Another Publishing Lawsuit

Indie Booksellers Sue Amazon, Big Six over E-book DRM

I know nothing about this suit other than what I’ve read in that linked article, but I suppose it’s not entirely surprising that indie booksellers would want to get in on the eBook action — heck, I want them to get in on it too, since I would be happy to send some of my eBook purchasing cash to my local bookseller — and see DRM as a way of locking them out.

Likewise, I would be curious as to how Macmillan’s DRM-free stance (via Tor, which is my primary fiction publisher) has an influence on things.

This would also be the place where I note that in the US, at least, the two biggest publishers of my fiction, Tor and Subterranean Press, have no DRM on any of my eBooks at this point. So buy with the confidence that comes from knowing you can put my fiction on any e-reader you damn well please. Because we love you, dear reader. Yes we do.

29 Comments on “Another Publishing Lawsuit”

  1. Please forgive my ignorance, I’m not a lawyer, but how is Amazon and any other publisher prohibiting an Indy bookstore from selling an ebook. The article, at least to me wasn’t clear on that.

  2. I guess my confusion lays with the book seller just being a book seller what difference is it to them if amazon and publisher decide to put drm on the ebooks. How can they regulate something they didn’t create and what’s stopping a retailer from creating their own Kindle type device and broker deals with the publisher for drm rights or not. Or am I just so ignorant about this that I should hide in a hole and not come out?

  3. I think the issue is as follows (leaving aside stuff like DRM removal possibilities):

    1. Most publishers insist that DRM is applied to their books.
    2. Amazon has its own proprietary DRM for mobi/kindle files which only they can apply.
    3. A lot of people (already) own kindles.
    4. Non-Amazon bookstores want to sell lots of books.
    5. Non-Amazon stores can sell DRM-ed books to ePub-ereader owners but…
    6. They are prevented from selling to kindle owners because they can’t apply the proprietary DRM that the kindle can use.

    So the non-Amazon sellers want either publishers to stop insisting on using DRM or Amazon to change the DRM to allow non-Amazon sellers to also be able to apply it. (Like the Adobe DRM that is used for ePubs). Meaning that they can potentially sell books to kindle owners too.

  4. DRM is a choice of the publisher. Amazon uses a proprietary format (.mobi, which used to be more widely used till Amazon bought it) which works with their devices, but .mobi can be easily converted so long as the publisher has chosen not to have DRM imposed. Additionally, the Kindle reader is available for PC, smartphones, etc etc., and other vendors (eg. Smashwords) are able to sell Kindle-compatible .mobi format ebooks.

    Reader choice of ebook vendor tends to be tied to what device they have, and then price and convenience of purchase. Brick and mortar stores are incredibly low on the list of “convenient methods to purchase ebooks”.

  5. I have to admit, I’m confused by this lawsuit, and I’m hoping one of the regulars who are lawyers can clear this up for me: For the bookstores to have a case against the publishers (as opposed to Amazon), would they need to establish that the publisher’s were deliberately giving Amazon a monopoly and keeping independent sellers out of the market, or only that their actions have that effect? Because I can’t imagine the publishers have any motivation to give Amazon a monopoly on e-books.

  6. I’m somewhat confused as to how they think this is going to fly when the existance of BN’s ecosystem seems to fly contrary to their assertions (at least, from a read of the article, rather than the suit itself).

    Also, I believe Kindle Fires can load up other reader apps such as MoonReader and Bluefire so they could read EPUB files on a Kindle just fine (and even lend from libraries in EPUB format, which is more widely available than Kindle).

    It’s not that this suit doesn’t have some merit, but it’s going to be devilish about details. They would almost have better luck claiming Amazon has a virtual monopoly on the ebook market of the Big Six (or Five, if Macmillan is all DRM-free).

  7. Amazon is not the one that demands DRM. As Tor has proven, the TOR books bought on Amazon do not have DRM. It is the evil publishers that are pushing for DRM. Same crap as with music, the publishers are to blame..

  8. The biggest issue I have with the DRM is that, without removing it, it makes it near impossible for blind and visually impaired users. Screen readers can’t access it, and people who want bigger print are SOL. Amazon could have made Kindle (and various Kindle apps) accessible, but caved to various publishers about it. Nook apps are accessible.

    I’m not sure how local bookstores would be able to carry ebooks. Other than having a catalogue or something and the ability to buy through them either at the store (wifi?) or online. I do like the hour-a-day free reading I can get at Barnes and Noble if I really want. If local stores could offer something like that, it’d be great. I’d rather go to a mom and pop than a chain if I’m drinking some tea and just want to read for an hour while I’m out and about. (And this happens WAY too often.)

  9. Hmm. I’m not so much interested in buying ebooks from local stores as much as I’d like to select any book in a publisher’s catalog and have it printed on demand at the store. Being able to select the size of the print, the paper and the cover would be a great, value-adding feature that a local store could provide.

