Diminishing DRM use in the Kindle store?

Diminishing DRM use in the Kindle store?

DRM (Digital Rights Management) is basically code inserted into a digital file (such as an e-book) to control its use by consumers.

Ostensibly, it’s there to limit copyright infringement. It can be used for other purposes, though, such as blocking text-to-speech access (which is not an infringement, although it could be in violation of the terms of a license).

Some consumers simply detest the idea.

They equate it to someone controlling the use of a copy of a p-book (paperbook) after you buy it, although that’s really an imperfect analogy (see my post, How an e-book is like a treadmill at the gym).

Regardless of whether or not that distaste for DRM is justified, that it exists in some segment of the buying public can not be denied.

You also frequently hear about how Amazon is so restrictive, and has a “walled garden”.

I also find that to be…less than a comprehensive assessment of the situation. After all, Amazon has approved the Netflix app for the Amazon Appstore: a direct competitor to its own Amazon Instant Video service. I could give you several other examples.

What about e-books? You can’t (legally) read a Kindle store book without a hardware Kindle or a free Kindle reading app, right?

Usually, that’s right…but Amazon allows publishers to have their books in the Kindle store without DRM, if they want.

Even independent publishers (which might be just an author), using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, can simply make that choice when publishing the book.

If the book is published without DRM, it can be converted into other formats…and some publishers even give you instructions on how to do that.

I’ve done that my itself, on one of my titles: The Disabled Deserve to Read: The Controversy Over the Amazon Kindle’s Voice. I allow that one to be freely distributed, and if I could make it free in the Kindle store, I would. Instead, I’ve taken the royalties and purchased a Kindle to donate to charity.

There are arguments for and against publishing with DRM. Eliminating it gives sophisticated users more flexibility, but increases the chance of accidental infringement (sending a copy to relative, who might otherwise have bought it, without realizing there was a problem with that, as one example). It doesn’t do much to limit serious pirates, most likely (for one thing, they can just scan the p-book).

So, I was curious: how many publishers are making the choice to go without DRM?

Let’s look at the top 100 selling e-books in the Kindle store. I’m only going to go with paid books, not ones which you can currently download for free.

That’s an extraordinarily high amount! Nineteen of the most popular books in the Kindle store have been released without DRM.

Just based on my quick survey in putting this together, it tended to be independents (of course…only Tor, among the big publishers, is publishing without DRM), and they tended to be “progressive” in other ways (allowing lending, not blocking text-to-speech access).

It appears that the overall percentage in the Kindle store might be much higher. I did this Google search:

“site:www.amazon.com “simultaneous device usage:unlimited” asin -domain”

and got 2,220,000 results. Clearly, there are some false positives there…there are only 2,085,461 altogether. :) Still, I’m guessing the percentage is pretty high.

Indies may be using this to give themselves a competitive advantage over tradpubs (traditional publishers)…and they may simply be trying to extend their reach by selling in the Kindle store to people who don’t use Kindles (but do need to be somewhat sophisticated in terms of technology).

Just as MP3s became the most popular format for distributing music commercially, it may become true in the future that the default is to sell books without DRM.

What do you think? Do you check to see if a book has DRM before buying it? Have you ever decided not to buy a book, because of DRM? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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11 Responses to “Diminishing DRM use in the Kindle store?”

  1. tellthetruth1 Says:

    Quite honestly, I tend to accept DRM because it’s done in music as well. I wouldn’t know how to check books one way or t’other!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, tellthetruth1!

      Generally, you can buy music as MP3s not containing DRM (Digital Rights Management), which is one of the broad arguments people use against it in books.

      For the books, if it says, “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited” that pretty much means it is released without DRM (although I think those two might be divorceable).

  2. トップセラーのKindle電子書籍でも、DRMフリーで販売される作品が少しずつ増えている | DTP・WEB制作の言戸堂 Says:

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  3. Kindle store: Indies avoid DRM to reach wider audience topic | My Blog Says:

    […] Bufo Calvin from the I Love My Kindle blog analyzed the currently top 100 selling e-books in the Kindle store and made an interesting observation: […]

  4. David Haywood Young Says:

    I think I’m strongly tempted to put a notice in the book description that none of my titles have DRM, and that conversion to other formats is okay (after all it’s not actually up to Amazon–they don’t hold the copyright), and possibly going on to suggest Calibre as a useful tool.

