Adobe’s change of DRM could end old e-readers’ compatibility with e-book stores

Here’s a story Nate covered over on The Digital Reader, that could be important in months to come. Adobe is changing up its DRM format, and as of July, will stop supporting the old format altogether. Any new EPUB e-books sold with Adobe DRM on them will be incompatible with older readers unless they have been upgraded.

This really is a pretty big deal. Pretty much every e-reader sold besides Kindle and Nook used Adobe ADEPT e-book DRM. (And I seem to recall even Nook could support ADEPT DRM even though B&N used a slightly different DRM format for its own titles.) Sony, Kobo, pretty much any other e-book store that’s not Amazon or B&N relies on Adobe’s system because they couldn’t afford to buy some other e-book company (Mobipocket in Amazon’s case; eReader/Fictionwise in B&N’s) to roll their own.

The problem is, ADEPT has been cracked for literally years. (The main crack was named, amusingly enough, “Inept.”) As far as preventing works from being copied is concerned, the emperor has no clothes. (But then, neither do Amazon or B&N’s DRM. Apprentice Alf makes it easy to add new e-books to your Calibre library no matter where they’re from or if they have DRM.) Hence, Adobe is “hardening” its DRM.

Not that I expect this will prevent it from being cracked again. Given that the very nature of DRM means that the consumer, or at least his device or app, must be provided with the means of breaking it, it’s only a matter of time before this new version will have a crack available just like the old one.

But meanwhile, any e-reader that uses the old version will have to have a firmware update to work with any e-books bought under the new version. And while some companies that are still around, like Sony and possibly Astak (they’re still around, but as a security camera company rather than an e-reader company), can afford to do that, you have to wonder whether they’ll bother to update discontinued products regardless. Of course, whether the e-reader supports DRM or not, it will still work with e-books whose DRM has been removed.

I’d say something about how happy I am that Adobe is going to show more people just how bad DRM is…except, are they really? Remember, e-book readers didn’t take off until Amazon came out with its Kindle. And to this day, the Kindle still makes up the bulk of e-readers, and Barnes & Noble and Kobo (who can afford to update their readers) have most of the rest.

And even then, it only matters for e-books sold from those stores that use it—which again are not Amazon, B&N, or Apple, where the vast majority of e-books are sold these days. I gather even Kobo doesn’t use it internally to its reader. (To be fair, it might be more often used these days for e-books checked out from libraries, but I suspect most people who do that have modern readers.) The number of people who are actually inconvenienced by this move might just end up being statistical noise.

3 Comments on Adobe’s change of DRM could end old e-readers’ compatibility with e-book stores

  1. All NOOK e-readers support Adobe ACS4 (nee ADEPT) DRM. This is primarily used for side-loaded e-books, especially library books.

  2. The big thing this will hit is library lending. Overdrive uses ADEPT for epub readers. Come July all of the epub readers will break for library lending until they are updated. Only tablets and kindles will be able to read library books. The updates to the epub reader hardware will likely take months if it’s done at all.

  3. borax99 (Alain C.) // February 4, 2014 at 1:00 pm //

    I had a Sony reader, had purchased quite a few books for it, then lived through the *first* Sony format change. Perfectly formatted BBeB books were suddenly raggedy looking – and this took place pretty much without warning. Connected the reader to my PC, and boom, the Sony software downloaded new versions of all my books.

    I quit while I was ahead and switched to Kindle. Yes, it’s a walled garden but (a) it doesn’t use Adobe DRM and (b) I am seeing more and more books in the Kindle store that are being sold without any form of DRM.

    Sony can kiss my grits, and so can Adobe.

    If I sound bitter, it’s because these two outfits conspired to screw up content I had purchased, and did so without at least notifying me.

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