  10. I applaud the effort against DRM, but I’m a bit confused. Can’t Kindle owners download books from non-DRM’ed sites like Baen and Project Gutenberg? I don’t understand how independent e-bookstores are harmed by Amazon/Publisher DRM agreements.

  11. I think I can clear up some of the confusion. Yes publishers (Tor and Sub Press aside) require DRM. However, the publishers don’t seem to care which DRM. Amazon uses their own file format to which they add their own DRM, a DRM scheme that’s not interoperable with other readers.

    The keys here are a few:

    First, Adobe’s DRM scheme lets the file be read on any device that supports it so you’re not tied to a device. You just need an Adobe ID. This is NOT true of Amazon’s scheme – a Kindle book that’s DRMed can’t be read on any other device like a Nook or Kobo ereader. Even on devices like the iPad and Android tablets where you can install a Kindle app you HAVE to install that app. The individual can’t simply move their Kindle titles to another reader.

    Second, while it’s possible to sideload content onto a Kindle (IIRC), it’s cumbersome and that content is decidedly a second class citizen. Oh and it can’t be Adobe DRMed, so… The net effect of this is that if you use a Kindle you are increasingly tied to the Amazon ecosystem and it’s impossible to legally move your books out of it.

    From a business standpoint, this means that people who buy Kindles aren’t simply buying an ereader, they’re buying a device that undercuts the ability of that person to a) buy books from other sources and b) easily read those books on their Kindle. B&N doesn’t really undercut this since they’re a minor player and I believe they do use Adobe’s DRM.

    All of this is perfectly inline with Amazon’s interests of course, but what the indies would like, I think, is for people to be able to buy a book from any store they want and read it on any device that they want. Shocking, that…

  12. Kindles and Nooks both have DRM’d eBook content sold through their respective online bookstores – Kindles use a form of .MOBI, while Nooks use a form of .EPUB. I got around the problem of proprietary formats by getting an iPad (though for this purpose, an Android or MS Surface tablet will work as well), and installing the Kindle and Nook reader apps both on it. For non-DRM’d books (as are sold by Baen’s eBookstore, which includes Tor), I simply buy .EPUB versions and “sideload” them using iTunes to my iPad’s iBook app – there are a number of Android equivalents, but Cool Reader on the Google Play store seems to be the one to beat.

  13. rickg17:

    I think the ebooks BN sells use a different DRM to Adobe, but you can read Adobe DRM’d ePubs on a Nook. Which means that Nook owners aren’t locked into buying from BN, (what the independent e-bookstores are worried about). You can’t, however, buy a book from BN and read it on a Sony reader or Kobo.

    So for DRM’d books it’s as follows:

    Kindle-owner can only buy from Amazon
    Nook-owner can buy from anywhere except Amazon (and the iBookstore, I think)
    Kobo/Sony/Other owner can buy from anywhere except Amazon, BN (and the iBookstore, I think)
    Someone with an iPad or tablet can buy from anywhere BUT will have various different apps (kindle, nook, ibooks…) and can’t have all of the books together.

    What the Indies want is to be able to tap into the Kindle market. They don’t seem to be particularly anti-DRM, just against the DRM that locks kindle-owners to Amazon.

  14. scorbet said “Kindle-owner can only buy from Amazon”

    That is untrue. Any publishing firm or retailer can generate e-books in mobi/prc, and sell it outside of Amazon. I can point you to several retailers doing so. Those are definitely indies. The only point is “missing” here is Amazon’s hard DRM. Soft/social DRM works just nicely. The sync-between-devices feature is also working with these “side-purchased” titles, if you distribute your elsewhere-purchased content via the Amazon cloud.

    So I do not see the point why any indie can not follow this procedure, apart from sticking to the hard DRM, which is “unwelcome”.

  15. @CLP
    I can’t imagine the publishers have any motivation to give Amazon a monopoly on e-books.
    Especially after what happened to the record companies after they did that to Apple. But that’s exactly what happened.

  16. Could you please add to your statement , “So buy with confidence…” an additional phrase? It should read, “So buy with confidence (unless you are a library because my publisher refuses to sell its DRM-free books to libraries)…” Thanks.

  17. The part I’m still not clear on is exactly how it would benefit the plaintiffs to do all this, other than that it would make life less convenient for Kindle users and thus indirectly cause a detriment to Amazon which presumably benefits them in some way. (I’m also not clear on what they think the actual legal justification for this is, but you can make up any kind of legal justification you want if you throw enough money at it. I’m sure their clever lawyers have some up with something.)

