About two years ago I first used the Nook app on Android. That was my very first foray into buying digital books.
I’ve been trying to pare down my possessions in a manner Leo Babuta and Erin Doland would most certainly approve of over the past couple of years. A love of books doesn’t work so well with having few possessions.
Digital books promise:
- You can read your book on a number of different devices
- You can travel light and have your entire library at your fingertips
- Your books won’t take up any physical space in your home
- Food, drinks, and fire won’t mean you don’t own a particular book any more. Even if you leave your device on the plane, you’ll be able to get your books back (well, maybe.)
What stopped me from diving in head-first for a long time were some things that worry me about digital books:
- Buying a digital book in a format that goes out of fashion and no longer being able to read it (my well-worn and well loved Anne of Green Gables physical book I have had since I was probably 8 years old is still on my shelf, and I can read it without having to hack or crack it.)
- Buying a book from Amazon because B&N didn’t have it, and not being able to read the Amazon book on Nook and vice-versa.
- Owning a nice collection of books that span multiple stores that are not compatible with each other.
- Buying a cookbook, finding a great recipe you’d like to cook with a friend, and being unable to send her a copy of the recipe to buy the ingredients from because there is no way to send an excerpt of the book, copy the text, or even scan the text. (Had to manually type it out in an email. Ridiculous, right?)
- Buying a digital book from Barnes & Noble and being unable to read it on my Linux laptop. (Yeh, not really possible without cracking the book. That is possible, depending on which bookseller you bought it from. Legal? I’m not sure, even though the purchase was 100% legit.)
Well, I won a Nook Tablet in a raffle today. I’m really excited about it because it seems like a nice device. I fully intend to root it. My experience with trying to use it in the way it was intended has not been so nice so far, however.
I had a lot of difficulty getting digital books I validly and legally purchased from Barnes and Noble on to the device. I had backup copies of the books that I had purchased via the Nook Android app long ago (I hope this is legal. It should be.) Customer support told me they would not work if I transferred them onto the device. So then I asked if they could be transferred from my old account to my new one.
“Ma’am, can you still access your old email address?”
“Then I can’t transfer them for you.”
“Okay, let’s say I can’t access it.”
“All right, let me transfer them for you.”
Okay, so he took a look at my old account.
Did you ever stop to think how much any customer support person at a bookseller can learn about you on a personal level by being able to read the titles of the digital books you own? This is something usually only someone you allow into your home and who has visual access to your bookshelf can do. I was surprised at how uncomfortable this made me, it felt like a real violation of privacy even though I know it’s technically not.
Anyway, the books I wanted weren’t in that account. My husband figured out that they were actually in his account, because Android devices still aren’t real great at handling multiple accounts on one device. Sorry, a digression. So I gave the (remarkably patient) gentleman my husband’s email address. His supervisor came on the line. She said she could initiate the transfer of my books, but she would need the credit card number they were purchased on entered into my account, because the books were encoded to that credit card number.
“I’m sorry ma’am, I don’t have that credit card any longer. It was actually stolen…”
“That’s okay, you can provide any currently-active card.”
“Um, but you just said…”
“Any card will do.”
Okay. So I entered my current credit card number into the my Nook account. She put me on hold. I waited 5-10 minutes. The earlier gentleman came on the line.
“Ma’am, did you put your credit card in?”
“Well, it seems like it was invalid. The books have been transferred to your account, but you cannot download them unless an active credit card number is registered to your account.”
“But I just put it in…”
“You will have to call your bank.”
“We cannot allow you to download these books without a valid credit card. We must protect the publishers.”
“But I bought these books!”
“Call your bank, then you can download them.”
“Do I have to call this number again afterwards?”
“No, the books should appear in your account after your credit card clears.”
I typed my credit card in again and refreshed. Magically, the books appeared while the gentleman talked a bit more about protecting publishers and clearing credit cards with the bank.
“Okay I can download them now.”
“Oh okay it cleared.”
“Okay, can I removed the credit card from my account now?”
“It’s not possible.”
Basically, I am now more scared than ever to invest in digital books:
- No option to avoid using credit card. My credit card number was likely stolen because of the Sony Playstation Network account hacking incident. Why should I trust Barnes & Noble with my credit card on the Nook?
How can you use the device without a credit card?
- Even if there is a gift card on your account, you cannot purchase books without a credit card on the account.
- Even if the app you are trying to install is free, you cannot download it without a credit card.
- Apparently, even if books you legally and validly purchased from B&N are in your account, you may not download them to your device without a credit card.
- I was able to have all of the books transferred from my husband’s account without any form of verification. Don’t give Barnes & Noble my email address and ask for my books to be transferred from my account to yours, because it just might work. No verification of his first and last name, no verification of his home address, phone number, nothing. I gave them his email address and they accepted that as sufficient to slurp all of the books out of his account! (It was, of course, totally okay with him. But what if it wasn’t?)
- Backing up your books does you no good. At least, according to the customer service rep. Now, I know a thing or two and believe this isn’t the case, but if you are a law-abiding citizen who doesn’t try to crack DRM mechanisms in order to enjoy the items you paid Real Money for the right to enjoy, this is really the case.
I try not to rant in my blog. I really do. I couldn’t help this one. I do get a lot of ribbing and even derision for my stances against Apple products. What I encountered here with the Nook embodies a lot of the issues I have with Apple devices. Is there a succinct, simple name for these issues? DRM-lovin’, proprietary-code, you-can’t-use-what-you-paid-for, hashing-your-credit-card-number-against-media-as-a-form-of-publisher-protection-because-the-developers-are-morons bullshit? How do you refer to this general stench?
Well, anyway, lesson learned. I don’t think I will buy any DRM digital books ever again. The silver lining here is that the experience has reassured me that my beliefs are not crazy, that digital freedom is a very valid concern and us FLOSS folks aren’t just silly hippies.