Amazon Swindle? E-readers and digital rights management
I started thinking about e-books last week, on the grounds that I probably ought to be reading more and I wasn't getting much done on the hard-copy front. However, I am a special needs kid — my phone doesn't have a Kindle application, and Kindle isn't out yet for Mac. This effectively rules out one of the largest e-book sellers.

Barnes and Noble has an interesting feature whereby you can "lend" the books you download to a friend, which is pretty cool. Of course, to do this they have to do what all online publishers are forced to contend with at some point, and they wrap it up in some lovely DRM.

The sole purpose of DRM is to Make Piracy the Better Option. When the value proposition for buying a hobbled product (music you can listen to on only one device, computer games you have to be online to play, books restricted to one method of consumption, etc) is only "you can consume this media," all you have done is making piracy more attractive — pirates get the song/book/game, without the restrictive DRM which in no cases makes the user experience better.

If I was looking for small-imprint books, such as those that are self-published or only intended to reach a particular niche, I would have more options. As it was I was looking for The Fountainhead, which appears to be carried only by big businesses that feel compelled to lock down the goods.

The key advantage to Barnes and Noble's format, then, becomes that while I have no real idea how to crack Kindle books, Barnes and Noble epub books can be un-DRMed with some Python and a secret key. The secret key is — in an interesting choice — the credit card you used to purchase the book. I have Python; I have a credit card. Then I converted the book to a PDF, which I can read on my phone. Simple enough.

In the ideal world, of course, we wouldn't have to deal with this — and I have contributed to the problem, but actually going ahead and buying the damned book even though it had DRM on it. Ideally I should've not bought anything and wrote Barnes and Noble to inform them of my decision, though they wouldn't have cared.

There's the self-affirming, Yes-I-Can quote that gets thrown around about not doubting that a single individual can change the world; it's the only thing that ever has, blah blah blah. In historiographical parlance this is the "big man" school of history-telling — things hinge on the actions of individuals. World War II could not have happened without Hitler; absent Gandhi India would still be colonial, etc.

Today we tend to think of this as oversimplified. The world is plastic; people can exert influences on the clay, but the final shape has little to do with any single person — it's a story of movements, not individuals. Weimar Germany was a tinderbox; the British colonial era was already dying. And so forth.

What, I wonder, will be the sea change that provokes the death of locked content? Will there be one? Ten years from now will it still make sense to pay paperback prices for a few cents worth of storage and bandwidth that we can't ever share with anyone else? Where do we go from here?

Two asides:

1) While I'm not real thrilled with my trackpad breaking, the fact that the "3 to 5 days" the Apple store told me to expect a repair to take actually amounted to 1) dropping my computer off at 7 o'clock Wednesday night and then 2) getting a call before 9 AM Thursday telling me my computer was fixed and ready to be picked up. So. That's cool.

2) Speaking of sea changes, a Wired reader poll has "Han Solo versus Malcolm Reynolds" going more than 2 to 1 for Reynolds right now. Does that seem right to you?

Mm, big damn cultural icons.
La Chevre!
26.02.2010 - 6h19
La Chevre!
26.02.2010 - 6h29

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