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Kindle limits: The reality and solution

Dan Cohen of GearDiary published a clarification to his claim that Kindle titles downloads are limited in the form of An Open Letter To Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. He explains that he was told by an Amazon employee there is not a limit on the number of downloads of a title, the limit is on the number of devices to which any title can be downloaded.

Given that Amazon will only sell a two-year service agreement on Kindle, we can assume that they expect the device to have two years of useful life. You’d use five different Kindle devices over the course of a decade, which means you may find you can’t download an e-book from your library in the foreseeable future. Or if you expect to buy more than one Kindle per household and share books, it’s also likely that you’ll exceed the number of devices allowed per title sometime.

Amazon simply needs to do one of two things to make this right, probably both:

  • Follow Apple’s lead with iTunes activations and allow the customer to reset the number of active Kindles on an account to zero devices up to once a year.
  • Raise the number of Kindles allowed per title to a large enough number to avoid having a user ever reach the limit.

Raising the device limit will not encourage piracy, because account management is sufficiently complex that one user could never efficiently share titles with large numbers of people.

One family, including multiple generations, should be able to share a library. A devoted reader who happens to have a Kindle 1, Kindle for iPhone and multiple family members sharing a Kindle library should never run into a “limit exceeded” message. If families can’t share books, e-books are doomed to obscurity, as the libraries in many homes are full of titles passed along from generation to generation.

UPDATE: Let’s be sure we all understand the issue. The question is whether there are any limits on downloads of a book purchased from the Kindle store. The Amazon terms of service for Kindle do not mention “simultaneous device” limits. It does say:

Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.

There’s no mention of limits and, if read literally, could be interpreted as limiting the use to one device, which is clearly not the policy. According to Amazon’s Kindle DX FAQ page, which does not qualify the number in any way, in terms of total downloads or number of simultaneous devices:

Can I read content on multiple Kindle devices? What about my iPhone?

Our Whispersync technology allows you to seamlessly switch back and forth between your Kindle devices and iPhone while keeping your reading location synchronized–now you can read a few pages on your iPhone or Kindle and pick right up where you left off on your Kindle DX.

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5 comments to Kindle limits: The reality and solution

  • Great roundup of the issue here and I could not agree more with your assessment that the iTunes model would solve much of this.

    One clarification if I may, the claim that downloads are limited was not actually MY claim but rather what the customer service rep told me when I called after not being able to load my books on my new iPhone. I was shocked quite frankly and it is what prompted the first post. Then, after more calls, it became clear that there is a tremendous lack of clarity on a number of levels. One of the biggest issues I bumped into in this entire thing is that the customer service reps don’t know the policy. That, in and of itself, is an issue.

  • Thanks, Dan, for the comment. The Open Letter and your first posting are clear that you were reporting what Amazon employees said. The documentation I referred to was your screenshot showing the book that could not be downloaded.

    I agree that Amazon’s people not knowing the policy is a big problem. I’d say their apparent willingness to make up excuses, such as blaming a server crash before admitting that it is a limit on the number of devices to which the title may be downloadeds is of greater concern, because it indicates they know the answer is problematic.

    Do you feel that you reached an Amazonian who gave you an accurate explanation?

  • Mitch,

    I’m honestly not sure. The 4th rep I talked to told me that he would immediately begin retraining his staff. I would love to believe that is what happened as soon as we hung up but I have my doubts. This is especially so since he too had to put me on hold twice to look into the policy. That was actually he reason for my sticking with this and writing the third post– I LOVE my Kindle and I even repurchased one of the books that started this whole thing. (I then received an unsolicited refund from Amazon which prompted the SECOND call.)

    I don’t love DRM but am more than willing to live with it so long as I go into things KNOWING the deal. The lack of clarity is a huge issue in my opinion and it isn’t getting resolved by a Customer Service Rep.

    This whole episode tells me that there are still some issues with the DRM of Kindle books that have to get worked out. At a minimum the book information should tell you how many devices it can be on and the system should allow you to remove one device and add another without having to deal with customer service. That way, future devices aren’t an issue and the boundaries are clear from the beginning. Armed with that information, the consumer can then choose if she or he wants to buy the book or not.

  • Oh, it will be a long time before all this DRM stuff is resolved, but I hope that we can count on that fourth rep at Amazon. If not, we can only assume the company has limits and doesn’t have a policy until a definitive statement.

    Are you listening, Amazon?

  • Virgil Capellas

    Love the blog…people are missing out not using Twitter more

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