Amazon not revealing device limits for Kindle books before you buy? If so, should the FTC investigate?

image Quick! If you buy a Kindle book for your K machine or iPhone or iPod Touch, how many other devices can you download it to?

As described by GearDiary, the device limit can vary from publisher to publisher---and you don’t know before you virtually plunk down your money. You just might be limited to enjoyment of your book on just one gizmo.

Is this true, Kindle owners? If so, should the U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigate if Amazon doesn’t straighten out the matter promptly? Isn’t this relevant consumer information? Do we have, in GearDiary’s language, a little “KindleGate”? Love that DRM.

“Ownership” risks?

Furthermore, if  there’s confusion on device limits many months after the Kindle introduction, how about the related issue of download limits for particular devices? They don’t seem to exist, and on the Web Amazon gives the impression the books are there for eternal access (“automatic library backup”). But then again, didn’t buyers of Adobe e-books think they were safe in Amazon lockers---before Amazon ditched Adobe? Just what are the “ownership” risks?

Meanwhile here’s the downloading situation, for Kindle books, as summed up by GearDiary’s Dan Cohen, who sorted out hyper-conflicting stories from Amazon reps:

According to the last customer representative I spoke to…

You are able to redownload your books an unlimited number of times to any specific device.

Any one time the books can be on a finite number of devices. In most cases that means you can have  the same book on six different devices.

Unfortunately the publishers decide how many licenses, that is devices, a book can be on at any one time. While most of the time that will be five or six different devices there will be times when it’s only one device.

At the present time there is no way to know how many devices can be licensed prior to buying the book.

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.

Finally, when you have reached a limit of six devices and you swap one older device for a new one, it does not automatically reset the number of licenses so you can add the new one. Amazon can release all of the licenses which will remove any given book from all of the devices and then allow you to re-download it that same number of times.

In other words, if his information was accurate, and the runaround I got this afternoon does make me continue to wonder, once you purchase a book you will have access to it going forward.

Tip: You might want to back up your Amazon downloads on your PC via your Kindle’s USB cable. But then we know about hard drives. This is hardly a perfect solution. Let’s just hope Amazon keeps its word.

About David Rothman (6824 Articles)
David Rothman is the founder and publisher of the TeleRead e-book site and cofounder of He is also author of The Solomon Scandals novel and six tech-related books on topics ranging from the Internet to laptops. Passionate on digital divide issues, he is now pushing for the creation of a national digital library endowment.

14 Comments on Amazon not revealing device limits for Kindle books before you buy? If so, should the FTC investigate?

  1. Dave Robinson // June 22, 2009 at 5:39 am //

    It’s pretty much what I would have expected. Most retailers have their own take on the PID limitations for mobi, so I’m not surprised Amazon has its own unique take on the problem. Wish it was the solution too, but that seems a trifle far-fetched for their current customer service policies.

  2. I personally called Kindle customer support after reading the geardiary post. The service rep confirmed what he-the geardiary writer- said is true. The drm issue is entirely in the publishers court. They tell Amazon how many licenses it can issue for a book. Most books have high limits,-but as the commenter has found out- some only allow ONE DEVICE!! Yet another reason to support teleread’s drm boycott, as well as the 9.99 boycott. Just in case you are counting this marks the third customer issue that publishers have created;license limits, price gouging, and text to speech disabling.

  3. I’m compiling a list of disclosed and rumored DRM limits. Perhaps growing public outrage will force publishers to drop DRM. Sounds like pie in the sky but it did happen in music.

  4. This is why I buy most of my ebooks from Fictionwise. Lets me download (most, not all) ebooks in whatever format I need and I keep the file stored locally on my computer. If FW ever goes under, I’ll still have access to the ebooks I bought legally.

    I’m hoping Aaron is right – that public outrage will force publishers to get rid of DRM. It’ll probably take a while and might even involve an act of congress, but I just can’t see companies like Amazon getting away with stuff like this forever.

  5. Gerard Collins // June 22, 2009 at 9:49 am //

    Regarding the tip to back up Amazon purchases to your PC: It may only have limited usefulness.

