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Buying eBooks? What an ordeal! Aka: DRM Sucks!


Warning: This post is a rant about the horrible DRM ladden experience I had when trying to buy an eBook.

I've had this awesome eBook reader for some time now:

The PRS-600 sony touch reader. Killer feature? Double tapping a word to get the definition. Great for reading books above my level (basically all of em :P) Also, this puppy can open more or less any file I throw at it, as well as working perfectly on my GNU/Linux system using the Free Software app Calibre. Also, the battery life is pretty sweet. Only charging once a week or so.

All my IRL friends know that I bring this guy with me everywhere - either for casual reading, or looking up technical info (such as a manual for my video camera in the pic above)

Naturally, the day came where I wanted to actually purchase an eBook online (as opposed to creative commons works, etc). The book I wanted? "Vagabonding" by Rolf Potts. A short book about minimalism, and spending money/time on traveling as opposed to accumulating even more tangible objects.

So, I set about googling for "vagabonding ebook" ... I get several hits from various retailers - and I decide to go with the cheapest. The venerable Barnes and Noble. However, as I attempt the transaction (after being forced to sign up), I get euro-blocked. Apparently I need an american billing address. No worries, I'll use my American residence address instead of my Norwegian one - and everything seemed fine. However, after a few minutes I got an email saying that my card had been declined. Wtf :/

I decide to try the next cheapest alternative: Books-a-million. I naively missed the lock icon next to the epub label. This was of course my big mistake...

After having to sign up for yet another account - I finally was able to make my purchase. B-A-M accepted paypal as well. Awesome!

I then proceed to click the "download epub" link. Chromium then decides to download a file called "URLLink.acsm" - wait, what? "Oh well, some minor glitch on the page/chromium - I'll just use firefox" I think to myself. Nope - same thing happens using our Mozilla based friend. Hrmmm - weird. I open the file in vim, and see that it's just plain XML with some metadata along with a link to an .epub file! Finally! Sadly, this epub file was just a bunch of garbled text. Wtf :/

After doing a bit of googling, I find out that .acsm is some evil DRM scheme via Adobe Digital Editions - a proprietary app that barely works in Linux via wine. After a bit of hackery, and signing up for yet another account, I'm finally able to "unlock" my content, and read the ebook in the monsterous app. After a bit of digging, i find my (hopefully) unencrypted epub file in a "My Digital Editions" directory. Nope - still encrytped - in fact, seemingly the same file pointed to by the original acsm file. GRRRR

I do a bit more reading, and find out that I apparently need to have my reader "authorized" from the ADE. I click around like a madman until I find out that it's supposed to automagically detect my reader. No such luck in GNU/Linux of course. I woefully proceed to launch a Windows system and try from there. Of course, still no luck - nothing happens when I plug in my reader! I then find out that I have to install my official "Sony Reader Library" app for the ADE to work correctly. After installing this piece of software, restarting my machine, I'm finally able to authorize my device from ADE!

I then go back to my original Linux system, launch calibre, and drop over my encrypted .epub file. It opens, and all is well!

Am I ever going to do this again? Fat chance! Creative commons/etc is all that will remain on my reading list until I find a better solution to this horrible ordeal.

Spotify is still the only decent electronic medium retailer which I've been satisfied with - now if only they'd start dealing with books and movies as well ...