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If you're a parent, chances are your iPhone is littered with apps you bought for your kids -- and no way to transfer them. Got a Kindle? The lending feature is so limited that siblings and spouses will find sharing books difficult. I posted a look at some of these issues, along with a hope they'll get better.
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Michael Wang's profile photoAndrew Smith's profile photoCharlie Hoover's profile photoBill Kraski's profile photo
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Saeed W
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Whats the point of cloud-based technology if they are not transferable?
 
Amazon lets me store 25,000 songs in the cloud, but my wife can't listen to them on her account.

On the other hand, Amazon Prime memberships are family friendly. One membership can be shared among an entire household.
 
These devices (tablets specifically) need a way to log in as different users... It wouldn't take much doing on the software side and would mean you could hand your iPad or Kindle to a kid, let them play, and not have to worry about buying things by mistake, etc...

There are hurdles around memory management and storage but as Google has been doing with Chrome, it's not unfixable...
 
It's also more difficult than it should be to share in a school environment.
 
You should be able to also designate a few 'trusted' users who have access to parts of the account... Hell if I can do it with a few clicks in Google Calendar they should be able to let me share my music account with my wife...
 
Can't speak for games. but whether ebooks can be lent is a function of whether the publisher allows it, and not entirely under someone like Amazon's control. Barnes and Noble implemented sharing for some title on the Nook, but it was an uphill battle over publisher's qualms, and the lending resembles that of physical books: you can lend an ebook for two weeks, but while it's out on loan, you can't access it. The ebook can only be read by one person at a time. Publishers are all trying to survive in an uncertain and changing marketplace, and are terrified of anything that might cost them sales.

eBook pricing is another thorny matter, and there's a lot of confusion over it. But the print version doesn't add nearly as much to costs as you may think. The print/bind/warehouse/distribute portion is at most about 20% of a book's budget. The vast majority of the costs of acquiring and producing a book occur before it is actually published in any format. Dropping the print version can't reduce costs as much as many hope.
 
I don't know for sure but I suspect if they make sharing too easy it will be exploited. For example a group of people who are NOT a family would suddenly 'be a family" and start sharing, right?
 
But the flip side of that is piracy, which is free anyway... It's already easy to steal this stuff so why punish the folks who are trying to do something logical and legal?

You're right though its more than likely a license thing with bass ackwards business models vs a limit of the technology...
 
+Dennis McCunney Interesting points. You're right about publishing costs. But I think that's to a point. The reverse of costs for a physical book is that the digital version only needs one copy from the publisher, which becomes one copy at each of the sellers, then one copy in each purchaser's account. If costs are that close, what makes lending and giving rights so vastly limited for digital copies, when there's no limitation for hardcopy?

+Andrew Smith If I buy a hardcopy book, I can lend it to someone else for as long as I choose. And my ability to lend or give it is not limited. I can loan or give a hardcopy book to anyone I choose. And I can lend the book as many times as I want, to as many people as I want. There are already some platform limitations buying digital ebooks . Books distributed by B&N aren't readable on a Kindle. And Amazon's fare isn't readable on a Nook. So, there's already a lending and gifting limitation just by going digital. It doesn't make sense to add further limitations other than making duplicate full copies illegal unless bought.
 
Hey Danny,
Nice piece! To build slightly on what you're talking about, the hockey stick growth of the cloud will continue to pressurize what exactly we're buying when we buy media, and why we can or cannot move digital licenses around the way we move analog artifacts around. With Apple moving into the iCloud one largely unaddressed problem is that there's no way to consolidate different Apple IDs-- so if (like me) you've had a Work ID for Apple products purchased by my company (iPhone, MacBook Pro) and another personal ID for stuff I own (Floortop Mac at home, iPad) there's no way to smoosh them together now that the new dispensation of iCloudness is supposed to make cross appliance sharing easy.
And in addition to the app clutter you discuss, another reason I'd love better sign in on the iPad is parental controls. My six year old is progressing nicely on his reading, but if I encourage him to use a read app on the iPad like "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" then he's likely to give up early and start watching a cartoon on Netflix-- a sign-in with a limited array of options sure would help me, but it's not how Apple thinks about things. (That you can't export notes and highlights from iBooks, for another example, is another reason why I don't buy business books from Apple because note taking and exporting is superior on the Kindle, even though the aesthetics of iBooks is better.)

All best,
Brad
 
What is the money incentive to fix it?
 
Great article. I have often thought that this is a very good marketing ploy to get you to spend more money or just the ivory tower working at it's best.
The apple problem becomes more challenging when you have a larger family. I have children of different ages all with an iPod and older ones also with iPads. Yet they cannot have their own iTunes accounts. My husband & I use our 2 accounts but this causes issues when synced on our different machines. Each child has their own interests and needs for apps and content. It becomes very messy for both iTunes accounts. Purchases are regularly lost between devices when synced on different machines. It is time consuming to have to delete apps and content from our own devices every time we sync. 
 
There is a jailbreak option of creating multiple user accounts on the ipad. Im not saying it solves everyones problem but I think it is proof of concept. Hopefully Apple and Amazon takes notice. Maybe it will be Windows Phone 7 or Windows 8 tablet that addresses this first!
 
The problem is that one account and one password becomes too important... On the Apple side it's especially true now that iCloud has hit the ground... The password you used to give to your kids so they could get a song now holds all of your stuff at the end... We need granularity...
 
+Charlie Hoover Absolutely. Businesses do exactly that with computer systems. But that multilevel security hasn't worked its way down to the consumer.

Add to that, that most tech stuff is designed by programmers more for programming elegance rather than real life necessity. You end up with tablets that are supposed to replace all your other computing platforms, but don't even have the most rudimentary password protection.
 
+Bill Kraski If costs are that close, what makes lending and giving rights so vastly limited for digital copies, when there's no limitation for hardcopy?

The same thing that has DRM routinely applied. Worries about sales.

How often do you re-read a book? If someone loans you a book and you read it, will you then go out and purchase your own copy, or is having lent the read copy enough, and you won't actually buy the book?

The publishers and retailers fear the unrestricted lending will reduce sales, as once you've read a lent copy, there will be no incentive to buy your own.
 
+Dennis McCunney , that's exactly why their argument doesn't hold water. What makes a loaned digital copy more likely to cut sales than a loaned hard copy? I don't see what difference it makes if a book is hardcopy or digital, if only one of the lender and borrower can possess a purchased book at any given time. On that basis, a hardcopy can be passed from borrower to secondary borrower where that isn't even possible with ebooks, making hardcopies more detrimental to sales.
 
+Bill Kraski Agreed, but it's much harder to make a copy of a paper volume, and a paper volume can only be read by one person at a time.

The sharing schemes implemented by Barnes and Noble and Amazon attempt to duplicate that restriction, but require that you be connected to enforce it: you cannot simply transfer a copy from your device to the device of the person you are sharing with. You instead allow them to download and read a copy covered by your purchase license, and your local copy is disabled while they do.

Along similar lines, HarperCollins made moves to limit the number of times an ebook could be downloaded by a library patron. Their reasoning was that paper volumes wore out and needed to be replaced after repeated lending, and libraries should have to do the same with ebooks. This would add to ebook sales for HarperCollins. The reaction of librarians, coping with budget cuts, was to call for a boycott of HarperCollins, and for libraries to refuse to buy anything HarperCollins published.

The problem is that the genie is out of the bottle. Once something is in electronic form, it can be endlessly reproduced. It's actually fairly trivial to remove DRM from an ebook, and once you've liberated a copy, the horse is out of the barn and may reproduce at will.

From where I sit, it comes down to how you feel about the market. I may be wearing rose colored glasses, but I think the market will pay for value. The trick is to provide value, price appropriately, and make it as easy as possible for people to give you money.

Instead of applying DRM and trying to reduce/prevent sharing, I favor the model used by specialty SF/Fantasy publisher Baen Books, with their Baen Free Library. The Free Library offers full electronic copies in a variety of formats from their backlist. (It's an opt-in for the authors, who chose whether to participate and how much to offer.) You are encouraged to copy and share them. In addition, bound-in CDs are provided in selected Baen hardcovers with selections from the Free Library.

It hasn't hurt Baen. Baen is promoting authors. People download and read one of more Free Library titles by an author, decide they like the author's work, and buy the new one in hardcover when it comes out. Baen author David Weber hits the New York Times bestseller lists with his "Honor Harrington" series, despite the fact that all of his Baen work is available in the Free Library. Oher Baen authors who participated reported gratifying pops in backlist sales as well.

Baen's model won't work for everyone, but I think it's the direction things will wind up going.
 
