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Kindle’s DRM Needs Serious Work

Amazon KindleI’ve done my best to stay on top of news about Amazon’s Kindle ebook reading device. I own the first generation Kindle, and love using it along with the Kindle app on my iPhone. However, this detail about the DRM scheme that controls the books slipped past me. I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge, or if it’s just stayed under the radar for this long.

Dan Cohen over at GearDiary.com posted a story [Kindle's DRM Rears Its Ugly Head... And It IS Ugly] about him activating a few new devices on his Kindle account, and then being unable to load his purchased books onto the new devices. When he called up Amazon tech support to ask why his books weren’t loading, he was told that different books only let you download a copy from the server a certain number of times. The number of downloads allowed differs from book to book and publisher to publisher, and there is no way to know what the download limit is until you reach it. In order to load a maxed-out book onto more devices you have to purchase the book again. To quote Dan from his post:

In the meantime, Amazon wants us to upgrade our Kindles every year or two. Apple wants us to upgrade our iPhone or iPod touch every year or two. This means that although the books remain in your Kindle library online you may not be able to download them once you upgrade your hardware. And there is no way to know — at least according to what the customer service rep told me.

This is extremely disconcerting. I hope this gets some public attention if it hasn’t already. Amazon needs to either change this policy to something much more consumer-friendly (like how iTunes lets you have a certain number of devices activated, but does not restrict transfer of content between those devices) or it needs to make the policies EXTREMELY clear on the product purchase pages. Then the market can decide which publishers get the most purchases, those that allow 2 downloads or 200.

Via: Kindle’s DRM Rears Its Ugly Head… And It IS Ugly

Amazon Kindle iPhone Application

When Amazon announced the Kindle 2, they showed off a new synchronization feature that would sync your position in all of your books between Kindle devices. At the time, “Kindle devices” meant the first and second generation Kindles. The intent was clear though, and Amazon soon elaborated that they were going to be bringing Kindle content to mobile devices. What an exciting idea, but I never expected it to happen so quickly.

Kindle iPhone IndexKindle for iPhone [iTunes link] (The name bugs me, as it works fine on an iPod Touch) is an app from Amazon that lets you retrieve your Kindle purchases from Amazon’s servers and load them onto your device. Along with the content comes your bookmarks and notes generated on the Kindle. Unfortunately,  you can’t create notes on the mobile device. Other things you can’t do: search, look up word definitions, highlight, and text to speech. Of course Amazon wants to keep the Kindle at the forefront of the Kindle experience. If the iPhone app performed every function the Kindle performed (short of the e-ink display obviously) then I think people would have a much more difficult time justifying the purchase of a nearly $400 Kindle reader. Continue Reading

2

Instapaper on the Kindle

Instapaper on KindleI was extremely fortunate and surprised to get an Amazon Kindle as a graduation gift. Apparently after you’ve earned an undergraduate degree, people assume you can read!

I have also been a big fan of Instapaper for a while. Instapaper is a web service that lets you bookmark websites for reading later. What makes it unique, though, is that it will format the pages into text-only pages, perfect for mobile devices and clean reading. Saving pages is accomplished through a javascript bookmarklet that works in your desktop web browsers as well as mobile browsers that support javascript. To make things even better, there is now an Instapaper iPhone/Touch native application (free and pro versions [iTunes links]) that will cache unread webpages onto the device’s internal memory. I made great use of this feature while traveling in Boston’s subways over the summer. I’d often lose my cell signal, but I still had plenty of content to catch up on.

It dawned on me that Instapaper would be a perfect application for the Kindle. The Kindle’s screen is a complete pleasure to read on for extended periods of time, unlike the small iPhone screen. Also, the free EVDO data connection lets it take advantage of web services anywhere you can get a Sprint signal. I did a quick Google search to see what I could find about Instapaper on the Kindle and came across a great blog post on spontaneousderivation.com. If you leave the Kindle’s browser in standard mode, you can take advantage of Instapaper’s great mobile device interface, with simple text formatting and quick loading. However, if you set the Kindle browser into the advanced mode, you get an extremely nicely formatted Instapaper index page. Clicking on the “text” link in Instapaper for an article delivers a fast and clean copy of the web article. It really is a perfect match.

Even more exciting, the developer of Instapaper, Marco Arment, has plans to further optimize Instapaper for the Kindle once he can get his hands on one himself. I’m looking forward to it.

I hope this helps any Kindle owners wondering how to best read web content through the Kindle’s slow and limited web browser.

3

Amazon Buys Shelfari

For the last 7 days I’ve been carrying around an Amazon Kindle e-book reader, thanks to a new loan program from the NCSU Library. I’ve fallen in love with the device, and in these 7 days I’ve read much more than I expected. I’m also a big fan of Shelfari, a site that lets you manage your books on “shelves” (much like Delicious Library on the Mac) with shelves for Read, Plan to Read, Wish List, and so on. In the last week, as I start a new book on the Kindle (the one I have had over 50 books preloaded on it by other students) I’ve had to log into Shelfari and manually add the book onto my shelf for books that I’m currently reading. This feeds me reviews and suggestions on related books.

A few moments ago, as I filled out a rating for a book I just finished (Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely) I started wondering if there was an opprotunity here. What if Shelfari could tap into your Kindle’s information, automatically filling your shelves with books you have on the device. This would deliver an experience quite a bit closer to the way Netflix monitors what movies you have at home, what movies your friends are watching, and what movies you have listed in your queue. I brushed the thought off, though, figuring that for an outfit as small as Shelfari to get so intimately involved with Amazon’s systems would need a level of access that Amazon would be reluctant to give. I also figured that Amazon wouldn’t want to invite such direct competition to their own “Media Library” service.

No more than 3 minutes later, I came across a post in the Shelfari Discussion Group announcing that Amazon has aquired Shelfari!

Amanda writes,

We just announced that Amazon.com has acquired Shelfari! This is a very exciting time at Shelfari and there are a lot of new opportunities in the future that will benefit all members. In the meantime, members will continue to have access to the great community and tools that you’ve always known and used on the site. You can continue to build virtual bookshelves and socially interact around the books you care about at http://www.shelfari.com/.

We look forward to working with Amazon to continue with our mission of building great communities that celebrate books. Thanks for your interest in Shelfari and Amazon.com.

Happy Reading,
Amanda

It makes sense… as Shelfari has been using Amazon’s repository of information, even providing “Buy This Book at Amazon” links for titles you come across. It will be interesting to see if Amazon leaves Shelfari as it’s own entity, much like Yahoo did when it aquired Flickr, or if it will pull the developers and existing code into Amazon’s own Media Library site. I think that a lot of users would like to see Shelfari remain independent, but as a heavy user of Amazon (as I think most web-savvy readers are) and a hopeful owner of the second revision of the Kindle, I can’t help but hope that Shelfari gets much more tightly integrated into Amazon’s print and electronic book sales systems.