    I had to exchange my first Kindle 2 because of the fading-in-direct-sunlight display issue. Before I received the replacement, I backed everything in the documents folder on the Kindle up to my desktop — a mix of items bought from Amazon and a lot of free texts from Feedbooks and Project Gutenberg — then moved those items over to the new Kindle once it arrived. I didn’t have very many purchased items, but what I did have didn’t open. Those downloads are keyed to be read on specific Kindles and only on those specific Kindles. So backing up your files may let you put a purchased book back onto a Kindle from which it was erased, but it won’t let you migrate it to a second device.

    I agree that Amazon needs to disclose this information BEFORE its customers buy Kindle versions of books, especially since they advertise the idea of “Automatic Library Backup” right on the Kindle front page. If this function is limited or non-existent on certain titles, that needs to be made clear from the very beginning. And if it is being driven by publishers, it’s coming across more as a money grab than a serious attempt to fight “piracy”.

    For all its faults, the iTunes store, before it dropped DRM altogether, was at least very clear and consistent throughout the catalog on how many computers you could authorize for playback, as well as how much each track cost. While I am very fond of the Kindle hardware and the reading experience using it, I am growing increasingly wary of buying anything much from the Kindle store itself. Between the variable pricing and this new DRM wrinkle, I’m not likely to buy anything that I can’t afford to suddenly and inexplicably lose outright.

    I’m seriously starting to wonder if the publishing industry has a death wish. Either that, or they just enjoy believing themselves to be a perpetual victim, wringing their hands and complaining that they are abused, and wondering how “the culture” can survive without them. Everything happens to them, despite their noble efforts, because their customers, the readers, won’t do what is expected of them.

  6. p.s. alsp now the GearDiary guy has written a second post backtracking on the existence of a per-book download limit but now saying that some books have a less-than-six-devices sharing limit that’s not disclosed.

  7. I think it’s pretty clear this is not Amazon’s fault. They are dealing with publishers, who don’t like digital books. At all. And who wake up each morning, no doubt, and look at the calendar, hoping it is 1960 again.

    Really what this is, is evidence to present to the Library of Congress to allow for a DMCA exception for ebooks so that consumers can remove the encryption for one copy for their personal use.

  8. Dave Robinson // June 22, 2009 at 11:04 am //

    The limits are not Amazon’s fault, and for the most part they’re pretty reasonable. I don’t have a problem with the 4-6 device limit, though I prefer mobi’s multi-PID implementation to Amazon’s single PID implementation.

    My issue is that a) the Amazon customer service staff was not well trained on this issue at all; and b) there appears to be no way for the customer to know if a book is limited to n devices until they try downloading it to n+1 devices.

  9. Actually if Amazon had a way to register your six allowed devices, you could take one off and add another as you upgrade equipment. Books on Board does this and I think Fictionwise does as well. You have to re-download a book for each new device, but at least it works.

  10. Mags – Amazon does have a way to add/remove devices. Whenever you get a new Kindle it has to be registered. Most of the time when you buy a Kindle from Amazon it has already been setup/registered to the buyers account so it is ready to go when you take it out of the box. If it was not already setup/registered you can do that from your Kindle in less than a minute.

    If you need to deregister a Kindle from your account you can do that either from the Kindle or on your “Manage Your Kindle” page on Amazons site.

    Your “Manage Your Kindle” page allows complete control over your devices and you can resend any book you have purchased to any of your registered devices at any time.

  11. Your “Manage Your Kindle” page allows complete control over your devices and you can resend any book you have purchased to any of your registered devices at any time.

    But isn’t that exactly what the article author had trouble doing?

  12. HeavyG – Apparently, just deregistering a Kindle does not remove it from the 6 device limit. That’s the actual problem that Dan Cohen ran into when he thought he was having per-book download limits.

  13. Alan Wallcraft // June 23, 2009 at 4:51 pm //

    If you deregister a Kindle it does not get deleted from the list of downloads for the ebooks you had on it. So if you hit the device limit, Amazon has to manually delete the deregistered device from those ebooks one at a time.

  14. you can resend any book you have purchased to any of your registered devices at any time.

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