| Wednesday April 16th 2014

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Some Kindle books have secret caps on the number of times you may download them


It turns out that there’s an undocumented restriction on Kindle books — if you download them “too many” (where “too many” is a secret number) times to your Kindle or iPhone or whatever, you run out of downloads and can’t get copies anymore.

new Kindle DXMonths ago, an Amazon manager wrote to me to tell me that the Kindle now had DRM-free options for ebooks, and to ask if I had any questions. I had three questions:

1. Is there anything in the Kindle EULA that prohibits moving your purchased DRM-free Kindle files to a competing device?

2. Is there anything in the Kindle file-format (such as a patent or trade-secret) that would make it illegal to produce a Kindle format-reader or converter for a competing device?

3. What flags are in the DRM-free Kindle format, and can a DRM-free Kindle file have its features revoked after you purchase it?


He never answered them. After promising to get back to me, he just disappeared and stop answering my emails. I wrote to Amazon later on behalf of the Guardian newspaper, asking the same thing, and they never replied to that, either. And my contact at O’Reilly, who are releasing their entire catalog as DRM-free Kindle books, has been blown off by his Amazon contact on these questions, too.

The news about a secret limit on downloads is part of #3: we found out the hard way that Amazon can revoke your Kindle’s ability to read your ebooks aloud after you’ve bought them. Now we discover that there is a secret counter that limits your refreshes of your Kindle library (say, across multiple Kindle devices as you upgrade, or replace lost, broken or defective units).

It may be that the market would be willing to pay Kindle book prices for books with these restrictions (and whichever other ones are lurking in the shadows), but it’s just not fair or right for a company that prides itself on being customer-centered to refuse to tell you what you’re buying when you buy its ebooks.

When I got the Amazon Kindle app I knew there was one particular book I needed to download to both devices immediately. It’s a reference book that I wanted to make sure that I had on my device as the weekend began. But when I opened the app it only showed me a small subset of my books. “What?” I wondered. I went into that digital download portion of Amazon store and there I saw a list of all the books that I have purchased for my Kindle. “Great,” I thought “I’ll just choose the books that I want and click the ‘ download/send it to…’ Button next to the item.” I clicked and a few books gave back the message “successfully sent to”. A number of the books, however, including the one I was looking for, gave back the message that they were unable to be sent to my iPhone. I tried to download it to my iPod touch and received the same message…The customer rep asked me to send every one of the books in my Amazon library to my iPhone. Most of them gave the message that they were sent but a number of them returned the message “Cannot be sent to selected device”.

“Oh that’s the problem,” he said “if some of the books will download and the others won’t it means that you’ve reached the maximum number of times you can download the book.”

I asked him what that meant since the books I needed to download weren’t currently on any device because I had wiped those devices clean and simply wanted to reinstall. He proceeded to tell me that there is always a limit to the number of times you can download a given book. Sometimes, he said, it’s five or six times but at other times it may only be once or twice. And, here’s the kicker folks, once you reach the cap you need to repurchase the book if you want to download it again.

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