Kindle Device License Limits Are Stupid

There, I said it. I'm betting most consumers and quite a few publishers don't realize that Amazon has limits in place to prevent you from loading one Kindle ebook on more than 6 devices within the same account. You're probably wondering why I have so many devices connected to the same account. The answer is simple: I like to test new devices and the old ones become hand-me-down's to family members. They all remain on the same account though.

Amazon has a default maximum of 6 devices for any given Kindle ebook. Once you try to get it onto the 7th device you're greeted with an error message saying, "License Limit Reached", and they nudge you to buy another copy of the product. No way. I already bought it once and I'm not buying it again.

This is yet another example of why DRM sucks. Someone decided 6 was a magical number and so no title can be read across more than 6 devices. Sure, I could de-register or maybe even just delete the book from one or two of my older devices but why should I have to?!

Limitations like this, including DRM in general, are evil and should be done away with. Amazon and publishers, please start trusting your customers and eliminate stupid barriers like this. You're not protecting your revenue stream this way but you're doing a terrific job of irritating your customers and reminding them that you don't trust them.


TOC Podcasts: Now in iTunes

600x600_toc_podcast A month or so ago we decided it was time to extend TOC's reach with industry news, interviews, etc., in the form of video podcasts. I've already featured many of those segments here on the 2020 Publishing blog but now you'll be able to retrieve them in a more convenient manner.

Head over to iTunes and subscribe to the TOC podcast series using this link. Four of the first sessions are currently available via iTunes and more will follow shortly. Going forward we plan to create 1-2 new segments every week.

We're always on the lookout for new and interesting people, products and platforms to cover via this podcast series. If you know of any be sure to send them my way and I'll make sure the TOC team follows-up on them.


The Changing World of Digital Rights & Publishing Agreements

Changing World Digital Rights I originally planned to attend our TOC webcast last week but wound up running into a schedule conflict. If you missed it as well you can stil catch the archive of it with me.

I'm talking about The Changing World of Digital Rights and Publishing Agreements. TOC co-chair Kat Meyer arranged for Dana Newman and Jenny Bent to present on these thorny issues. Again, I wasn't there but I saw a summary of attendee feedback and it obviously was a great discussion followed by a number of terrific viewer questions. I plan to view the archive in the next few days as I decompress from both OSCON and miniTOC Portland.

Speaking of miniTOC Portland... What an outstanding day that was! I had a wonderful time meeting all the local publishing professionals (and students!) who joined us for our first miniTOC event. If you missed it you can catch some of the highlights via a search of the Twitter hashtag #TOCPDX. Thanks to Kat (again!) and all our speakers and attendees.


Why DRM Is Like Airport Security

While flying home from Bologna for our TOC event I couldn't help but think about some of the similarities between digital rights management (DRM) and airport security.  Here are a few common points that come to mind:

False sense of security -- Seriously, does anyone today still believe any DRM system is hackerproof?  Heck, even books that have never been legally distributed in any e-format are out there as illegal downloads.  Just Bing the phrase "harry potter ebook downloads" and you'll see what I mean.  Scanners are everywhere, so if physical books can be illegally shared what makes you think a DRM'd title will never appear in the wild?  On the airline side, I feel like we're always focusing on the last attack (e.g., underwear bomber, shoe bomber, etc.) and not focusing instead on what the next idiot will try.

Treats everyone like a criminal -- It's hard not feeling like a convict when you're going through airport security or coming back through immigration/customs.  The assumption is you're guilty till proven innocent by way of xray machines, full-body scans and patdowns.  On the book side, the fact that I can't treat my ebook purchase like I can my print book ones (e.g., can't be resold or lent to a friend indefinitely) makes me feel like the retailer and publisher simply don't trust me.

Highly inefficient -- DRM is such an enormous waste of time.  The only players coming out ahead are the DRM technology providers!  I now have two Kindles and an iPad.  In order to move content from one to the other I have to go through Amazon so they can make sure I'm not breaking the rules.  What if I don't have a web connection at that moment?  I'm stuck and can't shift that book from my battery-depleted iPad to my Kindle.  What's wrong with just connecting the two devices via Bluetooth?  Not an option.  And look at the crazy lines at the airport as well as the inconsistencies from location to location (e.g., take your shoes off here but not there, remove your iPad here but not there, etc.)

Introduces silly limitations -- The best airport example is the simple bottle of water.  Remember the good old days when all you had to do was take a swig of your water bottle to show TSA it's a harmless liquid?  I miss those days.  Here again, the bottled water industry must be laughing all the way to the bank as we toss half-full bottles on one side of security and then have to buy new ones on the other side.  In the book world DRM means that lending a copy, something easily done in physical world, comes with way too many restrictions in the e-world (e.g., two-week max, can only be done once in the life of the title, etc.)

OK, I admit that I don't have a solution to offer the airline industry.  I don't want to board a plane with a terrorist any more than you do.  A pilot friend of mine made an interesting comment about this awhile back though.  He pointed out that one of the results of 9/11 is that passengers are no longer willing to be helpless victims.  The shoe and underwear bomber events are examples of just how true this is.

IOW, passengers are stepping in to fill the holes that will always exist in even the best airport security system.  I suggest we follow a similar approach but take it a step further in the publishing world: Eliminate DRM and trust our customers to not only do the right thing but also ask them to turn in anyone they see making/offering illegal copies.


Amazon's Next Move

Amazon blackLet's say you're Jeff Bezos and you're heading into the office this morning.  It's the first day back to work since the iPad launch.  We're talking about the most significant gadget launch since, well, since the iPhone.  Suddenly the feature set of your ereader, the Kindle, looks pretty lame.  No color display.  No wifi connectivity.  Approximately 149,999 fewer apps than what the iPad supports.

What do you do?  My advice: Turn the Kindle for iPad app into the most exciting reader app in the industry.

You might have noticed that Amazon has released several "Kindle for..." apps up to now.  There's a Windows one, a Mac one, an iPhone one, etc.  They're all intended to complement the Kindle, not replace it...and that's the problem with the iPad version.

It only took a couple of hours of iPad use to realize I'll never touch my Kindle again.  Ever.  All my Kindle books are now on my iPad.  Do I mind that the iPad's backlit display isn't as easy on my eyes as the Kindle's?  No.  I read off that iPad display for about 10 hours on Saturday and my eyes felt the same as they did the day before.

And while I love the Whispersync technology Amazon uses to keep my place across devices, I really don't see myself reading books across devices now.  I can't put the iPad down.  I used to read a bit in bed on my iPhone but now I'll just do the same with my iPad.  The Kindle for iPad app is brain-dead compared to the iBooks one though.  Even the dictionary feature on the Kindle is missing from the app.  Then there's the glaring issue with no sample support.  That's right.  I can't preview Kindle books through the iPad app, so how do they expect me to buy anything from them?!  (UPDATE: I stand corrected.  You can download Kindle samples to the iPad app.)  Amazon has apparently also conceded the newspaper/magazine segments to Apple as there's no way to read your Kindle subscriptions through the iPad app.

As long as this app is nothing more than a bare-bones reader Amazon is giving me zero incentive to buy ebooks from them.  Why would I make my content investment in a dead-end technology when I could probably get the same title through the iBookstore?

So Jeff, resist the temptation to limit the functionality of the Kindle for iPad app.  Make it as rich as possible.  Make it extensible so that new types of content can be added to it.  Reach out to the community and see what features excite them.  Experiment and innovate!  Don't let it rot on the vine like the "Experimental" features have on the Kindle.

Kindle sales are already going to take a hit because of the iPad.  You'll continue selling to people who are convinced the Kindle offers a better reading experience than the iPad.  It doesn't though.

You can afford to lose the hardware battle but you really don't want to lose the content battle.  Focus on your reader apps and make them world class, OK?

P.S. -- The iPad is great but it's not without its flaws.  Click here to read the details of my first day with this very promising device.


The Great Text-to-Speech Debate

Dunce cornerRarely do I get so worked up about an issue but few are as strangely controversial as this one.  I'm talking about the text-to-speech feature of Amazon's Kindle 2.  (Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I own a Kindle 1 and I have no plans to buy a Kindle 2. I think Amazon's closed platform is a huge mistake and I hate how they're alienating their Kindle 1 early adopters with no discounted upgrade offer.)

Let me come right out and say it: I strongly believe text-to-speech is a good thing for everyone.

Earlier this week, Roy Blount wrote this misguided article about the feature in The New York Times.  This industry is looking for innovative ways to get people to read more book-length works and this knucklehead takes a swing at one of the few interesting developments that shows promise.  Did Blount just wake up from a 10-year nap at an RIAA meeting?!  Seriously, dude, please don't encourage authors and The Author's Guild to start acting like the music industry!

Let's be clear.  The text-to-speech feature is only going to make Kindle editions more popular and usable.  Will it cause some fence-sitters to make a purchase?  Probably.  Will it really hurt the audio book market?  I seriously doubt it.  And so what if it does?!  How many people really buy both the print/written version of a book and the audio version?  That number has got to be incredibly tiny, a rounding error on a rounding error.  Don't forget though that Amazon owns Audible.com now.  Maybe they want to "eat their young" with this feature, but I'll bet Amazon isn't too concerned about cannibalization of the Audible program.

I tweeted this earlier but if you're not on Twitter you ought to read James Turner's insightful response to Blount's column.  (And if you're not on Twitter, what the heck are you waiting for?!)


O'Reilly's Tools of Change (TOC) Conference Starts Tomorrow

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 08 13.35I've been counting down the days for this one and tomorrow it will finally be here.  I'm talking about O'Reilly's TOC conference, which starts bright and early tomorrow in NY with a series of tutorials.  I'm heading there tomorrow afternoon and plan to attend a conference-related Tweetup that's scheduled for later in the evening.  Then it's two full days packed with great sessions from morning till evening.

I've been tipped off to several exciting product announcements that will be made at TOC this week, two of which that have really caught my eye.  I can't say anything more about them just yet, but stay tuned for upcoming blog posts and Twitter tweets over the next 3 days.  Actually, I'll probably spend more time Twittering than blogging, so look for more of the former and not so much of the latter.  I also have a search panel set up in my TweetDeck feed, searching for #toc entries; there are already a lot of tweets piling up there, so if you can't make it, be sure to watch the stream from attendees.  And, if you see me tweet from within a session and have a question you'd like to ask the speaker, send me a direct message and I'll do my best to get an answer.

Finally, I'm already keeping an eye out for some of you, but if you're a Publishing 2020 reader and would like to say hi at TOC, be sure to pull me aside between sessions.


Mygazines.com: The Magazine Industry's "Napster Moment"?

MygazinesLet me start off by saying that I firmly believe mygazines.com is a blatant copyright infringer and deserves whatever penalties it might eventually receive.  I say "might" because it's an offshore operation which means it will be tough to hunt down and hold anyone accountable for the website's activities.

My concern isn't about whether mygazines is legal or not (it's not), but rather about how the magazine industry should respond to it.  The music industry crushed Napster because the major labels couldn't come up with any other solutions.  I tend to agree with most of the points made by both Ian Da Silva in this Wikinomics blog post as well as what The Motley Fool has to say in this article (although I certainly don't agree with the Fool's suggestion that this is "the end of publishing as we know it"!)

This is a golden opportunity for the magazine industry to see how a Napster-like platform for periodicals could and should work effectively.  Mygazines is essentially doing e-content R&D for the entire magazine industry; I just hope the industry takes the time to study and understand the results before they look to kill the service.

I took a quick look at mygazines and immediately felt like it would be worth paying a subscription for, provided all the content was legal.  I've been letting most of my magazine subscriptions lapse because I find more up-to-date info online and I can't justify the price.  That's one more set of eyeballs each of those magazines just lost for their advertising income.  So in addition to possibly getting mygazines shut down, why not figure out how this model could actually help rebuild readership and advertising income?

If a coalition of magazine publishers managed to intervene and kill mygazines, but take it over in the process, would that be a good thing?  Possibly.  Would I pay $5/month to have access like this to several magazines I'm not currently subscribing to?  Absolutely.  In fact, if they build in the right social networking capabilities it could easily become an extremely popular alternative for a lot of customers.  I just hope the magazine industry takes the time to learn what it can from this before they focus on crushing it.

P.S. -- Speaking of magazines, I have a short update to the BusinessWeek subscription I let lapse earlier this summer.  They stopped sending issues shortly after I posted that note back in June and I have to admit that I miss the service.  I'm greatly disappointed that it's not offered on the Kindle but a renewal offer I received over the weekend has tempted me to return.  The deal is $20 for a full year's worth of issues.  I'm pretty sure I can't say no...

P.P.S -- Well, it turns out the slick folks at BusinessWeek were simply trying to pull a fast one on me.  Upon closer inspection this new $20 deal is only for six months, not a full year.  When I balked at $40 for a year some wisenheimer there apparently decided to toss a "$20 for six months" offer at me instead.  Silly me...I almost fell for it!


Wiki Contributor Compensation Challenges

MoneyAs the Wikipedia and other great wiki-based resources continue to evolve, the question of contributor compensation always seems to come up eventually.  Should contributors be paid?  If so, how much?  How would you effectively track the system?  Why would someone want to contribute for free?

The open source software development world has dealt with these questions for many years now and it continues to thrive.  Even commercially successful companies like Red Hat have figured out how to build an effective business model around the work of contributors, so there's no reason to expect the content world would be much different.

I recently came across this excellent summary by Evan Prodromou, co-founder of the popular Wikitravel site.  Evan does a fantastic job of explaining his point of view and why he believes that paying contributors is a bad idea.  I think the two most important aspects of this are openness and reinvestment in the community, both of which Evan summarizes quite effectively.


WWGD: What Would Google Do?

Google2What would Google do?  That's one of the questions posed in this Fortune article.  Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine was the person asking the question and I think it's an important one for anyone involved in content creation/distribution to consider.  As the article reports, Jarvis hosted a panel called "Exploding Media" and said "media companies should stop complaining and ask themselves 'What would Google do?'"  He also suggested that "today's mandate is to help people distribute both their own creations and what they receive from professional media in their own way."

An excellent example that was cited is the combination of Google Maps and Google Earth and how they are both made even more powerful by the contributions of users.  What's the analogy in the book publishing world?  What will it take for book content to be open and accessible enough to allow for customer mashups, for example?

Talk about a huge can of worms...  This is an extremely tricky subject given all the IP rights and other ownership issues involved.  Then there's the challenge of effectively monetizing the model.  Nevertheless, it's something I think will happen at some point; it's just a question of who and when.

This is where I see so much opportunity for social networks and devices like Amazon's Kindle.  Imagine a world where you're reading a book on the Kindle and the latest chapter/passage reminds you of a good friend.  With almost no effort at all you're able to select that passage and e-mail it to your friend with a note saying, "I thought of you when I read this and I wanted you to read it too."  As an added incentive, the message has all the hooks in it to give you an affiliate cut of the transaction if your friend ever winds up buying that book.

How about tools like LibraryThing and the iRead Facebook application?  Imagine how much more interesting and powerful those services could become if content access and sharing found its way into them.  Yes, the legal issues are daunting but I am optimistic that we'll get there at some point.