I mentioned my trouble with losing one of my eReader e-books from Barnes & Noble a few weeks back. In that case, the matter was resolved amicably, but it seems Barnes & Noble isn’t the only store to have trouble with e-books ported from other companies. Over the last week, some Kobo users on the MobileRead forums have been discussing problems they’re having with their Kobo libraries, including with books from the customers’ Sony Reader libraries that Sony had passed over to Kobo when it exited the e-book business.

One of the issues has to do with concealing the option to download ACSM files in order to be able to pull Kobo EPUB files down to the desktop reader. Unlike Barnes & Noble, however, Kobo hasn’t actually removed the option to do so—just hidden it under the three-dot menu at the far right of the listing for the e-book in question.

Another issue is that the “Trash” folder has been removed from the library. Now books customers delete from their library are simply automatically removed, though they have the option of searching the book in the Kobo store to add it back at no cost.

Some users are reporting that some or all of the books they’d added from their Sony Reader libraries are missing. They were apparently removed from their library during a recent software upgrade, and the customers now have to search them in Kobo’s store and add them back individually. One reader reports missing around 460 Sony books from her library, which is an awful lot to have to add back one at a time! Some customers also report that the Kobo site wants them to repurchase some of the missing volumes. (“This is why I back up and ‘future proof’ all my ebooks,” writes MobileRead user MGlitch, and he wasn’t the only forum regular to cop to making Calibre backups.)

A Kobo representative actually chimed in on the thread, telling MobileRead users that they were following the thread and trying to fix the glitches that had been caused by the recent software changes and restore customers’ e-books. It’s good that they’re paying attention, and that’s definitely better than my first go-round with Barnes & Noble support over my own missing e-book. Hopefully they’ll get it sorted out soon.

That being said, this drives home yet again the point that publisher-imposed DRM has made and is making continued maintenance of e-book libraries from commercial providers a big old mess. About the only way you can be sure you can retain the e-books you pay for is to outright break the law and crack the DRM in order to be able to back them up against your company going out of business and losing the purchases you paid for.

The DMCA anti-circumvention law is remarkably ineffective, given how simple it is to ignore. It’s like an interstate highway speed limit, except that this is a speed limit that costs you money for obeying it instead of breaking it. I recently got an email from Cory Doctorow asking me to elaborate on the horror story I’d sent in when the EFF asked for them to submit to the FTC, about the more-than-$200 worth of eReader and Fictionwise e-books Barnes & Noble hadn’t been able to move to their library when it shut those stores down. In the email I sent back, I wrote:

Just to note, I was fully aware the e-books had restrictive DRM on them when I bought them, so this may not be that useful for the purpose of convincing the government that consumers aren’t aware of DRM. But they had reader clients for all the devices I used, so it wasn’t a problem reading the e-books where I wanted to. And I was under the impression that the stores would continue to be accessible in perpetuity, given that they were in no danger of going bankrupt. However, I hadn’t counted on them being bought up and then shut down by a bigger company!

When Barnes & Noble shut down eReader and Fictionwise, it was unable to move all the e-books I’d bought from Fictionwise and eReader over to its new store, because of publishing deals that had expired. That included the 29-volume “Survivalist” series, which had cost something like $5 to $6 each (I no longer remember the exact amount), the annotated edition of A Fire Upon the Deep, plus a number of others I no longer remember. Thanks to the DMCA, I was unable to legally back these e-books up. By the letter of the law, DRM cost me at least $200.

I don’t consider it to be a good idea to admit to breaking the law (if, in fact, I did so). That’s one of the dumb parts of the DMCA, that it turns breaking DRM into the “fight club.” The first rule is, you don’t talk about it. But discussing the matter in a purely theoretical sense, it would have been stupid not to break the law in that case. The law wanted to rip me off on e-books I paid good money for, solely because the company’s new ownership didn’t care to honor its side of an old bargain anymore. How is that right, in any way, shape, or form? How can that be justified by a law that’s only supposed to prevent piracy?

To this day, customers of these old DRM-locked stores, such as Sony and Kobo, are finding themselves in the exact same position, and some of them are outright admitting that they broke the law to avoid the same problem—Sony couldn’t transfer all its e-books to Kobo, either, even though Kobo itself sells some of those exact same e-books. It’s the people who didn’t do that who lost out on titles they purchased, and are now running into these problems with the books Kobo could transfer over. Glitches in a complicated computer system deprive them of their own legitimately-purchased material, and so penalize them for staying within the law. What an utter mess.

Image credit Brendan Mruk/Matt Lee, used under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.


  1. One of the issues has to do with concealing the option to download ACSM files in order to be able to pull Kobo EPUB files down to the desktop readerUnlike Barnes & Noble, however, Kobo hasn’t actually removed the option to do so—just hidden it under the three-dot menu at the far right of the listing for the e-book in question.

    Several months ago I made my first Kobo website e-book purchase for my Kobo e-reader. I downloaded it to my computer, but the e-reader wouldn’t accept it. I finally got it on my Kobo e-reader by downloading a DRM-stripping program. When you have to strip DRM from an e-book you purchased from the Kobo website to use on your Kobo e-reader, things aren’t going well.

  2. yep, looks like it has happened to me as well. Kobo was partnered with Whitcoulls here in New Zealand. Looking at the old version of the Kobo library I had 1012 eBooks, the new version shows only 478 eBooks!! I always load my eBook purchases into Calibre, but I find it galling that Kobo can behave in this manner.

  3. Kobo also make it very difficult to determine which eBooks are missing from the new library because their search functionality has always been problematic. When I try to sort by title the eBooks in the new library aren’t even in alphabetical order.

  4. Years ago I asked an Adobe software developer why Adobe’s own reader was so user-hostile. He didn’t deny that it had problems. He just said that a lot of the woes existed because ebook retailers, who were funding the reader’s development, were obsessed with DRM.

    We’re seeing more and more of the negative results of that obsession. It’s giving ebook purchasers, most of who aren’t geeky enough to break DRM, the feeling that getting an ebook is more like renting where their lease can expire when some hardware, software, or marketing change makes it unavailable. That’s one reason why I’ve shifted to buying used print books rather than ebooks. Buy carefully, and you’ll pay no more, postage included, than even marked-down digital versions. Of course, buying used means the publisher and author gets nothing from that sale. That’s not good for writers.

    In the end, I suspect ebook retailers and publishers will simply have to grit their teeth and accept a universal ebook registry. Buying an ebook from any of them will result in that purchase being registered and the buyer being able, at any time in the future, to download (again) a version in any supported format, although perhaps still DRMed. In the long term, that’s the only way a DRMed book can be reconciled with calling it a sale.

    Will that happen? Probably not or, to be more precise, if it happens Amazon won’t participate. When the public doubts if that ebook they’ve bought will always be available, their doubts will be toward almost everyone but Amazon. Its marketshare and obvious committment to ebooks make it a safe purchase. The only other retailers who come close are the iBookstore, whose ebooks can only be read on its devices, and Smashwords, which doesn’t DRM books and thus mostly sells books from independent authors and small publishers.

  5. The old library interface (including the trash folder) is still accessible. They are still ironing out things with the new library interface. But my old and new libraries are currently showing the correct number of books.

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