Learning from Kindlegate and Amazonfail

Posted on June 22, 2009
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I ran across this article at Podcasting News which reference this original article about trying to get multiple copies of purchased eBooks on multiple Kindle readers. This is being dubbed “Kindlegate” apparently. At first I was confused as to how this was a DRM issue because it sounded like an access to download issue, until I realized the core of the problem was trying to get the same book served out encrypted to various Kindle IDs.

Both “Kindlegate” and “Amazonfail” have one big commonality. Both original raisers of these issues cite the initial response from front line customer support as if it were gospel and then take umbrage when later on company policy is stated to be different from that first response. I am shocked, shocked I say, that Skip from Mumbai or Chad from Guangzhou may not be clued in to the exact ins and outs of company policy. To think, the people whose primary advice is to reboot and reinstall the OS may lack critical information? The mind boggles.

I want to stress that I am not a Kindle or Amazon apologist. I think they are screwing up some basic things but a lot of this issue is pure expectation. It does not seem unreasonable to me that there is a limit to DRM serving out of a single purchased download to different IDs. If there is not, then one person can effectively buy one copy and then serve as an unauthorized middleman for an infinite number of other users if he is willing to take the effort and be a scumbag.

However, in a world where MobiDeDRM exists, I don’t think this is such a huge issue. I would have thought much harder about buying a Kindle had this tool not existed. In the cases where it matters to me, I do not strip the DRM and store it away because that would be wrong. For others who might want to have access to their purchased documents under any circumstance, I’d strongly recommend not seeking out that tool.

I’ll admit that I have a certain lack of empathy for this issue. Those affected tend to be the ones with multiple Kindles and/or multiple iPhones, aka people who are already gizmo loving spazmos with more money than sense and kind of up the curve from mainline users. If there is a standard procedure ala iTunes to say to Amazon “I know longer have device with ID XYZ, please remove it from my authorized list and increment my allowed downloads by one” then that seems like it would be reasonable for 99% of users. It certainly seems reasonable for me and my usage patterns.

And for the record, I’m sick of people saying the Kindle is a “closed system” just like I was sick about them saying the same for an iPod. Devices that allow you to put arbitrary files on them in variety of unprotected formats and use them at will cannot possibly be closed. At least 50% of the documents on my Kindle are ones that I downloaded for free from Project Gutenburg or got emailed as review copies or otherwise did not pay Amazon for. That doesn’t fit with my definition of “closed”. You can buy unencrypted books at Fictionwise or other places. In fact its reasonable to do as much shopping in places that sell unencrypted books as possible so you register with the business that a marketplace exists for such things. You are voting with your dollars, kids.

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