    Say all this gets implemented *today,* by the Will of Fnargl. What is the *actual change in the book-buying process* that will make the plaintiffs better off? And I don’t mean morally, I mean how is it likely to materially increase the chances that they will sell more books to Kindle owners? Or to anyone else? I can think of lots of arguments: the problem is, they’re all stupid. So I must be missing something. (Or the plaintiffs and their attorneys are not, collectively, as smart as I am, which is possible but seems unlikely.)

    If they somehow think they’re going to get access to Whispernet or otherwise be able to directly inject media into a Kindle library, they’re out of their minds. And that is Kindle’s real advantage. It’s *easy.* All the rest is sturm und drang for zealots of various stripes.

  18. I don’t understand why Amazon is included in this suit.

    Amazon’s DRM is optional–for example, nothing I sell on Amazon has DRM on it. The publisher decides whether or not to use it, and Amazon doesn’t require it. They might have at one point in the past, but they don’t now.

    The reason you can only read Kindle books on a Kindle device or app has nothing to do with DRM, and everything to do with the fact that Amazon uses a proprietary format–it used to be .mobi, now it’s .kzw I think–instead of the industry-standard .epub. In order to read a kindle book, you have to be running an application (or hardware) that understands that format, or you have to use software like Calibre to convert it into another format.

    That’s not DRM. That’s good old-fashioned proprietary lock-in. And while I think good old-fashioned proprietary lock-in is bad, it’s not the same thing as DRM and shouldn’t be confused as such.

    Putting Amazon in this case is stupid. They provide DRM because publishers want DRM, but they let anyone who doesn’t want to use DRM choose to publish without it. Their DRM is proprietary because their whole platform is proprietary, and the proprietary nature of the DRM isn’t what prevents indie bookstores from selling Kindle books–the fact that the indie bookstores aren’t Amazon is what prevents it, because only Amazon can sell Kindle.

  19. I suspect what the indie bookstores want is for Kindle owners to be able to take their Kindle into the indie bookstore and purchase a book from the indie bookstore as easily as they can purchase it from Amazon–that is, with one click. Amazon/B&N/Kobo have made it very very easy for people to buy books for their devices, including people who are afraid of/confused by/uninterested in techy things. Unless they are really motivated to support their local indie bookstore (and sometimes not even then, if they are hopeless with tech), many people are not going to bother with cumbersome sideloading and fussing with Adobe DRM if they can buy from Amazon/B&N/Kobo with one click.

    If this is the case, this lawsuit is not really making that clear.

  20. @Mags: And that is never, ever going to happen. There are multiple alternatives to Kindles, and there are alternative ways to get books onto Kindles. No court is going to make Amazon open its infrastructure to the indies. The market control just doesn’t and never will exist to justify something that drastic.

  21. I just loaded a DRM-free .mobi e-book I bought from an independent seller onto my Kindle last night.

    I’ve got some DRM-free epub books on a datastick Tor gave away a few months ago. I know if I find the right program I can convert them to .mobi and load them on my Kindle. As I could with any Tor book from any seller.

    I guess I’m confused about this suit, too. Though judging from the article on, I may be less confused than the plaintif’s lawyers.

  22. @Marc: of course it’s not going to happen. I just think that’s what they want. The independent bookstores might be better off allying themselves with Kobo, which wants to work with indies.

    @ULTRAGOTHA: check out Calibre ( You will be able to easily do a format conversion of a non-DRMed book using this software. I also use it to sideload books onto my Nooks and catalog my books that I obtain elsewhere than from B&N.

    One of the reasons I like Nooks is that I can keep all my sideloaded stuff on SD cards, so if the device is borked, I can just swap out the card instead of having to re-sideload everything. And Calibre is great for keeping track of what I’ve loaded on the card and not–when I plug in the device, Calibre recognizes it and tells me which of the books in my library are on the device, and it’s very easy to send books from Calibre to the device. I really recommend this software for anyone who reads ebooks. I’ve been reading ebooks since the 90s on various Palm devices and I have a largeish library of books in legacy formats, so it’s been really useful for me in a lot of ways.

  23. Confused we are. To help, I will try.

    DRM is indeed the choice of the publisher. It is not required by Amazon; in fact, Amazon will not accept encrypted mobi files. Amazon does not publish ebooks exclusively in the epub format; they publish them as epub and their new proprietary format, KF8, simultaneously. This is so any ebook can be ready by their own legacy hardware (Kindles) as well as the newer Kindle Fire series (regular and HD). Eventually they will probably drop legacy support and go exclusively KF8, which supports HTML5 and CSS3, which offers more design options (like small caps, which some designers like to use for the first few words or a chapter).

    I learned this while recently formatting and publishing a book via Amazon — without DRM, as was my choice. The advantage of formatting the source file as epub, instead of simply uploading a Word doc and having it converted is the epub format embeds the code needed to support certain ereader screen touch functions, such as chapter skipping by flicking up or down on the screen (which I love).