Books, e-books and “license to read”


I love paper books. I love having bookshelves full of everything from well-bound hard-cover editions tattered second-hand pocket books. I watch them on the shelves, take them out and and leaf through them, remembering good reads.

I also love e-books. I love having an entire library in my pocket when I travel, the convenience of the front-lit pages and the adjustable character sizes.

What I hate are the things that look like e-books, cost like e-books, but really are nothing but a “license to read”. I don’t mind it much when they are honest about it, I know that I don’t own the e-books I’ve loaned from the library and that’s OK, I didn’t pay for them either. I may also pay for a “license to read”-book if it is a lot cheaper (or if I’m desperate). However, the DRM-protected books are per definition inferior to real e-books. I don’t own them. I can’t move them freely between my devises (only to the extent the publisher decides) or be sure that I can still read them if the publisher goes bankrupt or the reader hardware changes. An e-book in an open format can probably be updated to a more modern format whereas there is a real risk that a DRM-protected book will be lost. I’m happy to pay for e-books. However, if I pay for them I want to own them and I don’t like seeing inferior products promoted as the real thing. Paying full price for a DRM-protected book is a lot like paying full price for a hard-cover edition only to find out that the pages get loose and the paper inside turned brown and fragile after only a few years.

So in general I do my best to avoid “license to read”-books. In practice that usually means that I either stick to paper books or select books that are out of copyright. Project Gutenberg has a large collection of DRM-free out-of-copyright books in a variety of formats and so does MobileRead . For SF and Fantasy DRM-free books can be also bought from Baen books. As a Swedish reader things are even better, both Dito and Adlibris have most of their Swedish e-books protected by watermarks instead of a more intrusive DRM. I’d like to hear about other, legal, sources if anyone has any suggestions?

3 thoughts on “Books, e-books and “license to read”

  1. Quite a few e-books are DRM-free now (in the upload process on Amazon, you can turn DRM off, although I think the default is ‘on’), and a lot of independently-published authors do this. Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling which books this applies to, but it might be worth contacting the author about it.
    Oh, and there are ways to remove DRM, although they are probably not strictly legal. Personally, I view it the same way as ripping a CD to mp3 to play on a phone — as long as you keep hold of the original, and the copy is for your own use only, then nobody’s losing out, and there’s no harm done.


    1. I mostly stay away from Amazon but I’m glad to hear that DRM-free books are getting more common there. If DRM-free books were also searchable there I would be very tempted to use them. As the major Swedish publishers avoid DRM I usually try to support them when I buy e-books.

      I know that I could strip the DRM but mostly I just conclude that if the author doesn’t want to sell their novel in a format I’m interested in I may as well borrow it from the library instead or find another author who will.


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