When we started Kobo, there were a few key principles that helped us grow and win fans around the world. The first was “any book on any device.” It was a novel idea at the time to build apps across devices so that you could read on any device you wanted, especially devices you already owned. What was unique then has become an industry standard.
But one thing that continues to be a big deal for us that others have not embraced is being open. We have always believed that your books are your books, and you should be able to take them where you want. You shouldn’t be shackled to a platform or tied to a device. If another service or device or reading experience comes along, you should be able to bring your books with you. We think it’s your right as a reader. That got us thinking about what people reading digitally should generally be able to expect — an eReader’s Bill of Rights:
1. The Right to Get Your Books Out
Ask yourself this question: if the company you’re buying ebooks from got hit by a meteorite tomorrow, what would happen to your library? Can you keep local copies of your books? Can you back them up? Can you keep reading them if the company you’re buying from changes direction or format or devices? Throw them in Dropbox or a backup drive or in a secure, undisclosed location? (With Kobo you can. Just about all of our books are available as downloads to Adobe Digital Editions*. Download if you like and don’t look back!)
2. The Right to Get your Books In
Can you add your own documents, epubs, PDFs, and other bits and pieces to your library of purchased books? Your library shouldn’t be limited to the things you buy from a particular store. That’s bizarrely like having one bookshelf in your house for books you bought from airport bookstores, one bookshelf for books from indies – it is like chaining your book to one shelf, or only being allowed to read it in one room. Makes no sense and also definite decorating challenge. You should definitely be able to add in unencrypted, unDRM’d stuff. It would be even better if you could get DRM’d books from other vendors in. (We’re part way there now. Side-load PDFs, un-DRM’d ePubs into our Desktop Reader (Oops! Not yet! Working on it. — MT), Kobo eReader, iPad and iPhone apps. Add Overdrive library books on the Kobo eReader. More to come…)
3. The Right to Preserve Your Library
If the device you read on was eaten, burned or broken, can you get your purchased books back? Or do you have to buy them again? Do you have to explicitly sync or back them up? Your library should be readily available, no matter what. (With Kobo, not a problem. Books lost when dropped into lakes, left on subways, eaten by bears are restored as if by magic.)
4. The Right to Freedom of Movement
If a newer, better, cooler, lighter, more colourful, trans-fat free device comes along, can you get your library on it? Or if you got a device from work and now have to give it back? The only thing worse than feeling trapped is having to leave books on a device you can’t or don’t want to use anymore. (Our motto: No Book Gets Left Behind. Hop from an iPhone to a Blackberry to a Sony Reader to a Nook to a Kobo eReader to an Android tablet to an iPad to a garage-sale netbook… You get the idea.)
5. DRM if Necessary, but Not Necessarily DRM.
When DRM is mandated, do it. But if it isn’t required, don’t apply it anyway just because you can’t help yourselves. Publishers usually ask us to put DRM on books and we do. But on some occasional happy days, someone says “Keep my books open. No DRM. Let ‘er rip.” And then, we do. Download that baby and take it wherever you like**.
That’s a start. Like all sweeping statements, they should be challenged and examined and picked apart. There should probably be more. I’m interested in your thoughts, so add your Bill of Rights Amendments in the comments below.
If there’s one thing you take away from reading this, it’s that where you buy your ebooks matters a lot more than you might think. Do you know the DRM format of your eBooks? Do you know your Rights and whether your retailer believes the same things you believe? If so, awesome. If not, you could be chaining yourself (and your books) to one retailer or one device forever.
While many readers are moving their eBooks to Kobo, we’re working on making it easier. In the coming months there will be more options for more readers to move more books into their Kobo libraries and read them on more devices. And we’ll keep pushing to be the most open eReading platform out there.
* And yes, Adobe is private company and ACS/ADE is a proprietary DRM scheme. And yes, Adobe Digital Editions could be a little friendlier. But it does have the advantage of being used by a lot of companies and on a lot of devices. So it’s the best we have for now. And it also lets us do cool things with public libraries and library books on the eReader, which makes us happy.
** Why is it that statements related to DRM always need footnotes? Anyway, it’s worth saying that when we have a title that doesn’t have DRM on it, the un-DRM’d version is available from our website at www.kobobooks.com once you’ve purchased. We don’t have DRM-free downloads enabled for iPhone or Android, for example. But once you download it from the web, you can put it in any app that will support it.