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.

84 thoughts 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).

    1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. “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.

          2. 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.

          3. 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.

          4. 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.

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

          6. 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.

          7. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. 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…

    3. Linux user here. Adobe stopped providing linux users with updated flash last year. I’m not recommending their software to anyone again. Sticking with open-source alternatives. Everything is running perfectly right now on my system, and I don’t need more DRM in my life either Adobe to survive like your backwards company.

  2. 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.

    1. 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

      1. 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.

      2. “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.

        1. 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.

          1. Changing the authentication system from one encryption schema to another is actually very simple to do, because all that needs to be changed is that one little thing. And, once again, Adobe supplies all of the authentication software to the developers — it is not programmed in-house.

            It’s about as drag-and-drop as firmware development gets.

          2. Except it is not simple as you picture it is.

            RMSDK + ACS is a kind of Frankenstein’s monster controlled by trolls.

            It’s all or nothing. You have to update to RMSDK 10 in order to support the new encryption scheme. There is no other way to update to the new DRM, especially as… your app must be re-certified if you added any feature to RMSDK 9.x.

            Otherwise, why would eReader manufacturers be furious? What’s your *reasonable* explanation? (Hint: there is none, got info from manufacturers as a matter of fact…)

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

          1. True enough. Which seems like an advertising boon to me. I’ve already started to include mentions that the books I publish are DRM free to protect against EXACTLY this sort of thing.

  5. Fun while it lasted. These fools can die with their secrets.

    I’m not investing in media with a ticking time bomb (aka the free market) attached.

    1. Not sure what you mean here. I sell DRM-free eBooks, so you actually own the things. I don’t quite get how “the free market” factors in here.

      If anything, this is being driven BY the free market. So go tell publishers you won’t stand for it. Vote with your pocketbook. That’s all part of the free market as well.

      1. > I don’t quite get how “the free market” factors in here.

        For one, it causes businesses and their servers to go AWOL.

        > If anything, this is being driven BY the free market.

        YMMV, but I don’t consider the current bookselling market a free market.

        > So go tell publishers you won’t stand for it. Vote with your pocketbook.

        That’s what I meant and it’s what I intend to do.

          1. Tor isn’t a big publisher. It’s a small part of a big publisher. I mean, sure, if you read a lot of sf you know who they are. And Baen, in industry terms, barely registers as existing. So they don’t quite fall outside the “media”, but they don’t influence it very much, either.

  6. Well, it’s not the first time Adobe does something like that. A long time ago I would be left with an unopenable ebooks (young and stupid me bought some DRMed PDFs) but luckily Fictionwise (before it had been purchades by B&N) provided me with a replacement copies in different format…

  7. Err, I have two BN Nooks…..

    If I’m reading this right – are they saying that these devices will essentially become useless after July 2014?

    That is a pretty shady move on Adobe and BN’s part, if so.

    1. I’m not entirely sure that B&N will be affected. Their DRM is different, so they might continue to function irregardless.

      On the other hand, B&N might also be affected and decide to respond by shutting down the Nook division. it’s a money pit.

          1. Still not convinced. What’s wrong with ‘regardless’ or ‘anyway’..? Why resort to clumsy-sounding, non standard words?

    1. Or just wait until it gets cracked. As long as these books have to be opened on a device that isn’t constantly connected to the internet, they’re always going to be cracked. None of the current DRM schemes have been secure, this new one won’t be.

      I’m not reall sure what the point of this is as the new scheme will be cracked and the books leaked. Adobe presumably doesn’t make that much from ereader sales compared with book sales.

      Moves like this are just boneheaded, all they do is remind people that normally don’t care about DRM why they should.

        1. That is simply nonsense. How exactly would always-on work with the ebook readers which don’t even have Wifi? How would it work with tablets that only have Wifi and are often out of range of an open signal?

          Michael tends to make stuff up just because it sounds good. He also said that the Kindle Fire would have free 3G, Amazon would adopt Epub, and other nonsense that was never going to happen. You really shouldn’t believe what he writes.

          P.S. And remember, Michael is also the blogger who was banned from MobileRead for piracy and lying to the staff about piracy:
          http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=85235

          P.P.S. And then about 5 months later his sockpuppet was banned from MobileRead:
          http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1694983#post1694983

      1. that’s terrible, I do a lot of reading when I’m out in the field fossil hunting and often I barely have cell phone service let alone internet of any sort. ‘Always on’ would force me to learn how to crack the DRM, or just pirate the books I want to read (or switch to kindle, which is becoming more and more appealing). I guess Adobe wants people to pirate books, since that’s what will happen when they punish legitimate users.

  8. “At that time I didn’t think Adobe would make the mistake of cutting off so many existing readers”

    I’m honestly baffled. This sounds almost exactly like the Microsoft PlaysForSure fiasco from just a couple years ago. Whatever led you to believe that Adobe wouldn’t do the same thing?

      1. Was it, though? It was only a “mistake” from the perspective of people who bought DRM under the old system. Microsoft doesn’t seem to have been hurt by it at all. There were some angry comments on slashdot and in the tech press, and then everybody forgot about it.

        1. Even Microsoft should have learned from earlier experience.

          Back in 2000, one of the big selling features of the iPaq and others in a new generation of Pocket PCs was Microsoft Reader. There was much hype about the Barnes & Noble online ebook store that would soon launch alongside the new hardware. Having read quite a few books on my original US Robotics Pilot, I was looking forward to the iPaq’s better screen.

