Barnes & Noble’s Incompatible Non-Universal ePub

I don’t know why this should shock anybody.

Still, it makes the PDF press release [PDF link] title all the more ironic:

Adobe and Barnes & Noble Join Forces to Standardize eBook Technology

By standardizing on EPUB and collaborating with Adobe on a content protection standard based on Adobe technology, Barnes & Noble is delivering the richest range of content available, across a broader array of devices than anybody else,” said William J. Lynch, president of Barnes & Noble.com. “Consumers can feel confident that when they buy their digital content from BN.com, they can read it on more devices than any other bookstore.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Let me parse this.

By standardizing on EPUB — ah, good! Everyone except Kindle is on the same page now. ePub for everybody! You can buy ePub here, there, and even everywhere — at Barnes & Noble and all other ePub-pusher storefronts — and it will run on anything that uses ePub.

Um, no.

Because of this:

they can read it on more devices than any other bookstore — the key words are devices and bookstore. Meaning, those devices must run the software of the bookstore, meaning Barnes & Noble.

Which then makes the next sentence in that press release an outright lie:

This collaboration with Adobe further delivers on our commitment to provide the digital content our customers want, anytime, anywhere and on whatever device they choose.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

What if I choose a Sony Reader? Or a Cooler? Or Astak?

Out of luck.

Because of this:

Adobe is integrating Barnes & Noble’s eReader social content protection technology into Adobe Content Server, Adobe Reader Mobile SDK and, eventually, into Adobe Digital Editions.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Barnes & Noble’s eReader social content protection technology — this is the eReader DRM feature, which places the eBook buyer’s name and credit card number in the eBook file. So, if you pass that file on, there’s your name and credit card number for everyone to see.

No other device aside from the Nook and those running the Barnes & Noble eReader software can deal with this form of DRM.

ePubs purchased at Barnes & Noble will “stay in Barnes & Noble.”

The only hope is that as other manufacturers — Sony, et al — update their device firmware, they will add this method of DRM to it.

It’s not just device firmware, either: Adobe Digital Editions and Sony Library will both require updating too to handle this.

In summary: The Nook can read ePub with the special (for now) Barnes & Noble “social DRM” as well as all other Adobe DRM ePub files (from public libraries or bought even from Sony’s Reader Store). The reverse is not true: No device other than the Nook right now can process the new “social DRM” scheme the Nook uses.

When will ePub again be “universal?” Adobe says by the end of 2010.

How’s that for a hell of a wait?

Additional:

Customer FAQ: Adobe and Barnes & Noble

8 Responses to Barnes & Noble’s Incompatible Non-Universal ePub

  1. laura says:

    Just a picky detail concerning your description of the Social DRM feature. You said, “So, if you pass that file on, there’s your name and credit card number for everyone to see.”

    Actually, if I read the FAQ correctly, only a “non-reversible one-way hash” of the ID and credit card number are stored in the file. So in theory, you could transmit the file and this information could not be seen by anyone (unless the algorithm used for the hash were not cryptographically secure).

    The protection is supposed to come from use of the ID and credit card number as a password that allows the device to recompute the hash and compare to the stored value and then decrypt the file if they match. The relationship between the hash and the file key is not clear (I have not looked for explanations elsewhere, I’m just basing my comments on the FAQ and my knowledge of how DRM solutions usually work).

    I will not go into a discussion of this, which is rather off-topic to your post, but I am very surprised that I have not seen more discussion regarding the use of this mechanism.

    I am not interested in using a device that requires me to enter my credit card number as a password to read a book I’ve already purchased. Geesh.

    Another reason to get any of those other devices that don’t require this mechanism.

    • mikecane says:

      Wrong. It’s just like eReader. The desktop app has the hash/code and the cleartext of your name and CC number is embedded for all to see in the eBook file. There have been *very* detailed descriptions of this elsewhere which is not permitted by law for me to post links to.

      • laura says:

        Well, it’s obvious I haven’t even looked at those descriptions. Sorry, I seem to have given them too much credit to have thought of the *obvious pitfalls* of such a solution.

        All I can say is, this is even more stupid than I thought.

  2. […] narratives, neither in fiction nor non-fiction, despite the pervasiveness of the PDF format; the [not really, not yet] standard ePub format; the existence for several years now of dedicated e-readers, tablet and handheld computers; and […]

  3. […] narratives, neither in fiction nor non-fiction, despite the pervasiveness of the PDF format; the [not really, not yet] standard ePub format; the existence for several years now of dedicated e-readers, tablet and handheld computers; and […]

  4. […] narratives, neither in fiction nor non-fiction, despite the pervasiveness of the PDF format; the [not really, not yet] standard ePub format; the existence for several years now of dedicated e-readers, tablet and handheld computers; and […]

  5. […] narratives, neither in fiction nor non-fiction, despite the pervasiveness of the PDF format; the [not really, not yet] standard ePub format; the existence for several years now of dedicated e-readers, tablet and handheld computers; and […]

  6. […] narratives, neither in fiction nor non-fiction, despite the pervasiveness of the PDF format; the [not really, not yet] standard ePub format; the existence for several years now of dedicated e-readers, tablet and handheld computers; and […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: