DRM Performs Another Miracle, Turns Purchased Childrens Books Into Nothing At All

from the the-magic-of-technology,-in-Biblical-terms dept

An anonymous Techdirt reader sends in the now-unsurprising news that another publisher and its DRM are declaring customers’ purchased e-goods null and void. This time it’s Scholastic, publisher of many youth and teen titles, as well as the long-running host of numerous parental wallet-emptying book fairs.

According to Scholastic’s 2012 press release, Storia (the DRMed ebook collection currently affected) allowed students and teachers to purchase ebooks and share them with up to 10 family members/students via its proprietary app. (The app is the DRM. Scholastic purchases don’t work outside of it. To quote its now-vanished FAQs page: “Storia eBooks are designed with unique learning features and enrichments that make them readable only while using the Storia eReading app.”) It also included enhanced content to encourage readers to dig deeper into unfamiliar subjects and allow teachers to connect with downloaded books via Smartboards and other computers. All in all, not a terrible product and one that comes from a particularly trusted name in academic publishing.

That’s all coming to an end now. Scholastic has placed this notice on its website.

On September 1st, Scholastic is switching to what it calls a “streaming model.” Readers and educators will have access to 2,000 titles, but they will no longer be allowed to own any of them. In fact, without an internet connection, they’ll be unable to read them at all, a “feature” purchased ebooks didn’t have. Instead, teachers and parents will pay a flat yearly fee to access these titles. Because of this switch, the license aspect of ebooks (something that’s always present in digital goods) becomes explicit, rather than lurking in the background waiting to deny someone the privilege of selling or transferring an item they purchased (which Scholastic already prevented with its proprietary software).

At least Scholastic is being upfront about what’s happening to people’s purchases.

The switch to streaming means that eBooks you’ve previously purchased may soon no longer be accessible.

That’s the bad news. You don’t own what you buy, not if it’s a license rather than a sale. See also: numerous other examples.

But Scholastic is at least trying to mitigate the damage. Some purchases will stay active in users’ accounts if customers follow this one simple trick. (Sorry.)

You may be able to continue using your eBooks by making sure to open them on a bookshelf at least once by October 15.

Unfortunately, there’s that troublesome word “may” stuck right in the middle of the damage control. Scholastic’s site offers no odds on which books will still work and which purchased items will simply vanish. This is likely due to further licensing agreements behind the scenes — those between Scholastic and authors/other publishers. (Scholastic handles book fair distribution for high-powered franchises like Harry Potter and Goosebumps.) Chances are, the bigger the title, the greater the likelihood of this maneuver not working. Just as Netflix streaming is 90% stuff no one wants to watch, a switch to an unlimited access streaming service will likely result in a.) the disappearance of titles whose upstream publishers are asking for increased licensing fees or b.) the increased upstream licensing fees pricing Scholastic out of many schools/parents’ budgets.

But Scholastic is going further than most companies in the same position would, and doing it proactively (rather than waiting for the angry wisdom of the crowd to shame them into acting like they care).

Upon your request, we will refund the cost of all Storia eBooks you’ve purchased. Call Customer Service at 1-855-STORIA1 by August 1, 2015.

This in itself sets Scholastic ahead of many others who have simply issued the universal “licensing is out of our hands” shrug and pulled the plug on customers’ purchases. So, kudos are in order for Scholastic (especially considering customers have more than a year to obtain their refunds), even if this switch to streaming sounds like it will benefit Scholastic more than its customers. A better decision would have been to keep both options. Educators — which is who this new streaming service seems to be aimed at — could take the subscription route while parents and kids could have kept their purchases (and potentially purchased even more ebooks). This one-size-fits-all approach takes books away from paying customers. A refund is nice, but having the right to keep your purchased items is even better.

