Open Letter: How Amazon can fix Kindle DRM

Dear Amazon,

First, I need to let you know something. I love the Kindle 2. I think it is amazing. It is everything a sci-fi geek like myself daydreamed about as an ideal ‘electronic book’. It’s pretty damn near perfect, in my eyes.

That said, I’m not planning on buying one. It’s not because I don’t want one. It’s not because there are not enough titles available. It’s not the recession. It’s not because I think it is too expensive. I’m also not going to buy any Kindle books for use with the free iPhone application; because my issue is not about the device.

My problem is 100% with the Kindle DRM as it currently exists. At present, the implementation of Kindle DRM strips the purchaser of something known as ‘The First Sale Doctrine‘. The first sale doctrine is recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States, but not by Amazon. This means that it is not possible to sell, or give away, a used Kindle title that the purchaser no longer wants. To be honest, I don’t sell many books, and I have fifteen boxes of books in the garage that prove that point; but I refuse to give up my right to sell them if I want.

Amazon has the power to fix this. Amazon could restore the rights of the First Sale Doctrine.

I recognize that Amazon needs to control the DRM mechanism, and that Amazon would need to be part of the transaction, in order to prevent a purchaser from loaning or selling multiple copies of the same title to multiple people. There are several software vendors who allow a customer to de-register an installation on one machine so that it can be installed on a different machine. The technology exists, and Amazon just needs to implement it.

They even have half the tools necessary already in place. If you take a look at just about any physical book listed on Amazon, there is a button on the right that says “Have one to sell? (Sell yours here)”. So, the system for selling books, not just buying them, already exists on Amazon. Now they just need to enable that feature for the Kindle digital titles. I would envision it working like this:

  1. I own a Kindle copy of Stranger in a Strange Land and I want to sell it.
  2. I navigate to the product page for this title on the Amazon site and click the (Sell yours here) button. Alternatively, there would be a ‘sell this title’ link on the “Manage Your Kindle” page.
  3. Amazon auto-populates a few of the fields such as title, author, ISBN; but I would have the ability to set my own price and personalize my description of the book.
  4. When I submit the item for sale it starts in a ‘pending’ status, and remains there until each and every one of my authorized devices has been synced with the site and the title has been removed. This includes Kindles, iPhones and computers.
  5. Once all repositories have been deleted, the item would show up for sale on the Amazon site.
  6. When it sells, I would get my sell price minus Amazon’s fee for the transaction.

There would be a couple of other things necessary for this to work:

  • The seller should be able to cancel the sale listing, and Amazon would make the title available for sync in their account again.
  • Amazon would need to keep track of titles sold by a user, and check for them every time the user’s devices synced with Amazon. This would prevent someone from accidentally restoring from backup a title they had sold or made available for sale. Presumably a user could re-buy the same title, so Amazon would need to track each Kindle DRM enabled title by a unique identifier.

I think Amazon not only could do this, but that they need to do this. They need to do this in order to respect the rights of their customers.

Not only that, when they do implement this I’ll buy myself a Kindle 2.

-Chris

Update: Amazon is getting into the market of ‘trading in’ used video games, so why can’t they do this for Kindle DRM titles?

Update 2010-10-24: In response to a couple of slashdot comments:

  • One reason the publishers might allow this type of resale system is that they could negotiate with Amazon to take a cut of all re-sale transactions. They have no legal right to a cut with used sales of physical books.
  • Yes, I would prefer a world without DRM. Sadly, we are not there yet. In the meantime, this would be a better step forward than Amazon blindly copying Barnes & Noble’s method of letting you ‘loan’ an eBook once. It’s a bad scheme, made worse so because they stupidly this bad scheme from someone else.

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7 thoughts on “Open Letter: How Amazon can fix Kindle DRM”

  1. They need to do this in order to respect the rights of their customers.

    But, but….but then they couldn’t charge you multiple times for the same thing!

    Never mind that an e-book has virtually no manufacturing cost, zero overhead, no real storage expenses, no inventory management costs, never goes bad or expires, has no moving parts, and lasts forever…they still want to pretend that somehow it’s rare and in limited supply so they can make you pay over and over. Forever.

    1. I just want to say that an e-book most certainly does have a manufacturing cost, overhead and storage expenses. Although these ‘costs’ are tiny, they do exist.
      All in all I agree with the article though :)

  2. I’m sorry, but don’t you think this is just a little ridiculous? Physical media and electronic media are entirely different. Just because the content of each medium is identical doesn’t mean you can treat it equally. Opening a marketplace to sell a ‘used’ copy of an e-book, that has no devaluation over time? The original publisher gets screwed out of any income by allowing this zero-cost copy of their work get circulated, and since it’s digital, it doesn’t have a shelf life, can’t be lost, etc. and never needs to be replaced. You cannot apply regular marketplace exchange on books – just look at the argument against charging people for music! Half the complainers cite ‘zero-cost copying’ as the reason they shouldn’t pay.

    That said, DRM is a terrible scheme and needs to be ended. Furthermore, since e-books have the advantage over physical copies of not being a real object, I’d like to see some of the bundled cost of physical book sales removed from the e-book versions. Too many books have identically priced physical/electronic versions, which to me is more ridiculous than asking for a marketplace for copyable digital goods. It’s a different medium, and the production cost for each copy is bandwidth (translation: nothing). I’d like to see sellers stop passing fake production costs on to the consumer.

    Also, why is there such a huge argument for ‘lending’ books? Yes, it’s an advantage of a physical version. Frankly, being able to “lend” digital books seems like pushing an existing system onto a new medium in a way that seems counterintuitive. A better system, since it’s a new medium, would be book previews. If you allow the first, say, 10% to be read free of charge, people will opt to buy the book in full. Hopefully at the aforementioned reduced price of an e-book.

    (Consider this – do you ask for the same price you paid for the book when you sell it? No. There is a depreciated value because it is used. If they charged that for an e-book, would you still complain? You’d still be out the same amount, except the e-book you’d never need to sell.)

    This whole argument is effectively the opposite of digital music. Pick one – widely available, cheap, and unencumbered, or a direct translation of the physical version into digital. Just remember that the RIAA is trying to push the same restrictions physical media have onto the digital format.

    -Scott

  3. I can’t believe you want them to ‘fix’ their DRM. Surely all DRM is evil and must be got rid of.

    I couldnt possibly buy a device that is still in someway controlled by the company that sold it to me and enforces their restrictions against me

  4. Publishers would never let you sell your copy of a book “second hand” in direct competition with the “new” ones they are selling themselves.

    The only reason to buy a new physical book over a second hand version is the physical condition of the book. Remove that (i.e. use e-versions instead) and you have two identical products, one being sold by the publisher/vendor for their set price, and the other by you/vendor. In that situation, nobody would buy a “new” copy, they’d just buy the cheapest.

    Letting you resell their book second hand would mean they lose the price of a new book, so it would never be allowed.

  5. The issue with reselling ebooks is: there is no wear and tear. So basically what you’re talking about is, lending books from amazon. Cause after you read it, digital format doesn’t change, you don’t have missing pages, or torn up cover or anything like it. So after you put it on sale, essentially you’re selling “New” book and not used. Which is obviously advantage for the reader, but quite big disadvantage for the author.

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