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Amazon adds optional DRM for Kindle publishers

Independent publishers learn that their Kindle books were already unprotected as Amazon adds option to enable DRM on upload.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read
On Amazon's DTP site, publishers must now select DRM options before upload. There is no default setting. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

When I put my self-published book, "Pro PR Tips," on the Kindle store last week, there was a little option to enable or disable digital rights management. This is a new choice, stealthily introduced last week right around the time I was putting my book on the store. But it's not, Amazon says, a new feature.

Rather, an Amazon spokesperson says that publishing DRM-free books has always been the default for publishers using the Digital Text Platform, a site that allows independent authors and small publishers to put their own works up on the Kindle store. The DTP site lets people upload HTML, Word, text, or PDF files as well as mobi files, which the Kindle reads natively. The site converts uploaded files as needed to the mobi format, now with optional DRM if desired, and puts them in the Kindle store.

The help text on the option box is not very helpful. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Larger publishers submit their books to Amazon already in mobi format, and they appear as copy-protected on the Kindle if the mobi file comes to Amazon already protected, or open if not. It appears that nearly all books from mainstream publishers are protected. To see if a book is unprotected, look for a line that says, "Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited" in the product details block on the Amazon page for a book.

When DRM is enabled, Kindle files cannot be shared with other users, and there may be a limit on how many separate devices a buyer may load a book onto. When DRM is off, a book's file, which is easy to get by looking in the My Kindle Content folder on a PC if the Windows version of the Kindle Reader is installed, can be sent to other people for viewing on any app or device that reads the standard mobi format, including the Kindle and other e-readers. The files have the .PRC extension on a PC.

In the Kindle store, cryptic text indicates an un-DRM'd item. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

As to the decision for making my book free to copy or not, it was easy: I did it. Yes, I want to be paid for my book sales, but for me as for many independent authors, this book is a personal branding effort as much as anything else. Or as Cory Doctorow says, quoting Tim O'Reilly, "My problem isn't privacy, it's obscurity."

As least one other CNET author has a book on the Kindle store. Tom Merritt told me he just turned off DRM on his book, "Boiling Point." He says he wasn't aware that doing so was an unnecessary move.

Disclosure: I profit from "Pro PR Tips" book sales on Amazon. Readers can get all the content in the book, and more, for free at the Pro PR Tips blog.