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Tuesday
May112010

DRM, e-books, and Fictionwise/B&N Removing Access To Books *I Have Already Paid For*



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A while back, I mentioned that Fictionwise support had e-mailed me saying they were NOT developing a version of their e-reader for the iPad. Disappointed, I thought, "Oh well. At least I'll be able to read my e-books in small iPhone size on my iPad." But then I discovered that some of the e-books I purchased through Fictionwise (a Barnes & Noble company) were now unavailable because of "geographic restrictions." When I tried downloading them for my iPad, I got the error "Territory not authorized."

Nearly a month ago, I wrote to Fictionwise support about the problem. Here's what they wrote back:

"Hi,

We are currently working with our providers to resolve the download errors you are experiencing.

Sorry for any inconvenience this may be causing and thank you for your patience as we attempt to resolve this issue.

Best Regards,

Ted
Fictionwise Support Team"




Since then, some of the titles I couldn't access before can now be accessed, but there are still quite a few that remain unavailable.

It's this sort of problem that makes it clear that the e-book industry still needs a lot of work before it has a hope of succeeding. I've already had at least one reader say, "See? This sort of thing is why I don't buy e-books."

DRM, for those that don't know, stands for Digital Rights Management. It's a pretty broad term that's used to refer to techniques for restricting the free use and transfer of digital content. It's meant to control copying of digital files but from what I can tell, it only ends up ticking off the consumer while content thieves find ways around it. It only takes ONE person to crack the code, and all the effort/hassle that has gone into the DRM for a particular item (an e-book, for instance) becomes worthless. Less than worthless, actually, because of the problems encountered by a consumer who LEGITIMATELY BOUGHT the e-book.

A quote from science fiction author Simon Haynes about DRM:

And now for DRM. When you sell someone an encrypted e-book, DVD or computer game, what you’re basically saying is: "Here’s the content you wanted, and by the way we think you’re a thief." The joke is that any thieves have already downloaded pirated copies of the same content, so you’re not inconveniencing them. No, the only people you’re annoying are your paying customers.


Whatever has changed at Fictionwise, whatever the current geographic restrictions placed on certain titles in their store, the fact remains: THESE ARE E-BOOKS I HAVE ALREADY PAID FOR. It has been nearly a month since I last wrote them, when their support staff said they were "working on it."

I'm not the only Fictionwise customer in this situation. If I was running the company, I'd be sending at least one follow-up e-mail a week specifically addressing the issue, keeping my customers up-to-date about what was going on and offering the option of a membership/book refund. I hope someone at Barnes & Noble is paying attention. As the owner of Fictionwise, this reflects poorly on them as well.

I've been trying to be patient but I've pretty much hit my limit. I've written to Fictionwise again today; let's see how/if they respond.

Related resources:

Why DRM Doesn't Work - an illustrated example
SF author Simon Haynes’ case against DRM at Amazon and elsewhere (Teleread)
Why DRM won't ever work (ZDNet)
DRM Doesn't Work - Mark Shuttleworth
How Doesn't DRM Work? - Cory Doctorow

Reader Comments (29)

I think it's time for another article on DRM. Is there anyone here who would mind if I quoted them?

May 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWayne

This doesn't help with the inaccessible books, but for the books that can be redownloaded from fictionwise and eReader, it CAN be done from the iPad BNeReader app according to customer service. (I took the radical step of asking..., intending to complain bitterly when I got the answer.) I really would like to hear from someone with an iPad who tries this.

The (very prompt) answer I got was:

Thank you for your inquiry.

To add books to your iPad OS device's bookshelf from a store bookshelf,
tap the + button in the lower right-hand corner of the navigation bar.
Then choose "eReader/Fictionwise shelf". This will open a screen to
allow you to enter your login information which includes your account
name and password. Press Go and your information will be verified and
then the contents of you on-line bookshelf will be listed for you.
Browse the list of books to determine which books you would like to
download. An indicator appears next to books in the list that you
already have on your device. Tap the book listing to view a detailed
description and press the Download button to download the book to your
device. It will download to your iPad OS device in the background, and
you'll be notified when it has finished downloading.

Sincerely,

Rickey
Customer Service Representative
Barnes and Noble
http://www.bn.com/

May 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterromsfuulynn

AAAAND I'm already hearing that this is the answer for the iPhone app and doesn't work on the iPad.

Well HELL.

May 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterromsfuulynn

@ romsfuulynn: I got the same (clearly copied & pasted) response. I can't tell if they're deliberately giving the wrong answer in hopes that we'll give up and go away, or they really are so clueless they don't understand the issue that's being reported to them by dozens, if not hundreds, of ACTUAL, PAYING (until now) CUSTOMERS.

June 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave Robeson

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