Penguin Pointlessly Annoys Readers With USB-Only eBooks

from the screw-you,-customers dept

Reader Jason Alcock alerts us to another example of a company taking a backwards approach to value-added services by putting artificial restrictions on their content. Apparently, while ebooks from the popular publisher Penguin are available to borrow from Kindle libraries,
Penguin requires that they only be transferrable by USB, not wireless. This, in turn, means that they cannot be read with the free Kindle apps on platforms like iOS and Android, since USB transfer is only supported on the Kindle device itself.

I’m at a loss as to what this is supposed to accomplish. Kindle books are DRM-controlled regardless of how they are transmitted, so it has no impact on the potential for piracy. Presumably Penguin thinks this will spur more readers to buy rather than borrow, but in reality it has just created consumer confusion and angry backlash.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a publisher has tried to place arbitrary restrictions on ebook lending. It’s an especially frustrating trend, because the entire concept of “lending” ebooks is already one big artificial restriction. When will content companies learn that courting customers is about adding value, not taking it away?

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Companies: penguin

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Comments on “Penguin Pointlessly Annoys Readers With USB-Only eBooks”

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Nellius (profile) says:

Re: USB?

With the Kindle, you can either transfer a book to your device by plugging it in via USB, or by using the device’s wifi/3G connection to download it directly. This restriction means that these particular books must be transferred over the USB method, not downloaded over a wireless connection.

For regular Kindle users, it’s only really an inconvenience. I tend to acquire a book on the amazon website, then turn on the wireless on my Kindle, and it will download. If I were to get one of these books, I’d have to get the cable, plug it into the computer, and figure out how to download books that way.

For people who use the kindle apps on their iOS/Andoids, it means they cannot use these books at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: USB?

Actually, it’s only more of a limitation for iOS than Android. The reason being that due to the open nature of Android and all the fixes/hacks created by the Android community, pretty much all Android using devices are capable of reading from usb devices.

I don’t think you even have to be rooted to take advantage of said workarounds, which means it’s even easier to do for the Average Non-Willing To Tinker Joe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 USB?

As the guy you responded to and an Android user, I can say I think iOS sucks. But it’s perfect for some people. Honestly, the reasons I hear are it’s “easier to use”, but I’ve found my experience with iOS devices to be confusing if not frustrating. But ask me to root and flash a rom on your Android device and I can do it half asleep, hungover, etc.

It’s all just a matter of personal preference.

PlagueSD says:

Re: Re: Re: USB?

All I need is a USB cable and I can transfer files via USB to my Android. I’m just glad my phone uses a “normal” USB cable and not one of those “dongle” types that ONLY work on 1 thing…I’m looking at you Apple!!!

Oh, and as an added bonus, I get to charge my phone while I’m transferring files!

Anonymous Coward says:

when is everyone going to learn that, as with everything else, it’s about control. when the ‘new idea’ fails, they can always blame ‘piracy’, then the thick fucking politicians can jump in with more stupid laws so as to gain campaign contributions and restrict things further! never ending story until no one can do anything!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I wonder how many end users are actually aware of these “hidden” costs with providing their books/magazines/comics.

While there is much complaint about pricing models being silly for ebook versions, it looks like (at least in the Amazon example) that Amazon wants books to be only $2.99 – $9.99. You get 70% as the publisher of the sale price, but then Amazon is still collecting a delivery fee. If you price below $2.99 or above $9.99 you only are paid 35% of the sale price and no delivery fee.

So is this that different than the gatekeeper model we seeing used in music sales? That at every step along the way everyone takes a cut. Amazon gets a cut of 30% off the sale price, and then decides they get some more fees based on how big the file ends up being. And the publisher then needs to make the file as small as possible and stick the price at $9.99 to get the best profit margin.

While I can understand how the USB only policy might look backwards and stupid, if Penguin is being forced to cough up more money every time the file is downloaded why would they not look for ways to avoid extra fees to get their books out there?

What is the happy balance?

Richard (profile) says:

Learning Russian

Looks more attractive every day.

“Russian ebooks available through can be downloaded in different formats ? epub, PDF, fb2, TXT and HTML among others. “

i.e. straightforward files – no DRM (and sensibly low prices).

Rumvi is able to operate like this, make a profit and pay the authors. Why can’t the big english language publishers do the same?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Jolly Roger

Come on, people, it is even easier than that. If someone offers you content which is infected with DRM, just walk away. Say, “No.” Try it, you will like it. Only a small amount of willpower is needed, then the whole DRM problem is gone. Treat DRM as the equivalent of the content being in a language you do not understand.

All your content files are just ordinary files that you can copy around as you please. They play on any device you choose, with no internet connection required. That is the way things should be.

