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Adobe to Require New Epub DRM in July, Expects to Abandon Existing Users

Update: Adobe has backed down. When adobe-logoAdobe announced their new DRM a couple weeks ago some said that we would soon see compatibility issues with older devices and apps as Adobe forced everyone to upgrade. At that time I didn't think Adobe would make the mistake of cutting off so many existing readers, but now it seems that I could not have been more wrong on the issue.

The following video (found via The SF Reader) confirms that Adobe is planning to require that everyone (ebookstores, app and device makers) to upgrade to the new DRM by July 2014.

The video is a recording of a webinar hosted by Datalogics and Adobe, and it covers in detail aspects of how and when the new DRM will be implemented (as well as a lot of other data). If the embed link doesn't work for you, here's a link to the video on Youtube.

The tl;dr version is that Adobe is going to start pushing for ebook vendors to provide support for the new DRM in March, and when July rolls Adobe is going to force the ebook vendors to stop supporting the older DRM. (Hadrien Gardeur, Paul Durrant, and Martyn Daniels concur on this interpretation.)

Update: Adobe has backed down and removed the July deadline.

This means that any app or device which still uses the older Adobe DRM will be cut off. Luckily for many users, that penalty probably will not affect readers who use Kobo or Google reading apps or devices; to the best of my knowledge neither uses the Adobe DRM internally. And of course Kindle and Apple customers won't even notice, thanks to those companies' wise decision to use their own DRM.

But everyone else just got screwed.

If you're using Adobe DE 2.1, come July you won't be able to read any newly downloaded DRMed ebooks until after you upgrade to Adobe DE 3.0. If you're using a preferred 3rd-party reading app, you won't be able to download any new DRMed ebooks until after the app developer releases an update.

And if you're using an existing ebook reader, you'd better plan on only reading DRM-free ebooks until further notice.

One thing Adobe seems to have missed is that there are tens of millions of ebook readers on the market that support the older DRM but will probably never be upgraded to the new DRM. Sony and Pocketbook, for example, have released a number of models over the past 5 or so years, most of which have since been discontinued.

Do you really think they're going to invest in updating a discontinued (but otherwise perfectly functional) device?

I don't, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Not only will millions of existing readers be cut off, there are also hundreds of thousands of ebook readers sitting on store shelves which, as of July, will no longer support Adobe DRM.

And do you know what's even better? All signs point to the ebook reader market having peaked in 2011 or 2012 (I have industry sources which have said this) so the existing and soon to be incompatible ereaders will probably outnumber the compatible models for the indefinite future (years if not decades).

If you look hard enough you can still buy many of the ebook readers released in 2010, 2011, and 2012 as new, and you can also find them as refurbs or used. They work just fine today (albeit a little slowly by today's standards) but when July rolls around they will be little more than junk.

And that includes ebook readers owned by libraries and other cost conscious institutions.

If you're beginning to grasp just how bad this move could be, wait a second because I'm not done.

Not only will readers be affected, but so will indie ebookstores. They're going to have to pay to upgrade their servers and their reading apps. That cost is going to hit them in the pocketbook (potentially driving some out of business), and that's not all.

Many if not most of the indie ebookstores are dependent on the various Adobe DRM compatible ebook readers on the market. They cannot afford to develop their own hardware so they rely on readers buying and using devices made by other companies including, Pocketbook, Sony, Gajah (a major OEM), and others.

Once those existing ebook readers are abandoned by Adobe the indie ebookstores will probably lose customers to one or another of the major ebook vendors.

In other words Adobe just gave Amazon a belated Christmas present. After all, everyone might hate Amazon but we also know we can trust them to not break their DRM.

Folks, the above scenario spells out all the reasons why I didn't expect Adobe to completely abandon support for the older DRM. It is so obviously a bad idea that I thought they would avoid it.

With that in mind, I would also like to add an addendum and apply Tyrion's Razor. Perhaps Adobe has internal data which says that this won't be a serious issue.  I seriously doubt it, but it's possible.

P.S. But if this turns out to be the utter disaster I am expecting, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Adobe for on yet another occasion giving DRM a bad name.

About Nate Hoffelder (11118 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

84 Comments on Adobe to Require New Epub DRM in July, Expects to Abandon Existing Users

  1. “In other words Adobe just gave Amazon a belated Christmas present.”

    Why in the world are you (and other pundits) so convinced that Amazon will never ever ever ever ever upgrade Amazon’s DRM?

    The fact that Adobe just upgraded theirs does not imply Amazon won’t upgrade. If anything, I think it more likely to assume Amazon will shortly upgrade their DRM, possibly with less notices (or none).

  2. I hope someone would hack it before July 2014.

  3. Amazon has upgraded their DRM 5 or 6 times (at least) over the past 6 years, but to the best of my knowledge they have not cut off any existing Kindles. Either Amazon rolls out an update for the older model or they continue to serve up a compatible DRM just for that older model.

    I expected Adobe to do the same, simply because it was the customer-friendly option. But I was wrong.

  4. Amazon has, and will most probably update its readers and DRMs. However, since it has direct control of all the supplly chains, from the server TO the firmware version, it has NO problem to keep the DRM almost completelytransparent to users, including software updates…

  5. You’re making the rather large assumption here that Kobo, Sony, et. all won’t update their older devices. There’s certainly nothing stopping them from doing so, and I’m pretty sure their management would agree that making sure customers can buy books for their ereader is generally a good idea.

    There’s also nothing stopping them from just forking the DRM schema like BN did.

  6. KF8 would like to talk to you.

  7. Kobo’s devices won’t need an update quite so badly; they don’t use Adobe DRM internally. Externally, now that could be a problem. But customers who buy Kobo hardware and then buy their ebooks elsewhere are probably less important to Kobo.

    And there is one major stumbling block that will likely prevent the smaller device makers from updating: cost.

    “I’m pretty sure their management would agree that making sure customers can buy books for their ereader is generally a good idea.”

    Sony has released 12 different ereader models since 2006. Given how much trouble it was to get them to support the 500 when it didn’t get the Epub update in 2008, I don’t expect Sony to bother upgrading anything other than the PRS-T3

  8. The same way they keep file format (mostly) transparent to users.

  9. By the end of 2012 Amazon had upgraded every Kindle model besides the original and the K2 to KF8 (5yo and 3yo devices). If you want to set that as a standard, fine. It’s a standard no other device maker will meet.

  10. “but to the best of my knowledge they have not cut off any existing Kindles”

    “every Kindle model besides the original and the K2”

    Do you see how your two statements are mutually exclusive? I’ll give Amazon credit for supporting their older models better than most, but to say they never have planned obsolesce is patently false.

  11. KF8 isn’t a type of DRM.

  12. Uh, last I heard, older devices (and apps) get mobi7 versions of the KF8 ebooks.
    The devices aren’t cut off from new downloads of old books either, whereas Adobe isn’t just cutting the devices from new books but also old books.

  13. Well, this just makes my decision to read on tablets look even better. At the best, the apps I use will be updated (Overdrive, mostly). At worst, I’ll just switch where I get my books from. I’m doing at least half my reading in Scribd right now anyway. But I agree that Adobe is making a rotten move. As Paul Durrant said in the thread you linked to, it hurts the pirates not at all and will only hurt legitimate readers.

  14. Kobo can also start cobbling up a PC-based Kepub download path side-stepping adobe authentication. This might be the push/excuse they need to beef up their walled garden.

  15. Overdrive is probably a safe bet. So is Scribd, which AFAIK uses Adobe DRM – but also can afford to upgrade.

  16. Are those older devices getting Mobi7 because they can’t support KF8 or because there was nothing better available? Not all creators updated their ebooks.

    I ask because I’m pretty sure I saw the improved formatting on the Kindle Touch, KK, and other devices. That or I saw the change notices from Amazon.

  17. I agree. My Kindle 1 is still a valid target for all the ebooks I buy from Amazon, and it gets a old-style MOBI with original DRM. There are a few “graphics rich” ebooks that may not be supported on old devices, but I have never bought one.

    I assume Amazon’s attitude is that they already support the old format, so the cost is low and the impact is also low (a smaller and smaller percent of devices). I would not complain of they did stop supporting the Kindle 1, but I’m glad they still do.

  18. The official story when I heard it was that new books get served as KF8 to devices that support it, mobi7 to devices that don’t.

  19. Yes, but that assumes that there is a KF8 version to send. That might not be true for everything.

  20. The latest nugget to surface at MR is that Adobe is dropping support for hashtag DRM.
    At this point it looks like Adobe is killing Adept DRM as we knew it and replacing it with something else that only does the new DRM.

  21. The question was whether Amazon stopped supporting old Kindles with ebooks, old and new. Which they do. The rest is plumbing. :)

  22. Have any of the indie ebookstores spoken about this? Seems to me like they should at least warn their customers.

  23. Well, isn’t this a nice kettle of fish.

    Though I don’t think there’s any of the major bookstores that *requires* DRM at this point, right?

  24. Ah, so as long as we make sure to call it a new format instead of a new DRM schema its totally cool to cut off support for older customers.

  25. Yes – just like Epub3 is a new format and not a new DRM.

  26. “And there is one major stumbling block that will likely prevent the smaller device makers from updating: cost.”

    What cost? Those smaller retailer aren’t developing the DRM encryption/decryption tools on their own — they license them from Adobe. I’m willing to bet huge sums of money Adobe will happily provide the new tools under the terms of their current contracts, as most of these boilerplate contracts involve maintenance and upgrades.

    This entire article is based on the supposition that Adobe is going to charge retailers for the privilege of upgrading to the new system. Unless you have some evidence that this is the case, you need to calm down, bro.

  27. They’re all quite happy to sell DRM free ebooks.

  28. Updating an eReader is not like updating an app, which is not so trivial as you have to manage the features you added — and this update requires certification from datalogics.

    Updating an eReader means providing with a complete firmware, which is a tremendous task; it demands a lot of resources… Guessing a lot of eReaders won’t be updated is the result of logic in this particular case as manufacturers can’t already keep up with minor updates. Adobe can’t technically help, the manufacturers’ task is colossal and that is the reason why they are quite furious right now.

  29. All readers care is whether they can get new ebooks onto their old readers so as long as they can get their books, they’re covered. And supported.

    Which is what this kerfluffle is all about: the idea that Adobe might cut off owners of generic ereaders from commercial epubs. If they really go ahead with this there are a few people who are going to be annoyed. Or worse.

  30. Unfortunately, while bookstores don’t require DRMs, big publishers do, and bookstores who want to sell the books don’t have much choice.

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