Mark_frauenfelderThe biggest reason this is news is that it really shouldn’t be news, but it’s a Sunday so why not? On BoingBoing, Mark Frauenfelder complains that that Apple won’t let him download the iBooks e-books he’s already bought and paid for. Apparently there was some snarl about getting the right Apple IDs set up on his particular devices, and he’s ended up with the wrong Apple ID on his iPhone. That photo of a smiling Frauenfelder was not taken at the time.

With Apple, it’s not a simple matter of just switching to the right Apple ID and re-downloading the content. “You can download past purchases on this device with just one Apple ID every 90 days,” the error message on Frauenfelder’s iPhone complacently proclaims. “This device can be used with another Apple ID in 37 days.” Fraunfelder declares he will never buy another e-book from Apple.

I’m honestly surprised he didn’t know better than to buy e-books from Apple in the first place. (One of the commenters under the article smirks, “It’s gotta be a sinking feeling knowing that Cory [Doctorow] will never let you hear the end of this.”) Even leaving aside the way it’s much harder to crack iBooks DRM than most other e-book vendors, you get a lot less flexibility from iBooks even if you don’t want to do that. iBooks can only be read on Apple devices, while most other e-book stores have apps for every platform and some have their own e-ink hardware readers besides.

But I suppose this just goes to show that the thing about Apple is that it’s really, really slick. If you’re the sort of person who is inclined to pay a few hundred bucks every couple of years or so to buy the latest Apple hardware so you can keep running the latest Apple operating systems and software, perhaps you let them lull you into complacency and don’t think much of buying your media from there, too. Just as Amazon makes it easy to buy stuff from them, Apple makes it easy if you’re using Apple already. Then you get rudely awakened somewhere down the road.

Say what you will about Amazon’s walled garden, at least it’s just a software garden and they don’t try to lock you into one particular set of hardware. If you buy an e-book from Amazon, you can be pretty sure it will function on anything with a Kindle application. And even though Amazon does still use its own DRM (where the publishers insist), you generally don’t have to worry about getting locked out of your content for 90 days because you used the wrong login.


  1. Does Kindle let you download ebooks from more than one account to the same device? I think everything gets deleted, correct? While that might be better than 90 days, it’s not a good work around.

    FYI, when iTunes came out with a music store, it was one of the most liberal policies out there (number of computers, devices and copies burned to CD) and it’s gotten more liberal since then. This 90 day thing is a bit of a hassle, but every time I think I’m going to get hit by it, it never causes me a problem…

  2. My iCloud Apple ID (music, photos, FaceTime, iMessages, calendar, notes) is a different Apple ID from my iTunes (music, movies, apps and books). This wasn’t by design originally but ended up working out for me for a variety of reasons (but the reasons are way off topic).

    When I updated to El Capitan last week I noticed on both computers it updated the account in Books (maybe iTunes too?) to my iCloud ID (which is not the correct Apple ID). It gave me a ambiguous warning (a yes/no question but the answer buttons were not yes/no) and on both computers I answered it wrong (I swear I answered it different on both computers but both ended up wrong). It let me switch back but I thought I was going to have a 90 day problem (but I hadn’t purchased anything yet). What made it even more confusing is iBooks doesn’t have a logout option. I had to reboot (maybe I could have waited 15 minutes) to get it to ask me for the logins again.

    I thought this was going to goof me up somehow, but I thought I’d be okay in the end. First, I think with a phone call (or two) Apple will fix this for you (once a year, was what I’ve heard). Second, it was on my computer and I don’t use Apps or Books on the computer, I use them on my iDevices. It would have been inconvenient, but I hadn’t purchased anything yet.

    On OS X and iOS Apple (too) frequently asks for your login and password, but sometimes it isn’t very clear why it’s asking and if you put the wrong one in, it’s messed up…

  3. Silo-ing and DRM are simply anti-consumer, no matter who dos it. DRM also makes content less usable where things like virtual printing (to PDF), screen captures, copying selected text to the clipboard and transferring ownership are disallowed via technical means. The net effect of this is to discard the advantages of digital vs print and forestall the day when most readers prefer digital.
    The instigators of all these unnecessary barriers are the publishers, not Apple, Amazon, et. al. Are they just plain stupid or are they stupid like a fox?

  4. Just a couple of days ago a relative of mine showed me a huge downside to many Android devices that makes this issue pale in comparison.

    She’d gotten an Android phone and is becoming frustrated at how little space there is remaining on it for pictures of the kids or audiobooks. One glance at its screens shows why. With it came dozens and dozens of apps. Because she did not choose them, she doesn’t even know what the vast majority of them do. And when she tries to delete them, she gets vaguely menacing warning messages that I told her to ignore.

    And yes, iOS users complain about Apple apps that they can’t delete. But there’s only a few of them and an equally small number of third-party apps. There’s no comparison on that score between my iPhone and her Android phone. Apple is even suggesting it may offer the ability to delete its own apps.

    There’s a reason for that difference. Apple makes its money on the hardware and avoids pursing alternative sources of income such at the money my relative’s cell phone company got paid for cluttering up her phone with unneeded and unwanted Android apps.

    No choice is hassle-free, but I suspect the hassles of Android attempting to make money in devious ways off an otherwise free product are greater than those where someone pays upfront for a far less hassle-prone experience. She’s going to spend hours cleaning apps off her phone that I don’t have to bother with.

    The reality is that almost without exception cell phone companies are run by jerks and, since everyone is a jerk, none of them (T-Mobile partially excepted) need to compete by offering the plans and features their customers actually want. Phones come cluttered with unwanted apps. Plans are rigid and fixed. You have to pay for more services that you need or get docked with penalty fees. Phone and data use should be like water and electricity use. We should pay for what we use not some much larger amount. And minutes and megabytes should never expire.

    Slowly Apple has been using its marketing muscle to kick back against some of the worst of those outrages. Because Android’s fortunes are closely linked to its primary customers, cellular phone makers and cell companies, Android does little of that. Android users are second or third-class citizens in the Android eco-system. Pleasing them matters little.

  5. Amazon lets you reregister to another account, retaining on device the ebooks already downloaded.
    But only on an eink Kindle.
    Some people have managed to install two different Apps on one device, ie Cloud Reader and Kindle for PC – ,and attach these to different accounts.
    There is also the family feature or sharing accounts

    “copying selected text to the clipboard ”

    Amazon allow this but only on some devices and Apps. They also don’t mention it in user guides. It was removed from Kindle for PC but may be coming back.

    Little Egret in Walton-on-Thames

  6. Removing those unwanted apps from my phone was a lot easier than the cardio workout my wife got when she bought a new Ipad and registered it to a different email address than her previous one.

    Apple does some things very well. It does some things poorly, and there’s not a lot of middle ground in between.

  7. I stopped buying my books from Apple a long time ago. Besides the problems listed above, I had to rename the AppleID that iTunes uses when Apple changed the rules (requiring it to look like an e-mail) – that was a lot of work. Then I had to add an iCloud account because that ID wouldn’t work with “Find My Friends”. And I had to buy a 3rd party contacts subscription to share my contacts with my wife (sharing an iCloud account got more and more problematical). And now, every time I reboot my Mac, iTunes requires me to enter my password again.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail