The joy of buying DRM-free eBooks

21-06-2020

Among all the non-sense restrictions imposed by DRMs, anti-copying systems, vendors lock-ins, there is one that I particularly hate: eBooks with DRM.

I'll explain myself through the post; but first, let me compare the process of buying an eBook with a common DRM known as Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). We have a common eBook reader. It may be a Kindle, a Kobo, whatever you want. For now, consider that we are not buying from the Amazon store or Kobo store, but from an external one.

With DRM

You have found a nice eBook, on sample-ebook-selling-site.com. To make things worse, take as example a classic one: The Brothers Karamazov, which has been published in 1880.

Maybe you want to read it in your native language, so, you don't download it from some public archive. Instead, you decide to go with one recent version, with notes and a good translation. It has a cost - which is basically the cost of the translator. Translating books is not easy, so you find it fair to pay it, even if it is a very old work.

It costs 0.99€. Nice price.

You put it in your basket and go to the check-out. However, before paying (or, if you were unlucky like me, after having payed) you are greeted by a message similar to this:

This file is protected by Adobe Digital Editions. You will download a file in .acsm format, which will have to be opened in Adobe Digital Editions, authorized with an Adobe Account.

Well, a strange way of giving you an eBook. You proceed, and then you are able to download the .acsm! Now what?

It looks like we have to download Adobe Digital Editions. You look for it on the internet, and you land on the download page.

First surprise. It is available only for Windows and MacOs. Fuck you, Linux user.

Time to reboot and boot into Windows. If you have that, of course.

You download and install the software. Usual boring installation script, a 1000 pages license you will never read, and you are ready to go. However, after you launch it, you discover that you need an Adobe account. The process requests you to give these details:

Adobe account registration

Hooray, an email is requested! More spam for my inbox. Then, they require your first name, last name, birthdate, and location. And if you want, you can have more shit delivered to you. Sometimes, especially if you use Firefox, you will have to show that You Are Not a Robot©.

Now, I am forcing myself to delay the comments on this. I want to sort out the process first; however, when I had to do that the first time, I was already pissed off at this point.

Account created. What next? How, you have to authorize your PC. Because it is not sufficient to install it on your machine: you have to tell the program that the computer on which the program is installed, is authorized. Smart.

You log-in with your previous Adobe ID and you finish the process. Very well.

Now, you have two possibilities. If you own a Kobo, you will have to open the .acsm file in Adobe Digital Editions, do some silly click-click passages, and you will be able to copy it on your reader. If you own a Kindle, however, you can not do this. You will not be able to read the book you purchases on your Kindle.

Even if you own the book, you purchased it, you can not read on your reader. And, beware, it's not a compatibility issue: if you download the book to put it in your Kobo, the format is probably .epub. Which can be easily converted to a format like .mobi, which can be read by a Kindle.

You can still read your book on your PC. Great satisfaction.

Without DRM

Obviously, the passages about buying the eBook are similar to the previous example. However, when you reach the download page, you will be able to download... the book. Usually in the .epub format. After that, you can copy and paste it on the internal memory of your device. If your device do not support the .epub format, you can convert it with a software like Calibre which is one of the best eBooks-managing application existent.

You are done. It's time to read the adventures of the Karamazov family.

But now, let's ask: why did we have to do this?

What is DRM?

From Wikipedia:

Digital Rights Management (DRM) tools or Technological Protection Measures (TPM) are a set of access control technologies for restricting the use of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works. DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies.

Basically, it consists in anti-piracy software. It makes hard to copy the product you buy - be it an eBook, a movie, a piece of software. It is designed as a sort of security measure to prevent people to distribute it in unlawful ways, for example P2P. This is a really important point: it does not hit the people who may want to download the content to access it, illegally. It hits the legitimate buyers of the product.

There are many discussions around the real utility of DRM. However, I will skip them because a lot has been said about it. You can find many information on the net; here, I want to talk from a user perspective. From the experience that I had when I had to deal with this for the first time.

Who the hell is Adobe?

If you are into computers, you may have heard about Adobe. Their products are widely considered as the best in their sector. However, why, you, an eBook buyer, need to create an account with them in order to read your book?

You did not ask for it. They ask you to provide some personal data like name, surname, birth date; why? Sure, they have a privacy policy which you can read if you have that hour that you don't know how to spend. You know what would be useful in order to not having to do all of this? Not having to give your personal data at all. After all, probably you gave it to the eBook seller website which, at least, has a reason for having them (billing address, for example).

The process

As you can see, the process of buying an eBook with DRM is more difficult then buying a DRM free one. While it is not impossible, it is longer and more annoying; after all, you have to install a software that takes space on the disk, needs to be updated, etc. It does not support Linux, which is, without doubts, a form of discrimination. We are not talking about a self-contained software, made by a company whose target is not Linux users: we are talking about a software which is REQUIRED to enjoy a content you buy on the internet.

We can agree that downloading pirated material is simpler. Which is absurd. Moreover, often DRM algorithms are broken few days after the release; this means that if you buy a product which has been out for some months, you are paying in terms of usability for something that has already been broken.

The cost

Implementing DRM is not free. If you want your product to be equipped with such technology, you have to pay. Which, obviously, is reflected on the final product for the user. So, even if you do not pirate the eBook, you are paying for the guys who will do it.

The limitations

Often, it's difficult to store your purchase in a backup disk or your PC, because the copy possibilities may be limited. Which means that losing the account related to the Adobe program results in the loss of the product. It's more similar to a rent, with the difference that you pay the full price.

Conclusions

I don't know what you think, but I can't stand DRM, especially on eBooks and especially if they put so many constraints to the user. If you buy a book in the library, you are not requested to give your personal details. If you want to unlawfully copy it, you can do it with a scanner. Why eBooks should be subjected to these limitations which make the process of buying and reading an eBooks a total pain? The only thing I can do is buying DRM-free eBooks and supporting stores which offer them.