David touched on this a couple of days ago, but this Gizmodo piece from yesterday makes it worth bringing up again. The hassles that Nook owners in the UK are going through are a potent reminder of the fact that, thanks to rampant DRM, you don’t own your e-books.

Matt Novak discusses the notice that Nook owners got prompting them to move their Nook titles over to Sainsbury’s e-book store. The announcement says that the partnership will “ensure that you have continued access to the vast majority of your purchased NOOK Books at no new cost to you.”

The vast majority. Which is to say, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to move all your e-books over. And given that most B&N titles use DRM, good luck backing them up any other way!

This isn’t exactly a surprise, and it’s not the first time Barnes & Noble has pulled something like this. Remember when B&N shut down eReader and Fictionwise, in the wake of agency pricing removing their ability to compete with Amazon? B&N said the same thing back then, too about letting you move your eReader and Fictionwise titles over to Nook. “A few Fictionwise titles may not transfer due to discontinued publishing programs.”

Many of the books I’d paid for vanished in the move. I don’t have a complete list, but the biggest chunk was made up of the complete 29-book The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern, which I’d bought and gobbled up like popcorn at something like $6 each. They weren’t available as e-books again anywhere else for several years, either. I have no idea how many B&N UK books will be similarly affected in the move to Sainsbury’s.

Nor is that the first time I’ve been affected by an e-book vendor going out of business. I had bought a number of the Liaden e-books from Embiid for reading on my PDA back in the day—and when Embiid shut down, they disappeared, too. Fortunately, they popped up again at Baen a year later.

In the end, Digital Rights Management means you don’t own your e-books—or, at least, any e-books that have DRM on them. Thanks to the DMCA, you can’t (legally) rescue them if the place you bought them goes out of business, and you’re probably not going to be able to get a refund for the ones you lose either. It’s a good thing that, if it has to be this way, DRM is at least by and large ineffective if you know what software to use.

And when you get right down to it, Barnes & Noble is really the worst of the bunch, given its removal of the ability to download B&N content outside of its device ecosystem. It’s just as well that I’ve already backed up any B&N e-book purchases I’ve already made and have no plans to make anymore. (It remains to be seen what I’ll spend my Apple lawsuit credit on when it comes.)

I wonder how many reminders it will take before someone does something about it?

Image credit Brendan Mruk/Matt Lee, used under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.


      • The “profit” thing is basically a red herring. Amazon simply reinvests its profits. Instead of making money, it just gets bigger and bigger. Wall Street seems to understand this, given that they continue showering Amazon with love and fortune even as investment pundits on sites like Motley Fool and Seeking Alpha complain that it’s way over-valued and you should short it because it’s surely going to crash any minute now. They’ve been saying that for years, and I think they just keep it up because they feel like sooner or later they’ll have to be right.

        • If you look at bit closer at the available data–which Amazon tries very, very hard to keep secret–they actually DON’T make a lot of profit. I honestly feel that the term “investment” as it relates to Amazon is the real red herring; investment doesn’t mean burning up the investment and the profits, which is what they largely do. Their “investment” in the poorly-considered Amazon Phone and Jeff Be

  1. At Ereading.com, we’ve long felt that Barnes & Noble’s biggest problem is getting out of its own way. How a company primarily known for books can do over $6 billion in annual revenue and NOT take on Amazon in any meaningful way is just mind-blowing. Stories like this demonstrate how divided B&N is at the corporate level. If Barnes & Noble were a big, lumbering giant, it would be constantly tripping over its shoelaces–which, of course, it unwitting tied together.

    • I think it’s fundamentally the disruption problem. You have to be pretty sharp to be able to figure out how to disrupt yourself. Many entrenched companies never manage it. Amazon only did it because it was new enough not to be completely entrenched yet, and it had the razor-sharp Mr. Bezos at the helm. Bezos didn’t care about disrupting the book side of the business, because he knew if the Kindle could be a hit, it could replace the book side sooner or later. And he by and large succeeded at that. But B&N just hasn’t had any leadership that’s been up to snuff for years, and just threw themselves into e-books because Amazon did without actually putting much thought into how and why—or without actually wanting e-books to succeed because it’s still nearly as heavily invested in print books as the traditional publishers.

      • I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you about the Kindle replacing the book side. Ebooks are not a more powerful channel than print books, not even close. I’d also question whether Bezos is “razor sharp”, as opposed to sociopathic, but again, that’s just a personal viewpoint.

  2. Don’t forget that DRM is put on a book at the request of the publisher or author.

    Many self published books come DRM free which is another reason to buy a self-published book DRM free book.

    As has been said many times before, DRM does not stop pirates it just locks people in to a ebook retailer and their devices/apps (or whoever they hand over your business when their business fails). Why do publishers keep insisting on DRM for their titles? Right now, every time a business closes down, their customers will ask themselves why they didn’t just buy from Amazon. I also suspect that one day in the future, Amazon may also close down and millions of people will be affected. I want all ebooks to be made free of DRM and easily stored by the buyer.

  3. Those who’re concerned about DRM and ensuring they’ll always have a copy might want to adopt a Try Smashwords First policy. Here’s their no DRM policy:


    They sell in multiple formats and treat authors well.

    They’re also an excellent way for authors to do a single upload and get distributed by multiple retailers including iBooks, Kobo, Scribd and B&N, as well as to public libraries. You can see a partial list here, along with a description of their service.


    They’re best if you can send them files from Word for Windows, but you can manage with other formats including epub.

  4. One additional thing I’ll add: if just a few wealthy authors got behind us, we really COULD go head-to-head with Amazon and B&N. Compared to the money Amazon spent to build their infrastructure, we now need to spend a relative fraction of that to get the same book sales business model up and running. That said, we also recognize the barriers to entry, not the least of which is the cost of obtaining customers and keeping them. We often hear that “Amazon isn’t going anywhere” or “Amazon can’t fail at selling books.” Probably not. On the other hand, those sentiments are the same ones that have been affecting book retail for more than half a century. Just ask Borders, and Waldenbooks, and B. Dalton, among others.

    • It is a big IF. The big Authors are probably thinking that why risk all their monies. Anyway, Amazon is making them wealthy already.

      Setting up a e-commerce site is easy. Running it as good as if not better than Amazon is extremely difficult.

  5. The Fictionwise problem (I, too, lost ebooks in the sale to B&N), the collapse of several online ebook sellers, and B&N’s shenanigans are reasons why I returned to print books. I only “buy” free ebooks or from Smashwords, never from Amazon or B&N. eBooks have lots of pluses but too many negatives to justify paying more than “free” unless one is buying from Smashwords.

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