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Confirmed: Harry Potter eBooks Are NOT DRM-Free in Kindle Format (Or Any Other eBookstore)

March 27th, 2012 by · 37 Comments · ebookstore news, Pottermore

Do you recall the promise made last year that HP ebooks would be available in Epub & Kindle formats, DRM-Free? Yeah, it looks like that didn’t happen.

Pottermore launched their ebookstore this morning, and I bought an ebook right away. I know that I complained about the prices, but I started looking at the Kindle Store integration and I got curious about how it worked. So I bought one.

And that’s where the troubles began.First, I’m sure you know that when you buy an ebook from Pottermore, you can transfer it to your Amazon account. When you do that, Amazon will then push out a copy of the ebook to all the apps and devices registered to your account.

But this might take awhile (it did for me), given how much traffic those ebooks are generating today.

I didn’t want to wait, so I downloaded a copy and tried to open it in Kindle for PC.  It didn’t work. I then transferred it to the Polaroid Android tablet I’m reviewing right now and it wouldn’t work in that Kindle app, either. But the app did give me a clue as to why it couldn’t read the ebook. It showed me the same message that I’ve seen every time I’ve tried and failed to read a DRMed ebook on an unauthorized device:

Please remove the item from you device and go to archived items to download it again.

Yep, that is most definitely not the DRM-free ebook we were promised.

Update: So I’ve heard back from Amazon, and guess what they told me?

All titles that are pushed wirelessly from Pottermore to Kindle, or to other retailer’s eBook services and readers, are DRM encrypted at Pottermore’s request.

So what we have here is an ebook which is DRM free until you push the ebook through one of the ebookstores. Then it stops being DRM free. That is not what Pottermore said at the press conference. You can check any account from any of the press who attended. All reported that the ebooks would be DRM-free.

I’m waiting to hear back from Amazon and Pottermore, but until then I’m going to be downloading the Epub so I can convert it myself. That much vaunted Kindle Store integration isn’t worth it, given that the ebook is locked down with DRM.



37 Comments so far ↓

  • Ravi

    That’s really strange. Amazon sells DRM-free books (e.g. O’Reilly), so why wouldn’t they import some? Hopefully it is some sort of launch-day glitch.

  • Mike Cane

    What about the iBooks version?

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  • Nathan @SWONtech

    You’ve lumped EPUB in here, and I don’t think they’re in the same boat. According to the Pottermore website, you can download the EPUB version and sideload it onto your Nook using Adobe’s Digital Editions without using your B&N credentials or linking to your B&N account. Likewise, you can copy the EPUB file into iTunes and sync the ebook to iBooks without further sign-in. That’s not native iBookstore support, but it does look to be DRM-free.

  • Geert

    From what I have read you can download an DRM free ePub version from the Pottermore website. As the ebook is DRM free you can use Calibre to convert the book to Mobipocket and sideload it to your Kindle.
    Only if you download the book from the store tied to you ereader (Kindle/Nook) you get an DRM’d version.

    • fjtorres

      And you get a KF8 version on devices/readers that can support it.
      The quibble is that Pottermore promised DRM-free everywhere and its only DRM free if you don’t send it through the “third party” system.
      If one *really* wanted to whine, one could point out that even the “DRM-free” versions as watermarked, which is a form of DRM.
      Given that 99% of the buyers aren’t going to care about any of the DRM encumbrances…

      • Nathan @SWONtech

        Buyers care very much about DRM when it keeps them from loading ebooks. If you have a Nook but have only bought ebooks from B&N (and not used Adobe’s Digital Editions before), checking out ebooks from the library is not intuitive. Download software you probably haven’t heard of, create an Adobe ID, authorize the ADE install and device before even looking at what ebooks are available? Lots of people give up or show up at the library’s reference desk asking for help. That’s a far cry from watermarking.

      • burger flipper

        Amazon probably is not set up to put individual “watermarks” on copies, so they’re DRMed.

        • hardvice

          This would seem to be the most likely answer, but astonishingly enough the Amazon downloads actually are watermarked.

          The only thing I can think of is that it has something to do with the fact that Amazon allows unlimited downloads of digital content and Pottermore allows only 8. In other words, once you use one of your 8 downloads to get an Amazon copy, you can then redownload it as many times as you like without using up additional downloads on Pottermore.

          How they think adding DRM affects this is beyond me.

  • Mike Cane

    Hmph. So they’ve introduced some “friction” to please the soon-to-be-all-gone books-on-paper bookstores.