+Dennis McCunney It sounds like you and I are in agreement on the principles, if not all the details. It sounds like a great opportunity for some programmer to come up with a whiz bang DRM method that would match digital reality to hardcopy experience.
 
No DRM will ever be good enough. If you can read it, see it, or hear it you can always copy it.

The problem is that these guys have been sitting on scarcity for generations and now that it no longer exists they are panicking. They need to come to grips with the fact that their customers aren't the enemy. The content creators who get that concept and embrace it are the ones who will survive and do well... Look up folks like Cory Doctorow or +Scott Sigler if you want to see folks who get it...

What happened when Amazon and iTunes got rid of their DRM? Music sales soared and piracy rates dropped. Why? Because most people are fine with paying a fair price for something they find value in...
 
+Bill Kraski I'll second Charlie Hoover - No DRM will ever be good enough. I don't know of a DRM scheme that hasn't been cracked within a day or so of release.

And the purpose of DRM has been shifting. Consider Amazon, who applies DRM to titles you purchase from them. The intent isn't really to prevent piracy - it's to lock you in to Amazon as the vendor. If you have a Kindle or Kindle app, you have to purchase your content from Amazon. Content purchased from elsewhere can't be read unless it isn't encumbered by DRM, or you strip any DRM it has.
 
+Dennis McCunney So, you're saying the difference between Kindle content and Nook content is mostly DRM? Not file format?
 
+Bill Kraski Not at all. The first difference is file format. A Mobipocket file and an ePub file are very different animals. If you have a Kindle, you need Mobi format. If you have a Nook/Kobo/Sony Reader, you need ePub. But if DRM isn't in the way, it's trivial to convert one to the other. And if you have something like a tablet, smartphone, ot netbook, you can get apps that will let you read both on the same device. It's also fairly trivial to strip DRM.
 
I guess I go far enough back that I recall the WordStar/WordPerfect battles where each could read the other's file format. But, as additional features were added, WordStar died because the WS format couldn't support some of the newer features. Pre- Word/WordPerfect dueling. So, I consider file format more a programming choice rather than DRM.
 
+Bill Kraski I go back that far as well. and learned WordStar back in the says when it was the second PC editor you used, because the first might not be available on the PC you had to work on, but WS likely was. I still have several editors installed that use WS keystrokes, and once had Gnu Emacs customized to use WS commands to avoid retraining my fingers.

WordStar died for the same reason other outfits like MicroPro did: they took their eye off their core product and allowed it to lag while they tried to diversify. They then had to play catchup, and couldn't.

I never said the file format was intended as DRM. The file format choice was a matter of necessity. Electronic volumes already existed via Project Gutenberg, but they were largely plain ASCII text. They had the advantage of being readable on nearly anything, but lacked support for color, text attributes, fonts, embedded images, and hyperlinks. Ebooks really needed formats that offered that.

Back when Amazon decided to dive into the deep end of the ebook pool, there was no real standard. Various things existed, like the PML format devised by Peanut Press, an early commercial ebook operation targeting Palm organizer devices. (The format lives on as a legacy format supported by the B&N Nook.)

Amazon bought a French ebook outfit called Mobipocket in 2005, and used their ebook format (an HTML subset wrapped in a compressed metadata wrapper) as the basis for their Kindle offerings. There's some evidence they did this because Adobe had withdrawn from the market an electronic publishing solution they had previously offered, leaving Amazon with the choice of rolling their own our buying an existing one. Mobi had a Creator app for Windows and viewers for a wide range of devices (pretty much everything save Macs), so there were as close to an established standard as was available.

Meanwhile, the International Digital Publishing Forum was at work developing a standard format for electronic publishing called ePub (with Adobe a major player in that effort.) The Barnes and Noble Nook used ePub as their default format. The early Sony Reader models used a proprietary format called BBLF, but shifted to ePub later as the spec became mature and widely adopted. Had ePub been available when Amazon decided to offer ebooks, they might have adopted it.

There has been speculation Amazon might shift to ePub. ePub is a container, and what it contains doesn't have to be text and still images. We are seeing "enhanced" ebooks including audio and video appearing. The native Mobipocket format lacks that support (though I've heard tell on Amazon editions using a custom extension of the Mobi format to approximate what can be done in ePub.)

We'll see, but from where I sit it's a typical standards effort.
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