.

Meanwhile, O’Reilly Media has just published a new research report on the Impact of P2P and Free Distribution on Book Sales. Written and researched by Brian O’Leary, the report is an all too rare attempt to quantify the impact that various types of freely available content have on sales.

Free content has long been used to promote all forms of media. Is it possible that pirated content might serve a similar role in promoting the purchase of content? O’Leary’s early results seem to indicate that might be the case.

In this podcast I talk with O’Leary about his research. A full transcript of our talk will be available in the next couple of days. (more…)

Amazon’s Kindle Disclosure Policies Could Attract FTC Attention

Any way you look at it, the Kindle is a remarkable reading system. Amazon has managed to capture massive mainstream attention for an electronic reading device that combines seamless wireless content distribution with a purchasing process that is so transparent you’d be forgiven for not realizing you’ve actually paid money for a book.

Equally remarkable is the fact that Amazon sells DRM-restricted ebooks side-by-side with DRM-free ebooks while making no distinction between the two formats. From the consumer’s perspective there’s no way to tell which Kindle books are locked down by DRM before purchase.

Over the past week, Teleread has been orchestrating a consumer driven tagging effort to tag DRM-free books in the Kindle store. While I think the project is a brilliant use of crowdsourcing, it also reveals just how bad the problem really is. In order to accurately tag a Kindle ebook as DRM-free, Amazon customers must first buy the book, then go through a somewhat involved process to test whether or not the book is locked down. (more…)

The FTC on DRM: Fighting for Consumers or Making Toothless Threats?

The moment digital media consumers have long waited for finally came this week as the FTC held a Town Hall meeting to discuss issues surrounding the use of DRM technologies.

From the beginning it was clear the FTC has heard consumer complaints about DRM related issues and takes the matter seriously. What wasn’t clear is what, exactly, the FTC is prepared to do to ensure that consumers get what they pay for when they purchase digital media products.

Mary K. Engle, Acting Deputy Directory for the Bureau of Consumer Protections, opened the workshop with some tough words for companies selling DRM protected media products, warning, “If your advertising giveth and your EULA taketh away, don’t be surprised if the FTC comes calling.” Further, Engle noted that consumer distrust over DRM makes for an unhealthy marketplace. (more…)