[Postscript: One rep for Scholastic doesn’t seem very interested in the public being made aware of this change outside of the splash page that now greets people looking to purchase Storia ebooks. Nate Hoffelder of the Digital Reader was approached by Kyle Good, Scholastic’s Corporate Communications SVP, and asked why he wasn’t going to remove his post on Storia after issuing a correction an earlier error. Good seems to believe this correction negated everything about Hoffelder’s post (something Hoffelder admittedly stated before digging deeper into Storia’s pivot to streaming) and asked in shocked Twitter tones why he hadn’t.

This is Internet 101. Posts don’t come down because of errors. Errors are corrected and acknowledged, but posts aren’t simply removed because someone with a financial interest in the subject matter at hand thinks mistakes should result in disappearances. Storia’s switch to streaming isn’t completely terrible but it’s certainly not a win for all of its customers. Ebooks you can only read with a solid internet connection border on useless. It may make sense in the educational market where the connection is almost guaranteed, but those outside of this system are simply losing their purchases. A refund helps, but it completely negate the damage.)

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Companies: scholastic

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Comments on “DRM Performs Another Miracle, Turns Purchased Childrens Books Into Nothing At All”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Or you can download your legally acquired book via file sharing and tell these morons to go fuck themselves. In fact it’s the ONLY way for those that want to have it and keep it for offline access. Yet again a moron encouraging piracy. That’s one of the reasons “piracy” has become my main choice nowadays. Even if I do buy the originals.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

But it’s all in the terms of use at time of “sale”…

I suspect if people go back and read the wall of text they agreed to when they paid for access to these books, they’ll be greeted with language that allows access to the books to disappear at any time.

Know what you’re buying…

This is also why I have never purchased an ebook, nor do I subscribe to any streaming audio/video service. I’d rather have actual physical ownership of my media. Besides, I can usually find them cheaper at a yard sale or thrift store.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How can it be legal to come in and say “well these goods you bought will be unavailable after X date with not way to get them, let alone view them ever again”.

Psh, this is nothing. Think about City of Heroes…long time players bought the game, two expansions, a monthly subscription, and after it turned free-to-play, probably in-game items for real money.

Then NCSoft decided to shut down the servers, forbid anyone from making their own, and kill the game completely. All that money people spent on the game? Gone.

I’m sure there are plenty of other examples, and you can argue all day that “they weren’t buying the game, they were only buying a license to play the game” but for most people these are the same thing, cryptic EULA language notwithstanding.

As people lose more and more of what they’ve bought I think this issue is going to get some serious attention.

Anonymous Coward says:

Open letter from Scholastic to poor people

Dear peasants:

We know that your children want to learn to read. We know that you, as parents, want your children to learn to read. And we know that you barely have enough money to house, feed and clothe them, with little left over to pay the overlorXXXXXXX monopolXXXXXXXX price-gouXXXXXXXXXX benevolent ISPs like Verizon and Comcast.

But, well, profits! So fuck you.


Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve always had a hard time seeing value out of DRMed goods. Why are you paying money for something that isn’t yours when you get it? Especially since they are wanting full price or more of the printed work. I refused to buy such ebooks under those conditions. If I really want those books there are pirate sites on line where for next to nothing you don’t have to deal with the BS. They are their own worst enemy in why to stay away from purchased ebooks.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You really shouldn’t, as doing that tells them that while you may not like DRM, it’s not enough to actually stop you from buying, so they have absolutely zero reason to consider removing it in the future.

After all, if you complain about something but still buy it, well, obviously you weren’t that serious in your complaint, and any problems you noted are obviously not that important, and can be dismissed as such.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, I’m aware of this. However, this is a bit of a cost/benefit thing for me, and that equation weighs heavily toward buying the eBooks.

My eBook purchases are 99% big, dense technical books. I use a LOT of technical books and the sheer bulk and weight of them, not to mention the lack of searchability (you can’t grep a dead tree) is a really huge problem. With eBooks, I have my entire library on my smartphone, I can easily search through them, I never have to worry about leaving a critical book at home or the office, etc.

For this use case, the cold fact is that the benefits to the format are so enormous combined with the fact that it’s easy to remove it, means that the DRM is not actually a serious objection to me.

If I couldn’t remove the DRM, or if (as with things like movies, recreational books, video games, etc.) the cost/benefit doesn’t come down so overwhelmingly great, DRM is a showstopper.

I know that there are many here who disagree with me about this, but I don’t actually consider DRM to be immoral in some way (anti-circumvention laws certainly are, though). I just think it’s a really terrible idea for everyone concerned. However, publishers have every right to put terrible ideas into practice.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why DRM is dangerous

Hitler was raised a Christian. You can connect Hitler to Christianity at least as much as you can connect him to atheism. For every quote or action where he was against religion, one can point to a quote or action where he defended it.


If anything he was against religion when it would oppose his own cult of personality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Why DRM is dangerous

I’m sick of people saying that Hitler and/or Mao were atheists. They were religionists and expected their followers to be quite pure and devout in their worship. Both were attempting to supplant what we think of as religions with worship of themselves and their ideologies. Hitler wanted to be treated as a god and Communism, the way Mao used it, has and had all the hallmarks of a religion. The “bibles” were Mein Kamf and Mao’s little red book. They had many statues erected of themselves, Mao had his image painted huge on the sides of buildings, the better to be worshiped. They gave speeches from lecterns to their rabidly devoted followers.

As an atheist, I am sick and tired of being tarred with this same old slap-happy brush by idiots like yourself who see only the surface and do not use your brains to think about what is really going on. ALL brand-new religions since forever have demonized, diminished, and destroyed the religions previous to them. Mao and Hitler did not seek to destroy religion so that everyone could get on with their lives and stop worshiping the invisible sky-gods; they wanted to be the gods, and be worshiped; they wanted to create a new religion with themselves at the top. They used all the buzz-words and tricks of control that religionists have used for centuries.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why DRM is dangerous

I can see it now. You have to request one sentence at a time, and there is a quadruple factor testing for each one, dongle in place, finger on fingerprint scanner, eye close to camera for iris scan (other eye please), and holding that position type in your 32 character pin number that includes numerous symbols and capitalization’s.


DannyB (profile) says:

FTC should prosecute for false advertising

Any company that purports to “sell” DRM’d goods should be prosecuted for false advertising and misrepresentation.

The evidence is more than clear now. It was always clear. But now we have plenty of examples of it happening in actual practice.

An alternate remedy the FTC could impose is that any purchased DRM’d goods must be delivered to customers who bought the work in a NON-DRM format once they decide to shut down the DRM servers and make content ‘no longer accessible’. Or alternately, be prosecuted.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Anyone remember Zune?

Microsoft sold DRMed music that could only be used on the Zune player. And when they updated the DRM, then the new players couldn’t play the old music. And you could just get fucked if you owned it, and buy it again.

And at that point everyone decided DRM sucks.

But then we’d continue to by DRM-protected software, books, video, whatever, knowing that other companies will do this again and again.

So this is an iteration of again?

There’s a reason that DRM Free is a selling point.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Anyone remember Zune?

Even the Zune is merely recent history for Microsoft.

Previously they conned people into the PlaysForSure music standard, with online stores from MTV, AOL, Yahoo and others. Plus hardware from a couple dozen major manufacturers. They were not allowed to use non-Microsoft formats.

Then one day they decided that they wanted their own online store and hardware, and PlaysForSure was PlaysNoMore.

And then there’s Microsoft Reader, their eBook standard, a major selling feature for a new generation of Windows Mobile devices. Except that at the list minute they introduced an extra level of DRM that wouldn’t work with Windows Mobile devices. Nor was this mentioned when people went to purchase books.

They “made it all better” by raiding Project Gutenberg and putting some of their public domain books in the store for free without DRM. Plus a handful of little-more-than-fan-fiction Star Trek books.

lars626 says:

The Real World

In the Real World the student takes the book with them. They will read in the car on a trip, or even on short trips. They will read sitting in the park under a tree. They will read on the airplane when on vacation.

And Scholastic wants to force them to use an electronic device that requires power or charging and a live connection. They must really want to kill their ebook sales.
Either that or they completely forgot that they are in the _childrens_ book business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Real World

“Either that or they completely forgot that they are in the childrens book business.”

Oh, heavens no. They’re not in that business AT ALL.

They’re in the profit-making business. The hell with the children, they’re of no concern whatsoever, because, after all: they’re not the ones who pay for Scholastic’s products.

Anonymous Coward says:

copyright page

Ever read the copyright page on a Scholastic book?

Search – “scholastic, inc” + “stripped book”

Some of them contain the stripped book notice:

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This is found on the “stripped book” wiki article.

Isn’t this a comedy sketch that writes itself in your head? Imagine a large family on the way home from the book fair.

techflaws (profile) says:

“Storia eBooks are designed with unique learning features and enrichments that make them readable only while using the Storia eReading app.”

Reminds of my one and only test of a (free) Audible audiobook where I complained about the bad quality file and the sales rep claimed that their proprietary format wasn’t needed for DRM purposes but because of the efficiency of that codec. Yeah, right.

Rekrul says:

This isn’t surprising in the least. Streaming music, streaming movies, streaming games, now streaming ebooks. It’s the holy grail of the copyright industry to have complete control over their content so that they get to decide where and when it gets used and for how it’s available.

This cancer is only going to spread in the future. 🙁

DB (profile) says:

I don’t understand why DRM material is eligible for copyright protection.

It does not fulfill the constitutional objective of granting a monopoly for a limited period of time in exchange for the invention or writing being in the public domain thereafter.

Trade secrets don’t get patent protection, why should DRM or “licensed” material get copyright protection?

Also, in general a refund, a unilateral reversal of a sales transaction, isn’t an equitable exchange. People buy something because it has more utility or value to them than the selling price. While that might not continue to be true with these specific e-books or for a specific buyer, that’s not the seller’s decision to make.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Hitler, Atheism and Censorship

I’m sick of people saying that Hitler and/or Mao were atheists. They were religionists and expected their followers to be quite pure and devout in their worship.

To clarify, Hitler was raised a Catholic, and was integrated somewhat in the Thulian secret society stuff. Politically he was a secularist, feeling that rites that focused on religious icons and on spiritualism steered people too far away from nationalism. He even wanted to reframe Christmas with himself as the focus rather than Jesus or Santa Claus. On the other hand, he still was theist, and very much believed in divine providence, to the point of believing himself invulnerable, and Germany’s victory inevitable after a bomb failed to kill him in the July 20 plot.

I can’t say much about Mao, though the iconography seen in the photography of post-Mao China is indicative of culture-of-personality as a propaganda tool, much the way the Kim Jong family portrays themselves as super-human and capable of performing incredible feats if not miracles.

PRMan Now imagine some atheist fanatic gains control of the country.

I was angered as well when PRMan said this, but at the point that someone is expousing the specific anti-atheist stereotype-perpetuating talking points that emerge from the extremist sectarian sectors, I figure that he’s emotionally invested in those believe systems. Were he to even consider that we are actual human beings worthy of proper regard, he would have to then address what an asshole he’s been to dismiss us.

Fanaticism is particular to ideology, and atheists have only divorced themselves from a subset of ideology, but that does give them fewer notions about which to be fanatic. My experience of atheists has primarily been within the scientific community, who if anything, revere knowledge and learning and abhor censorship. If anything, such people would err to allowing too much access to information in the interest of cultivating an informed, thoughtful and critically savvy people.

And typically when books are challenged, they are due to concerns offensive to religious sensibilities or challenging the infallibility of authority.

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