When ebooks die

Microsoft’s eBook Store is closing. According to the announcement, “starting July 2019 your ebooks will no longer be available to read, but you’ll get a full refund for all book purchases.” This shows a basic truth about DRM book purchases: you don’t actually own your copy. You can use it only as long as the provider supports it. It was honest of Microsoft to refund all “purchases,” but digital oblivion eventually awaits all DRM-protected materials.

Andy Ihnatko once told me that DRM is safe because “Amazon will be around forever.” It won’t. The fact that a company as big and stable as Microsoft is abandoning support for its DRM-protected products reminds us that all such products exist only as long as the provider has sufficient motivation and ability. It’s questionable whether Amazon’s protected ebooks from today will be readable in 2050, let alone “forever.”

DRM is not forever

Paper wears out, and files that aren’t encrypted are subject to digital rot. But you can copy them. We still have written materials from thousands of years ago, and you can find many of them on the Internet. Unless you break the protection of DRM-encoded materials (which may or may not be illegal), they’re doomed to disappear.

It’s strange that people fought tooth and nail against DRM in music, and they won, yet they don’t seem to care about it in books. The permanence of both is important, but the written word is more important to learning and cultural heritage.

Your DRM-restricted materials can disappear for capricious reasons, such as accessing them while visiting another country.

I’ve “bought” exactly one DRM-protected ebook in my life. There were personal reasons involved, and I couldn’t get the book any other way. I have no objection to DRM on materials which I rent or borrow, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my legitimate use.

If a book is available from another source at a reasonable price, the loss of the version from Microsoft isn’t disastrous, though re-acquiring a big collection is very annoying. But if all the sources are under DRM, they’re all eventually doomed.

Here are some pages on how to remove DRM from your ebooks. Since I don’t buy such ebooks, I haven’t tested these methods. As always, try them out at your own risk, and be careful of what software you download. I’ve used Calibre as an ebook reader and found it reliable.

Just by the way, my Files that Last and Yesterday’s Songs Transformed are available without DRM.

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