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Penguin Pilfers Public, Prefers Pointless Practices


OverDrive recently sent an email to their library subscribers detailing some of the changes coming due to Penguin Publishing deciding to walk away from libraries, you know, some of the biggest book buyers in America. Now, if you’ve been following the absurdity of Penguin deciding that libraries are the enemy and that we will, I guess, plunder and pirate eBooks to our patrons; then this email comes as no surprise. What did surprise me was one of Penguins new rules when it comes to Kindle books loaned through OverDrive. Here’s what they said:

Additionally, Penguin eBooks loaned for reading on Kindle devices will need to be downloaded to a computer, then transferred to the device over USB.  For library patrons, this means Penguin eBooks will no longer be available for over-the-air delivery to Kindle devices or to Kindle apps.

I added the emphasis there.

If you need to see a clue that big publishers like Penguin don’t “get” eBooks and don’t even understand their own markets, then those bolded words are the equivalent of Velma turning to Shaggy and Scooby and saying “Jinkies!”

Let me take this from a tech standpoint, indeed, from the standpoint of a guy who not only knows what eBooks are, but how they work.

The standard model of putting something on a Kindle is to do so wirelessly. You hook up to a wireless network, sync it, it downloads all your new stuff, and you’re ready to go. Indeed, Amazon depends on this methodology so much that the Kindle Fire doesn’t even ship with a USB cable. Sure, you can get a USB cable for the Kindle Fire, but the fact that it doesn’t come with one says a lot about how Amazon expects you to use the device.

So, as things go, normally I would check out an eBook from an OverDrive library, Then I do the little dance through a couple of webpages to authorize it for, and send it to, my Kindle device. And then I sync my Kindle to the cloud and get my book. Once it’s on my Kindle I can do two things with it. I can.

  1. Read it.
  2. Delete it.

That’s it. In the end, that’s all a Kindle is good for. Sure, you can make notes and what not but you’re making notes while doing number one.

The USB cable: Not doing a damn thing about piracy since 2001.

Okay, now then, let’s take a look at Penguin’s idea. First off, since Penguin is worried about libraries using eBooks, then I’m going to have to assume that they see Amazon’s over-the-air distribution of books as a security risk of some sort. I’m not sure how that’s a security risk, but let’s play along. So, instead of downloading an eBook directly to my Kindle where I can only do the things listed above, I now need to download it to my computer and copy it to my Kindle using a cable.

Fine. Using our numerical model above let’s see what we can do. You download the eBook to your computer where you can.

  1. Read it.
  2. Delete it.
  3. Use several different software applications to hack the eBook file and remove the DRM.
  4. Copy the newly liberated eBook file to your Kindle, forgoing the USB cable because now you can just email it to your Kindle and pick it up over wifi.
  5. Copy the newly liberated eBook file to your friend’s Kindle, your wife’s Kindle, your wife’s friend’s Kindle, and to the Kindle of the guy sleeping with your wife’s friend.
  6. Oh wait, your wife’s friend’s boyfriend (see above) doesn’t have a Kindle, he has a Nook. Let’s convert that Kindle file to ePub.
  7. Hey, now you have a Kindle version and an ePub version! And wow, this book is really good. Maybe I’ll share it with some other friends and set it up as a torrent because, after all the Internet is your friend.
  8. Crap, you don’t want to lose that eBook, do you? Better back it up to your external hard drive. In fact, make a couple of copies and send one to your Dropbox account or something. That way, if there’s a hard drive crash, you can get that book again.

So, as you can see, forcing you to download a Kindle book to a computer is much safer than just sending it directly to a device that can only do two things with it.

Gabe Newell, the Valve guy, is often quoted as saying that “Piracy is almost always a service problem…” and that’s true. However, there’s a piece left out of his comments that he said a little later, and that’s the piece that should really resonate with publishers who turn their backs on libraries. He goes on to say “Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customers use or by creating uncertainty.”

As I’ve said before, if people can’t readily get an eBook at a library, and if they can’t download a copy for a reasonable price, they’ll go elsewhere and not only get a copy of the book, but get a copy of the book with which they can do anything they like. (By the way, selling an eBook at more than half of the hardcover price is not a reasonable price.) After all, if a reader can’t get it at the library, there’s always another way.


  1. Thanks for outlining the obvious about why this is a terrible business decision for Penguin. I swear we have to start teaching “How to steal the stuff they won’t let us share” workshops at the library.

  2. Pingback: Why Penguin Group is Not Really Evil «

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