    • Nathan @SWONtech

      I’ve only heard talk of friction from publishers, and Penguin in particular since they unfriended Overdrive. Publishers want it to be more difficult to buy (or lend, in the case of libraries) their ebooks so that print books will look more favorable. And in this case, the friction seems to be a function of the system’s slow response time, not built-in baggage.

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  • ChrisArchitect

    Haven’t you read the book already? :-P

    Anyways, so the price you pay for Kindle integration is the consequence of a DRM edition – welcome to Amazon land right.

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  • Tom Semple

    You get 8 ‘downloads’ from Pottermore. One of these you can use to put it into your Kindle account. But then you can download in ePub directly. This is DRM free (though apparently it is watermarked). If you want to convert this to a DRM free mobi or KF8, you can.

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  • Kevin

    As far as I know you can still get a drm-free epub. Amazon is the one that enforces drm.

    • Nate Hoffelder

      No. All the ebookstores add DRM.

    • Angrandir

      Exactly. I don’t think the system deserves much whining–I consumed 2 downloads out of 8, one for DRM-free EPUB for my Nook and one for adding the books to my Amazon account for Kindle device(s)—these are DRMed, but on the other hand the number of downloads is unlimited. Limiting the number of downloads directly from Pottermore is slightly annoying, but I believe it will take some time before all my backups fail 7 times.

  • Mind the Rant

    I also bought a Harry Potter title from the Pottermore Shop yesterday. I successfully downloaded the book to my Amazon and accounts and had no trouble bringing up the book on my Kindle Fire, Nook 3G, and Nook app on my Android phone.

    However, I had no luck with the direct download of the epub file. My first attempt was to read it in Calibre, which informed me that the file was DRMed. I next attempted to read it in Adobe Digital Editions — the software Pottermore Shop suggests — and was equally unsuccessful. When I attempt to open it the software tells me: “Document is licensed for a different user account”.

    At this point I can only guess that had I not first sent the book to my Amazon account — had I instead first downloaded it to my PC — I’d have been able to read it using Adobe Digital Editions. But that’s just a guess … and I’m not prepared to pay another $7.99 to perform a follow-up experiment. (In any case, were Pottermore Shop keeping score of my downloads why did they permit me to send the book to Amazon *and* What is it about the PC download that’s somehow different?) And if I had first downloaded it to my PC, would I subsequently have been able to send it to my Amazon and accounts?

    Meanwhile I submitted a complaint to Pottermore Shop about the problem and, of course, received advice about how to download the file to my PC, which ain’t exactly my problem.

    It may take a while before we learn what’s really going on here … and whether my problem is the result of a bug on Pottermore Shop or whether it’s the correct implementation.

  • hardvice

    What’s particularly odd about Pottermore insisting that Amazon add DRM is that the Amazon downloads are indeed watermarked just like the DRM-free epubs direct from Pottermore. So it isn’t as simple as the Amazon integration not allowing for watermarking, since it does.

    In other words, Pottermore’s own product is watermarked but DRM-free, while the same product shunted through Amazon is both watermarked and DRMd. That’s just… odd.

    Still, while it’s a shame this feature is a little wonky, with 8 downloads allowed spread across multiple formats (most of them DRM-free), wide device support, and really well done ebooks (how much does it suck that we still have to act surprised when new retail ebook releases aren’t horribly formatted, poorly proofread, or just plain broken?), they’re definitely doing things mostly right.

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  • TheSFReader

    Problem with Watermarks, is that Amazon, Apple, B&N etc. don’t support them, and can’t provide it. So what they usually do is ask the publisher : Since we don’t watermark, what would you prefer us to do ? drop the protection already ? or “updgrade” them to DRMs…

  • Mind the Rant

    Just an update about my strange experience downloading a DRMed Harry Potter ebook. I was apparently a victim of a Pottermore Shop bug — their server seems to have given me the same file it sent when, moments before, I linked my Barnes & account to Pottermore Shop.

    Yesterday I revisited my account and direct downloaded the PC file again. It had an entirely different filename and turned out to be DRM-free, as promised. Impossible to say whether Pottermore Shop delivered me the file originally because of a site bug or because the site was behaving strangely because of all the traffic.

    Anyway, I second hardvice’s comment above that the site’s terms–and the quality of its ebooks–are to be applauded. I do think the setup is a bit of a kluge, and I suspect the watermarking won’t keep these books from being uploaded to bittorrent sites from here to Timbuktu, but all in all I think Rowling did a pretty good job conceiving and executing the site and its product.

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