image Quick! If you buy a Kindle book for your K machine or iPhone or iPod Touch, how many other devices can you download it to?

As described by GearDiary, the device limit can vary from publisher to publisher—and you don’t know before you virtually plunk down your money. You just might be limited to enjoyment of your book on just one gizmo.

Is this true, Kindle owners? If so, should the U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigate if Amazon doesn’t straighten out the matter promptly? Isn’t this relevant consumer information? Do we have, in GearDiary’s language, a little “KindleGate”? Love that DRM.

“Ownership” risks?

Furthermore, if  there’s confusion on device limits many months after the Kindle introduction, how about the related issue of download limits for particular devices? They don’t seem to exist, and on the Web Amazon gives the impression the books are there for eternal access (“automatic library backup”). But then again, didn’t buyers of Adobe e-books think they were safe in Amazon lockers—before Amazon ditched Adobe? Just what are the “ownership” risks?

Meanwhile here’s the downloading situation, for Kindle books, as summed up by GearDiary’s Dan Cohen, who sorted out hyper-conflicting stories from Amazon reps:

According to the last customer representative I spoke to…

You are able to redownload your books an unlimited number of times to any specific device.

Any one time the books can be on a finite number of devices. In most cases that means you can have  the same book on six different devices.

Unfortunately the publishers decide how many licenses, that is devices, a book can be on at any one time. While most of the time that will be five or six different devices there will be times when it’s only one device.

At the present time there is no way to know how many devices can be licensed prior to buying the book.

According to the customer rep, there is a project to try to get that information available to the customer, but it’s not yet available.

Finally, when you have reached a limit of six devices and you swap one older device for a new one, it does not automatically reset the number of licenses so you can add the new one. Amazon can release all of the licenses which will remove any given book from all of the devices and then allow you to re-download it that same number of times.

In other words, if his information was accurate, and the runaround I got this afternoon does make me continue to wonder, once you purchase a book you will have access to it going forward.

Tip: You might want to back up your Amazon downloads on your PC via your Kindle’s USB cable. But then we know about hard drives. This is hardly a perfect solution. Let’s just hope Amazon keeps its word.