Rikuo (profile) says:

In other news, audiobook CDs will only play in a CD player (but not a DVD or blu-ray player), so say the publisher.
In other news, your local grocery store dispenses with shopping trolleys and instead say you have to use a wheelbarrow (with only one handle, not two) to bring your goods to the car. So say the grocery store
In other news, a DVD won’t play on your PC if you have two or disk drives. So say the movie studio

In other news, all of this means restricting what the customer does with purchase post sale.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In other other news, car manufacturers Fjord and Generic Motors have announced that they will begin production of new models with holes on the ground so that people can use their feet to power the car “Flintstones-style”. This feature is said to reduce wear and tear on engines by 326% and decrease gasoline consumption by 472%, increasing the longevity of the car while protecting the environment.

The cars will still have conventional engines, though. However, they have no starter engine (which saves battery). The engine can be manually started by using two hand-cranks conveniently located in the front and the rear of the car, which must be turned synchronously.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: and dont call me Shirley

Read the link in the article. What it means is, you have to physically connect your Kindle device to your computer by USB cable, download the ebook and then transfer it over the cable to the device. This is a deliberate move to prevent you from turning on your Kindle device’s Wifi/3G capability and downloading straight onto the device.
So no, there’s nothing being shipped.

Anonymous Coward says:

The publishers attitude to DRM and to library lending of ebooks is wrong.

To be fair to them though, they are looking at a pretty scary situation.
They believe that libraries don’t too terribly impact on sales of real books because people have to travel to them and the books have to be returned and it all has a certain level of inconvenience.
So they see current ebook lending as being no less convenient than purchasing ebooks and massively more convenient than purchasing actual books and that is only because of their restrictions, without them library lending of ebooks would actually be more convenient than purchasing ebooks (as the only difference currently is the cost to the user and the availability of titles and with library lending there would be no cost and without the restrictions imposed there would be no shortage of titles available to borrow).
So given that if there were nothing less convenient about libraries they can see no reason why people would ever buy an ebook again and their business would have to get by on the roughly 6 pence a book/loan that they get from library lending (in the UK anyhow).

If you posit a situation where libraries can lend unlimited copies of whatever digital books they have, for as long as the readers wish to keep them and they can do it all from the comfort of their home/work pc or even directly from their ereader, wherever they might happen to be, then you can see why they would be dubious about anyone ever buying an ebook again. You can see why they would think that for the majority of people and the majority of books that purchasing in those conditions would be nonsensical and bang goes their business and the livelihoods of most professional writers would also be gone.

And yet, they do believe in making works available, they do believe that it is a good thing for those who cannot afford books to be able to borrow them and so they are left with hoping to recreate the “inconvenience” factor of regular library book loans, time limited borrowing, availability limited borrowing and having to travel to a specific location to avail of the library service.

I can see that their answer is the wrong answer because while it addresses their concerns it fails to take the true reality of the situation into account, which is, as we all know that whether they choose to make them available or not for lending, all popular titles will still be available for free via piracy whether it suits them or not.

Truthfully, I am not sure that libraries will survive this change, I am sure that writers will and some form of publishers will but I find it hard to see how libraries will be able to keep the good will of the industry when even with restrictions the reciprocal good done for the industry is so hard to see and without good will from the publishers it is easy to imagine them refusing to allow lending of ebooks at all.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think you understand how libraries work.

> about anyone ever buying an ebook again
Except, of course, the libraries. You know that libraries have to buy the books they lend out, right? And people still have the desire to own books, because then they can read them or refer to them after the lending period. E-books don’t change any of that.

> I am not sure that libraries will survive this change
What are you talking about? The change to e-books? Publishers better find a solution, because “refusing to allow lending of ebooks” is not a solution. First-sale says I can do whatever I want with my purchace. If publishers try and do an end-run around that by claiming sh!t like, “You’ve actually purchased a licence to a book” (whatever the hell that means) they will find the public will not tolerate it. They have to find a way to lend e-books like dead-tree books, or there will be a mass exodus to infringement. The public recognizes bullsh!t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, but without silly restrictions, they would only ever have to buy 1 copy of an ebook, which they could lend to an infinite number of people who could keep their duplicates forever.
As it currently stands libraries do buy more than that and if you check out numerous libraries that have overdrive you will see many titles not available as (in the current bizarre world of overdrive) all copies are already loaned out along with a long list of people waiting to get the next available copy.
These restrictions however are not making the publishers happy, they still feel that without the inconvenience of actually having to make special trips to the library the lending will impact sales. They may even be right.
I do not agree with their solutions as I stated because they simply ignore the fact that drm free copies of pretty much all ebooks are readily available over the internet and putting these restrictions on libraries will not affect that one iota. So they are damaging the ability of libraries to function while not boosting sales at all.
Their paranoia may see them withdrawing from any kind of ebook lending in which case libraries become pointless, cute and quirky places that only hold paper books and that would spell the end for libraries.

