I recently started reading Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos. It’s a fantastic series of books. I had downloaded a cracked MOBI format version from somewhere — something that is legal in Switzerland.
However, I also want the publisher and hopefully Dan Simmons himself to make some money, since I’m liking the books a lot and will probably read all four in the series. What I discovered is that even today, in 2013, it is impossible to legally buy an ebook in Switzerland without giving money to two companies known to be tax evaders and surrendering your personal information to at least one US entity.
If you buy the book from Amazon, you support a company that isn’t paying any EU or local country taxes even though it turns a happy profit in countries like Germany. Also, Amazon has the right to delete the book from your device at any time if they like to, without giving any reason. That’s more like renting a book than owning a book.
If you think you could support your local book shop by buying from stores such as bol.ch or books.ch, you’re in for a rude awakening: Not only is bol.ch 300% as expensive as Amazon and 200% as expensive as books.ch, both of these companies use Adobe DRM on their books.
In order to use an Adobe DRM-crippled book, you need to support two known tax evaders, two American companies; you have the choice between Microsoft and Adobe or Apple and Adobe. Adobe’s DRM restriction system works only on Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows. In order to use it, you will have to submit personal information to companies in the USA. Finally, you will have to tie your ebook reading devices to your Adobe ID.
There is no way to keep your money or information in Switzerland, even though you’re buying from a Swiss bookstore.
I still bought the ebook in the end, but I will keep reading the already decrypted version that I’ve downloaded elsewhere, since I can’t use what I’ve legally bought. Think about it, though: If you buy ebooks in Switzerland, you are sending the signal that it’s OK to cripple books in this way, and that it’s OK for you to surrender your personal information and a part of your control to known tax evaders in the USA. Do you really want to send that message?
If not, what options do Swiss people have? I can think of three:
- Keep downloading pre-cracked books that work on any device, without collaborating with US companies. This sucks because that way, authors never get your money.
- Buy the paperback and download the book. This sucks because the paperback costs three times as much and printing and shipping dead paper around the globe is a waste if you would already be willing to read on your ebook reader.
- Stop reading ebooks until the market understands and offers truly decentralized, local methods to buy ebooks. Unfortunately, most people don’t even understand that there is a problem and will happily feed these companies their money.
All of this also applies to EU citizens, only that EU citizens cannot legally download cracked books, so they lose option 1. It’s sad: I wanted to relieve my conscience but instead I’ve stumbled upon something that makes me feel even worse about ebooks than I did in the beginning.
Update: I contacted bol.ch and they said that not all (but most) ebooks in their store are crippled with DRM. They say, predictably, that they have no control over DRM and that it’s the publishers that hold on to this crippling. If they want to carry an ebook, they must also agree to cripple the title for their customers.
Update 2: I just received an answer from Orell Füssli, the company behind books.ch. They say that they receive many complaints due to DRM, more complaints every day, and that something must change. What exactly will be the new strategy, they can’t yet prophesize. It’s good to see that even the bookstores themselves hate DRM. Then my question is: Why do publishers stubbornly stick to that crap?