          Finally the big day came and many people purchased their books only to discover that they didn’t work in their Pocket PCs. No-one had mentioned that while Pocket Reader supported DRM, there was an extra level of DRM for “Premium” eBooks that Pocket Reader didn’t support. “It’s optional”, they said, “Most books won’t have it.” In reality approximately all of them did.

          Microsoft and Barnes & Noble “made it all better” by handing users some public domain books already available via Project Gutenberg, plus some Star Trek books that were little more than fan fiction. And a promise of a software update with full support, Real Soon.

          A version with full DRM support was quietly released nineteen (19) months later, but by then few people were still watching for it. The standard has since been dropped, and the books cannot be read on newer Windows Phone devices.

          The later PlaysForSure fiasco came as no surprise.

  9. Definitely will vote with my pocketbook. Highly recommend that you purchase your hardware for a Linux ONLY vendor, (ZaReason’s ZaTab ZT2 – http://zareason.com/shop/ZaTab-ZT2.html – is one heck of a tablet and its rootable; not sure if the Linux vendor System76 does tablets or not.)

    Having a rootable device as your book reader means you can always install another version of Linux on it (w/ DRM free software) if you want. For .PDF files I long ago started using evince, faster and better than Adobe Reader.

    For content, I will not purchase any DRM product (song, video, book, etc..) that prevents me from consuming that content as I see fit, whether on my tablet, my laptop or my desktop.

    So as others have stated and worth repeating, we vote with our dollars and avoid anything using the new DRM. Its game over for Adobe, eventually.

    Adobe’s loss.

    1. In the US, sure. But what about the rest of the world? B&N has sold almost no devices outside of the US, and Amazon has been most successful in the US and a few other countries. That leaves a lot of the world not spoken for.

      Got any numbers to back up your supposition?

      And how do you know that B&N won’t be affected? As I mentioned above, for all we know B&N might decide that this is a perfect excuse to kill the Nook platform.

      1. It is going to depend on who runs the NOOK authentication servers, B&N or Adobe, and whether Adobe can force NOOK to switch.

        As for shutting down Nook unilaterally… Well, that is going to depend on the terms of their contract with MS. We already know the contract has some non-performance clauses so they may not be able to shut Nook down without paying a price.

        1. First, do we know for sure that the MS-Nook servers are the same as the B&N-Nook servers?

          And you’re right about MS, but I have long been expecting MS to take ownership of that chunk of the Nook Store anyway.

          1. Has the deal changed?
            The original deal had MS selling ebooks from Windows and Nook fulfilling them in return for a piece of the pie and MS guaranteeing a minimum sales level. That implies MS is piggybacking on Nook backend systems.

        2. There are no “NOOK authentication servers.” The B&N DRM uses password protection, where the password is generated by scrambling up the user’s name and credit card number using standard SHA-1 and AES algorithms. The DRM isn’t tied to any device, and it isn’t tied to any servers. All you need is the correct name and credit card number, and you can open a NOOK Book anywhere.

          This is why there’s such polarization about B&N’s DRM. Some people hate it because it requires a credit card number for the download, some people hate it merely because it’s different, but a lot of us love it because it’s a straightforward password system that doesn’t rely on anything outside of the e-book file itself.

  10. Okey. So… just for a moment, lets think about solutions for this.
    Im not familiar with this matter, yet. So, maybe im waaaay off now!

    For those who wont be able to upgrade, what can we do?
    Is there a possible way to create an independent solution for this?
    Im thinking about something like open source e-reader application.

  11. I recently installed ADE 3.0 on my Mac running 10.6.8. ADE would not run. So there’s that wrinkle too. (I have my reasons for not installing Mavericks so nobody lecture me on that B.S.).

    1. OverDrive is probably Adobe’s single largest customer, so it’s more likely that Adobe is under OD’s thumb. And yes, this is going to force libraries to abandon their ereader collections.

  12. Looks like a reprieve has been issued.

    Eli

    Subject: Adobe Revises New Time Frame for Migrating to RMSDK 10 and ACS 5

    Dear Valued Datalogics Customers:

    As stated during our January 29th Datalogics and Adobe webinar announcing the release of the new hardened Digital Rights Management (DRM) for Reader Mobile SDK (RMSDK) 10 and Adobe Content Server (ACS) 5, Adobe revealed a July 2014 time table for migrating to RMSDK 10 and ACS 5.

    After receiving feedback from customers and webinar attendees, Adobe has revised the migration timetable for customers. “Adobe does not plan to stop support for ACS 4 or RMSDK 9. ACS 5 books will be delivered to the older RMSDK 9 based readers”, according to Shameer Ayyappan, Senior Product Manager at Adobe. “We will let our resellers and publishers decide when they wish to set the DRM flag on ACS 5, thus enforcing the need for RMSDK 10 based readers.”

    In other words, ACS and RMSDK customers can migrate to the new hardened DRM that provides a higher degree of security to EPUB & PDF content and prevents unauthorized viewing of content now and in the future, in a timeframe that makes sense for them.

    We’ll continue to work closely with Adobe on the transition details, and will post additional information on our blog at http://blogs.datalogics.com/ or feel free to contact our support representatives at [email protected] or [email protected].

    Thank you,

    Datalogics Team

  13. Or, you know, just do like MP3s and don’t have DRM. I never have to worry about my music becoming unplayable. Or my physical books, for that matter. I think this is the biggest reason I’ve just been checking out books from the library rather than buying them.

  14. I’m not surprised they want to update the DRM scheme, it’s been broken for years. There was a perl (or was it python) script floating around the various pastebins that stripped the DRM. Lets just hope the DRM folks don’t read Amit Sahai’s crypto research or we are all screwed.

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