We are more than human beings…we are accounts

We are more than human beings…we are accounts

I see some of the same sorts of questions in the Amazon Kindle forums over and over again. Many of them stem from the same basic misunderstanding of your relationship with Amazon.

It’s not unreasonable that people have this model in their heads…it’s how it worked for decades.

What I’m going to tell you may be a shift in your paradigm, but believe me, it’s better with the new perspective.

As far as Amazon is concerned, you are not a human being. You are something that is superior, in this situation: you are an account.

I’m an account.

My Significant Other, my adult Kid, and another relative and I are all one account.

Let me explain the difference.

When you buy something from your neighbor, your neighbor sells it to you as a human being. You own it.

When you buy something from Amazon, Amazon sells it to an account. The account owns it.

When I ‘”buy an e-book” (it’s actually a license*) from the Kindle store, our account owns it, not just me.

If I were to pass on, it wouldn’t affect the ownership of the e-book license. Everybody else on the account would still have access to it.

That access doesn’t depend on me as an individual.

The account doesn’t live in our house, or on any of our Kindles. The account lives on Amazon’s servers.

If something happens to one of your Kindles, that does not affect the account’s ownership of the e-book. You can delete a Kindle store book from one Kindle, and it’s still available to the others.

I see people say, “I’m thinking of buying a newer model Kindle. Will I be able to put the books on it from the old Kindle?”

You’ll have access to the books you bought from the Kindle store that you used on the old Kindle…but you won’t go directly from the old Kindle to the new Kindle.

That’s a very common confusion.

Many people think of the file that they downloaded from the Kindle store as if the file is what they bought. It’s as if it was a copy of a p-book (paperbook) they bought in a store. They just have that one thing, and they are responsible for it.

If you bought a copy of a p-book when you lived in one house, and then moved to a new house, you would physically move the p-book from house to house.

That’s how it was with a lot of software you downloaded in the past as well. You’d download the software from a website, and then maybe back it up on floppies or CDs…but if the computer on which the software was installed died, you lost it.

That’s not how it works from the Kindle store.

You buy the right to read that book. It’s that intangible thing, the right…not the file.

Whether you have that same Kindle or not, you still have the right to read the book on…some Kindle registered to the account.

That’s the easiest way to think of it. The account owns the right to read the e-book.

Not me.

Not my SO.

Not my adult kid.

Not my Kindle Fire 8.9″.

Not my Kindle Paperwhite.

The account owns it.

Each compatible device registered to the account has access to it.

Now, there are a couple of limitations to understand here.

Let’s talk about that “compatible” part, a couple of sentences above. 🙂

Not everything you get from the Kindle store is compatible with all kinds of devices. This can be true with an e-book, although that’s unusual.

I think it’s easiest to understand when talking about games.

You might buy a license for a game that is designed to be used on a Kindle Paperwhite.

The Paperwhite is a touchscreen device, and that’s how the game will have been designed. “Swipe left to walk”, that sort of thing.

That game is simply not going to work on a device without a touchscreen.

Your account is smart enough to know that, though. When you go to


and try to send an item somewhere, you may see that some of your devices are “grayed out”: you can’t select them for delivery.

That’s because the thing that you licensed is not compatible with that device…it can’t be used there, and the account doesn’t want to send a square peg to a round hole. 🙂

The same thing will happen when you are on your device looking to download a file. If it’s incompatible, it just won’t show up in your Cloud/archived items list on that device.

That explains why what is available might be different on two different devices.

You can see for which devices an item is compatible before you buy it, on the item’s Amazon product page.

The other big thing to understand is that e-books (and some other content) have a limited number of “simultaneous device licenses” (SDLs). That’s how many devices on your account can have a given item licensed at the same time.

Let’s talk about e-books on this one.

Unless it says otherwise on a Kindle store e-book’s Amazon product page, they come with six SDLs.

That means that means that six devices (Kindles, free reader apps) on your account can have the e-book at the same time.

Pretend there are ten Kindles and apps licensed to your account (we have 18 on our account right now…there is no limit on that).

Pretend also that you got a book with the normal six SDLs.

Six of you download the e-book on to six different devices (one for each person) on the account.

The account has six SDLs for that book.

When a seventh person tries to download it, they’ll be told there isn’t a license available.

When one of the first six removes the e-book from their device, and then syncs with Amazon (so Amazon knows it has been removed), that license becomes available again. The seventh person can now download it.

It isn’t that any particular devices own the e-book copy. It doesn’t matter to the publisher (which sets the number of SDLs for each title) which six compatible devices on the account at a time have the e-book…just that no more than six at a time have it.

I think this perspective is harder for people when they are the only ones on an account and they only use one Kindle.

For us, this is such a better arrangement than being four individuals. 🙂

We are more than human beings…we are an account.

There is more to this, and feel free to ask questions by commenting on this post.

* For a better understanding of the difference between the license you buy for an e-book and a copy you buy of a p-book, see

How an e-book is like a treadmill at the gym

Update: thanks to daa for a comment that helped clarify this post

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

8 Responses to “We are more than human beings…we are accounts”

  1. jasonecox Says:

    Excellent article as always. I think this will help a lot of people understand their relationship with their kindles and the whole Amazon ‘ecosystem.’