    The only reason I haven’t done it yet? I’m somewhat concerned about Amazon’s reaction. Dunno whether I should be worried actually…hmm. I may run it past their “Author Central” support people and see what they say.

    Thanks for reminding me!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, David!

      I would be absolutely unconcerned about Amazon having a negative reaction to you putting that in the book description. Remember that they give publishers using KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) the ability to publish it without DRM (Digital Rights Management)…they should be no more concerned about promoting that then promoting that you didn’t block text-to-speech access or allowed peer-to-peer lending. They consider it a positive feature option.

      Now, promoting Calibre in the description? That’s different…they don’t want you to use your book description to advertise things (even if you aren’t connected with those things).

      This statement appears on at least some Tor (traditionally published, part of Macmillan) titles:

      “At the publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.”

      I think that is Amazon promoting it…although, I suppose, it could be read as a warning. :)

      • David Haywood Young Says:

        Tor’s doing that themselves. Amazon doesn’t get into writing book descriptions.

        And yeah, all my stuff’s DRM-free. On Amazon & elsewhere.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, David!

        You are right on that…I thought it was outside the book description when I saw it, and Amazon does write some things on a book’s product page.

        I find that language awkward for a self-written statement…like referring to yourself in the third person. ;) Still, I don’t see any reason to be concerned about Amazon not liking you listing something which they make possible. I’d avoid the Calibre specific statement, but I think you could say, “Enjoy the book on many devices by using commonly available e-book conversion programs.” My tendency would be not to bring that up, though…people who would use Calibre would also understand what “DRM free” means, I think.

      • David Haywood Young Says:

        Yeah, but my language is stronger than Tor’s. I’ve asked Amazon’s Author Central about it to see what they say. But anyway, Amazon doesn’t make it possible to convert between book formats–they simply refrain from making it slightly more difficult, upon request. And it truly isn’t their call to begin with, as they are not the copyright holders. I say readers can do lots of stuff Amazon says they can’t…and I’m right, because it’s up to me.

        Anyway, my thought was to use the language I suggested, or something like it, to show people who -don’t- already know what DRM-free means.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, David!

        I think you are smart to check with Amazon. If you published through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), I’d probably go to them, rather than to AAC (Amazon Author Central), but up to you. If you do want to contact KDP, you can do that here:


        I’m not quite clear on what you are saying here:

        “I say readers can do lots of stuff Amazon says they can’t…and I’m right, because it’s up to me.”

        You have certain rights granted to you, as the author, under Title 17 (US Copyright law). You then entered into a contractual agreement with Amazon, in which you agreed to certain narrowings of those rights. For example, you would have the right under Title 17 to sell your book for five cents (gee, I think I’ll call that the “Van Pelt Price Point”). ;) If you went through KDP, though, you agreed not to price your book at five cents through Amazon.

        Similarly, the purchasers are bound by their terms and conditions with Amazon. Remember that what they are purchasing is a license, which is essentially another contract. This is also a place where a party agrees (although often without much depth of awareness when purchasing from the Kindle store, I would guess) to a restriction of rights.

        Since there are those two stages of agreements between you and the consumer (your agreement with Amazon, and Amazon’s agreement with the consumer), I wouldn’t characterize the consumer’s use of the license as just being up to you.

        I think we might also have somewhat different visions of what Amazon allowing KDP books to be published without DRM means. Under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) it is generally illegal for a consumer to strip DRM from a file, as I understand it. Amazon’s allowing the book to be published without DRM means that the consumer, with the publisher’s consent, can convert the file using, for example, Calibre. That strikes me as different from what is characterized by this statement of yours: “…simply refrain from making it slightly more difficult.” I think that depends a bit on how much of a barrier you consider illegality to be.

        These are really just matters of perspective, I believe. My guess is that you stating that your book is DRM free in the description is fine to do, and it also makes sense to me for you to try to get Amazon’s opinion on it. I think that statement will appeal to people who already know what DRM is, and I’m a bit concerned that you doing a lot of explanation of DRM in the book description will detract from the primary purpose of the description. That is, though, definitely your choice. :)

        I’d be curious to hear later on if you do make the change and you think it has impacted the sales…

  5. Lulu to drop DRM for self-published eBooks Says:

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