Libraries as physical places that you actually go to are probably doomed in the medium term anyway, but rather than the obvious progression of morphing into online resources which the publishers would strenuously oppose what future can you imagine for them?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

More importantly, libraries have one copy, and one one person can read them at a time. Go to your local library, check the “check out” card on them (or ask the librarian for the digital record) to see how many times it went out. The average book only goes out a few times a year.

A single person with a digital file can seed it and have millions of people get a copy – which is why a library and piracy have nothing to do with each other at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

USB mode

This, in turn, means that they cannot be read with the free Kindle apps on platforms like iOS and Android, since USB transfer is only supported on the Kindle device itself.

Uhhh, I hope this is in reference to Kindle lending libraries specifically and not Kindle books in general. I load ebooks into the Kindle app via USB all the time on my Android tablet (rooted Nook color) and phone (non-rooted HTC Thunderbolt). Plug it in, turn on USB at the prompt, and copy the book into the /kindle directory on the SD card. Eject, unplug, and fire up the Kindle app and start reading.

Kindle books are DRM-controlled regardless of how they are transmitted

Also not true. Some Kindle books have DRM, but many do not. You can even do a search for “drm free” on Amazon and get page after page of matching results.

Daemon_ZOGG (profile) says:

"Penguin requires that they only be transferrable by USB, not wireless"

“..that they cannot be read with the free Kindle apps on platforms like iOS and Android.” Ok.. So transfer the eBook to a usb mem-stick, plug that into a wireless usb hub, and let everyone within range download it to their iPhone, iPad, Android device, etc. And with regards to Penguin publishing, either listen to the masses, or be kicked to the side of the road. ;P

Anonymous Coward says:

Yet another poster-child...

Stupid-middleman tricks, example number 723. (Your reseller pisses you off, so you turn around and piss off your customers by making your product more cumbersome and/or expensive to obtain and/or use.) What could possibly go wrong with such a business strategy. Truly a classic example of Doin’ It Rong.

Attention Masnick! Attention! TD really needs a “Stupid-middleman tricks” tag (apologies if I simply haven’t noticed one yet) to make it easier for we readers to quickly find over-the-top examples of poster-child/WTF-were-they-ever-thinking such as this. (For those moments when we need to be able to quickly find something at which we can roll our eyes and groan in disbelief, because no hammer is readily within reach and for some reason we wish to repeatedly hit ourselves on the head.)

KG says:

Can't see an inherent value in ebooks anyway.

Surely an ebook has no ‘real’ value, certainly not the value that is attached to them, often being the same if not more than the physical item.

A paper copy has ‘value’ is tangible etc…

If a paper copy is purchased, an ebook is really only an ‘add-on’ that should be available as a supplement to the physical book for say a nominal fee, to allow the reading on and portability offered by electronic devices.

If an ebook is purchased it should cost a minimal amount.


MrWilson says:

Re: Re: Re:

While I was incorrect about the USB key vs. cable, a key would still work the same way as a USB cable hooked up to a computer as far as transferring the files are concerned.

Also, you made my point exactly. Your “free” downloading capabilities cost the publisher money. If you just pirate, you won’t cost them any money. The publisher is making it more practical for customers to pirate rather than to check out the books from the library.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The publisher is forced by the platform to do these things.
The platform (software) has demands.
The platform (hardware) has demands.
The consumer has demands.

The costs listed in the article linked above …
Show that they are extracting even more than the rate the cell companies are charging their consumers. So a large company like Amazon was unable to get a better rate than consumers?!

While this might lead to more people pirating, I do not think its tone deaf publishers doing it. They are being bled by the platforms, and then bled again and again every time someone checks out a book. Imagine if every time a dead tree copy was checked out, there had to be a payment made by someone to someone else involved in producing the book.

While this solution is not the best, it does stop the bleeding while they look for another path to let people check books out to read.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

A thought occurs to me…
The consumer of devices other than kindles are already paying for their bandwidth, why would the “platform” be double dipping in this way for android and ios platform versions?

Does the fault of this lie in the control of the platform staying on 1 location where more fees can be extracted, rather than creating a system where the library maintains their “copies” on their network and could offer the checkouts via a wireless connection they provide that doesn’t require paying to be connected to the whole of the internet?

But then this might eat into the profits others are getting by keeping their gatekeeper position, so obviously it is a bad idea. /sarc

Jason Alcock says:

The stupid, it burns

My wife regularly downloads eLending Kindle books and pointed out this silliness to me when I asked her why she wasn’t downloading over WiFi.

I continue to be baffled by the silly restrictions publishers put on their content. It doesn’t serve the business goals that they claim to be aiming for, it hurts legitimate consumers, and people who are willing to pirate that content can still do so easily. There’s zero point in this kind of behavior by publishers.

We’ve decided not to buy another Penguin book.

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