    For some reason it brought a question to mind. This may be related to the NSA issues (one must assume they have our purchasing history). And the reported’weaponizing’ of the IRS.

    So, suppose at some point the government (and this may have happened elsewhere in the world already) decides ownership of certain books (1984, or anything by Ayn Rand, or perhaps items on the other side of the aisle) is illegal… might they do a simple search for all that have purchased that book? Might they even more easily contact Amazon and force them to remove that item from your account?

    At least with physical books, they would have to physically visit thousands of individuals’ homes. And you could say you sold it at the used bookstore. Kindle books, on the other hand, may simply disappear from your account to access.

    What are your thoughts on this?


    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jason!

      I do like to try and help people understand things better…understanding is a good thing. 🙂

      As to your question: hypothetically, certainly…although as I explained here


      Amazon wasn’t even on the PRISM list.

      For me, the likelihood that the US Government goes after you for ownership of a particular already published book (which is what we are discussing here) seems quite low. It’s much more likely to me that they would want to know if you spoke with particular people, or took particular actions.

      I think readers like you and me tend to place a much higher value on the influence of books than the kinds of people who might be making that decision. Have governments gone after people for possessing certain books? Sure, that’s happened…but we are starting out in a different environment, which changes the equation.

      Let’s say, though, for the sake of argument, that, oh…The Velveteen Rabbit was being used as a code key by a terrorist group. You needed the book to decode instructions.

      While Amazon has famously fought government requests for information (there is a particular case involving sales tax levying on purchases, for example), let’s say the government “Bigfoots” them and makes them delete the Velveteen Rabbit from their servers, and when the Kindles sync, from the devices.

      Would that be more likely to remove the book from circulation than if those people had paper copies? Sure, no question. I kind of doubt that “I sold it” would be much protection in the p-book case, though, given the draconian measures you are suggesting…

      However, if you wanted to protect a book that was not being sold through normal channels, it would be much easier to protect it as an e-book than as a paperbook.

      It’s far, far easier to reproduce, hide, and transport electronic files than it is to do it with p-books.I don’t know if you are familiar with Samizdat under the old Soviet Union, but that was a very high risk method of exchanging information.

      I don’t find it reasonable to equate commercially sold books with suppressed anti-government information. The perceived threats and tactical concerns are so different.

      If someone is concerned about the government removing books from society, they should make those books available in as many places and formats as possible. That’s ultimately the best protection.

      I do remember somebody, years ago, saying to me that they “…didn’t trust anybody”. I thought about that. How would you get to work in the morning? You couldn’t trust the food you bought at the grocery store, certainly. You couldn’t trust the person who made your car, and you certainly couldn’t trust the other drivers. You couldn’t trust the people who made what you considered your survival equipment. You couldn’t trust people who told you not to trust other people. 😉 I think you simply have to trust some people to some degree to function at all in society.

      Do I think somebody in the government may know about all the books I’ve bought from Amazon? Sure, that seems possible. Do I think it’s likely that they will use that against me? My risk/benefit analysis is that it is still worth buying books from Amazon, even though that leave more of a trail than buying them at a used bookstore with cash. Nowadays, with surveillance cameras and automatic license plate reading and recording, that might not be much safer…

      If you haven’t read The Transparent Society, you might find it interesting…


  2. Michelle Says:

    We had a much loved k2 kindle fully loaded with books “die”. It was its time BUT we couldn’t remove any of the books from it as it was dead. It could only be deregistered. Does this also free the licences used by that kindle. Those I asked at amazon suggest yes but I would love your views

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Michelle!

      Sorry to hear that!

      I think you’ll be fine. It used to feel more complicated, but if you did run into a problem with it (which would be when you wanted to download an e-book to ((most commonly)) a sixth device on the account (at the same time it was licensed to five others), you could contact Kindle Support at that point.


      My guess is that, at some point in the future, deregistering a device will make the Kindle store books on it unusable (at least, perhaps, until registered again). That would be a big change for the non-Fires…but it is how Fires work already.

      • Vikarti Anatra Says:

        In my experience, deregistering device in such cases frees-up all licenses. Tried with software clients after OS reinstall and with Kindle Keyboard (display broken so no way to de-register)

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Vikarti!

        I believe Amazon has changed on this over time. Years ago, they said you would have to contact Kindle Support if you lost your Kindle and have them release the licenses, but then later on, as I recall, that had changed.

        I can understand why they didn’t want to release the licenses automatically when you deregistered. You could put a thousand books on a Kindle, deregister it, and sell it to someone else (for a pretty penny…people used to try to do that on eBay, for example). Then, register a new device the account…and they would have six SDLs (Simultaneous Device Licenses) again. Effectively, the purchaser of the Kindle got the books with no compensation to the publisher.

        However, they may have balanced that against the number of times Kindles fail/are lost/are stolen, and decided to take the risk.

        By the way, you can deregister a Kindle at


        so for future reference, you can deregister a broken Kindle.

  3. daa Says:

    Hi Bufo,

    Nice explanation!

    This bit here might be confusing, though:

    “Pretend there are ten accounts and apps licensed to your account…”

    I’m thinking you meant ten Kindles and apps. 😉

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