Amazon Tries To Clarify Download Limits For Kindle Books, Doesn't Quite Succeed

Dan, the Kindle owner who last week found that some of the books he’d purchased were no longer available to download due to unspecified limitations set by the publisher, spoke to more Amazon reps on Sunday. They clarified the DRM policy. Well, sort of.

To sum up his conversations with Amazon:

  • You can download a book an unlimited number of times.
  • In most cases, you can download the book to 6 devices. If you need to download it to more devices than that, you can request that Amazon release additional licenses for the book. According to Dan’s recap of the conversation, Amazon promises nothing. But you can ask and they’ll probably oblige.
  • Then there are the “other” cases, where a publisher sets the number of simultaneous devices to a lower limit. The following is from an email Dan received from Amazon’s customer support: “Publishers choose whether they apply DRM to their content and thus determine how many copies of each title can be downloaded to different Kindle devices at the same time.”
  • There’s no way to find out this limit prior to buying the book.
  • Releasing new licenses requires that all of your current device licenses be removed, so you’ll have to start over and re-download them to all devices again. (We don’t know how that affects things like bookmarks or notes.)
  • Dan adds, “According to the customer rep, there is a project to try to get that information available to the customer but it’s not yet available.”

So why doesn’t Amazon have a publicly stated policy on this already, a year and a half after the first Kindle hit the market? Why, because they’re a mom-and-pop shop with mostly friends and family manning the phones, we imagine. Oh wait, that’s not right.

Dan wanted to know the same thing:

I pushed a little bit harder, perhaps a little too hard, and said, “I spoke with three customer service representatives before you, and every one of them gave me the wrong information. That’s not a training glitch, that’s people at Amazon not having any clue about the DRM policy and that’s a problem.”

He responded, “We face new situations every day and quite frankly we’ve never run into this problem before, but now that you’ve raised the issue please know that it will be addressed directly.”

Jeez, Amazon! The Kindle is your most-hyped business venture in the past 18 months—you’ve had Bezos on Oprah and The Daily Show to hawk it as a game changer. Every publisher is worrying about the consequences of your device if it really takes off among readers. Apple paved the way for you half a decade ago with DRM on the iTMS. And yet you still don’t have a formal policy for how to manage DRM issues?

See, this is the problem with Amazon’s Kindle—even they can’t tell their customers exactly how the DRM works. They blame the publishers, but we’re not sure that publishers have ever been given adequate information either. (We know the press hasn’t.) From what we understand, publishers are contractually forbidden to share any information about their licensing agreements with Amazon, which creates a convenient way for Amazon to redirect all inquiries into a black hole of “it’s the publisher’s fault.”

The solution is pretty simple: establish a set number of devices as a minimum and share that with customers. We should know the extent of any device limitations before we buy ebooks. Implement a full-disclosure policy for rights issues—for example, a box on every Amazon ebook listing that’s similar to a nutrition label. Here’s an example for a hypothetical book.

– Text-to-speech disabled
– Up to 6 devices
– 20% of text can be copied to notes

If you’re going to restrict customers’ rights with DRM and licensing agreements, at least be completely open about it so they can make educated purchases.

“KindleGate: Confusion Abounds Regarding Kindle Download Policy” [Gear Diary]
(Photo: EricaJoy)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.