AP Reporter Finds Epub Isn’t Quite a Universal Format (Thanks to DRM)

ebook-drm-server-01[1]While some pundits continue to rail against Amazon for using its own proprietary ebook format and DRM, the reality is that thanks to the DRM required by publishers, the major purveyors of Epub are almost as bad as Amazon in creating walled gardens for the ebooks they sell.

Thanks to DRM, transferring Epub ebooks from one (supposedly compatible) platform to another is almost as difficult as transferring a Kindle ebook to Epub (which requires that you strip the DRM first). One AP reporter found this out the hard way:

Unfortunately, trying to move my EPub books around gets frustrating. I should be able to read on Barnes & Noble’s Nook devices the books I’ve legitimately bought for Kobo devices, for instance. But it isn’t easy to figure out how to do. Instructions, if any, tend to focus on how to bring in books bought elsewhere, not how to move them out. And it took lots of Google searches to find some missing steps.

The reporter goes on to detail the detail the stumbling block encountered, including vague instructions, incompatible versions of Adobe DE, and Apple.


To start, Kobo was less than helpful in explaining how to transfer the files, forcing the reporter to Google for additional information. And even then the process didn’t work smoothly:

But to read it on a Nook GlowLight e-reader, I had to connect the device to the computer and authorize it with my Adobe ID. It took a few tries to get that right. I then had to drag the file to the Nook and disconnect the e-reader.

I tried that with a Nook tablet from Samsung, but I couldn’t authorize it through Digital Editions. I found a way to add my Adobe ID by going through the Nook settings on the device — not the regular settings. Once I did that, I couldn’t find a way to sign out.

To make matters worse, when the reporter tried to reverse the operation, it simply didn’t work at all:

After downloading a Nook version of “Allegiant” to the Windows computer, Digital Editions told me I needed an “unlock code.” What’s that? I tried my Nook username and password. That didn’t work. It took some Googling to find a clue in some online forum: It’s the name on my Barnes & Noble account and the default credit card number. OK, that worked.

I then transferred the book to a Kobo Aura e-reader. But I couldn’t read it. Turned out the Aura had an older version of Digital Editions, while only the newer ones support Nook’s copy protection.

That last bit is odd; I know that I’ve transferred Nook ebooks to Kobo hardware before, but perhaps I used a different trick. (Or perhaps my blood sacrifice to Ba’al may have helped.)

In any case, this reporter’s tale is a graphic reinforcement to the new campaign which Cory Doctorow and the EFF have launched this week. They seek to eradicate DRM, and the above post offers a great example why DRM needs to die.

When it is fully functional, DRM has proven time and again to be ineffective at restricting piracy. At best, it is a user hostile technology which serves no purpose other than to cause pain.

images by vrogy

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. kurt21 January, 2015

    ^ hugs Calibre

    1. Reader21 January, 2015


  2. Anthony21 January, 2015

    Well, it also helps keep one from switching to a rival platform/service easily—less incentive to buy books from Barnes & Noble if everything’s on a Kindle format (or vice versa).

    1. Nate Hoffelder23 January, 2015

      Heh. And here I thought the point of Epub was to create a universal format, but you raise a good point that the definition of “universal” depends on your viewpoint.

      In the case of the ebookstores, their view of the word might only extend as far as making it easier for suppliers to get ebooks to them, and not as far as making it easier for customers to take the ebooks elsewhere. You can see that view in B&N blocking downloads, and Kobo providing vague and incomplete instructions on transferring ebooks.

      But I could be wrong.

  3. Darryl21 January, 2015

    Could the Nook Book that wouldn’t work with Kobo have been downloaded with rmsdk 10. I wonder where the reporter got the “Nook Version”. Or is Barnes and Noble now activated the new DRM? Surely not?

  4. Bazarov22 January, 2015

    There is no DRM in the Scandinavian e-book markets , so we have none of these problems. The standard format for books in Scandinavian languages is EPUB with watermark.

  5. DeeDee22 January, 2015

    That’s why I remove DRM as soon as I download the book.

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