Books, Business Models, Reading, Technology, Tools

More Kindle Limitations Discovered

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Kindle users have recently stumbled across further limitations with the device.  Well, not so much with the device itself, but with the clumsy digital rights management (DRM) that Amazon has imposed on the device.

First, there’s the issue of clipping limitations.  The Kindle allows you to highlight areas of text, add notes and save that text to a clipping file.  But, it turns out, there’s a completely undocumented limit to the amount of text you can collect this way:

I went to save a page with a passage of interest to my clipping file, I received an error:

Unable to save clipping. You have
reached the clipping limit for this item.

Clipping limit? This was the first I’d heard of clipping limits . . .

I tried to find information about the clipping limit in the Kindle TOS or User Guide, but nothing was covered. . . . Not all books have a clipping limit, and the limit is not the same for all books. However, there is no way to find out if a book has a clipping limit, or how big it is, unless using software to ‘crack’ the DRM  for the book . . . there’s nothing about clipping limits: in the documentation, or the web site. This, to me, is a deceptive business practice. . . . Even more disappointing, the clipping limit also applies to DRM free books from Amazon.

The second issue seems a bit more complicated, or at least very few people at Amazon seem able to explain it.  Basically, there are undocumented limits to the number of times you can download the books you’ve purchased.  At first, this was explained to Dan Cohen as a limitation on the number of downloads for any book, and later was clarified to a limitation on the number of devices to which you can download a purchased book:

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.

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.

Like the clipping limit, this is completely undocumented, never explained to the customer, and the only way to find out about this limitation is to purchase something and have it fail on you.  Apple has similar limitations on DRM’ed files sold through the iTunes store, but at least they give the user the ability to authorize and deauthorize each device. Also, Apple is upfront about the limitiations.  For Kindle purchasers, these limitations must feel like they’re being deceived in some sort of bait and switch scheme.  As The Consumerist site puts it,

If you’re going to restrict customers’ rights with DRM and licensing agreements, at least be completely open about it so they can make educated purchases.

As noted earlier, DRM does nothing to prevent piracy. It’s in place on the Kindle to provide proprietary lock-in for Amazon and a little hand-holding comfort for nervous publishers.  It serves to annoy and alienate potential paying customers.

The Kindle has great potential as a device, but as long as Amazon continues to cripple it, readers would be advised to seek alternative e-book solutions.

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About David Crotty

I am a Senior Editor with Oxford University Press' journal publishing program. Prior to that I served as an Executive Editor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, and was also the commissioning editor for their book publishing program. Many years ago, I was a research scientist, receiving my Ph.D. in Genetics & Development from Columbia University, and doing postdoctoral research in neural development at Caltech.


2 thoughts on “More Kindle Limitations Discovered

  1. what drm is evidently best for, is preventing people from accessing their own paid content. (can you say.. ‘zune’?)

    the “slap your friends, ignore your enemies” business model is pretty much doomed to fail. it’s only a matter of time.

    Posted by thorn | Jun 25, 2009, 11:38 am


  1. Pingback: The Freedom of Not Owning Books « The Scholarly Kitchen - Jun 25, 2009

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The mission of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) is "[t]o advance scholarly publishing and communication, and the professional development of its members through education, collaboration, and networking." SSP established The Scholarly Kitchen blog in February 2008 to keep SSP members and interested parties aware of new developments in publishing.
The Scholarly Kitchen is a moderated and independent blog. Opinions on The Scholarly Kitchen are those of the authors. They are not necessarily those held by the Society for Scholarly Publishing nor by their respective employers.

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