The frustration that is trying to do DRM-free eBooks legally

I’ve kinda come to terms with buying eBooks instead of physical books, even though there are a lot of archivist implications involved that bug me. However, I still heavily dislike the use of DRM, so I want to avoid this as much as possible. And this turns out to be tricky…

The problem with DRM, in general, is that it proports to allow the publisher to prevent copying.. except that it doesn’t do that as well as you might think. And it also tend to create unpleasant situations. For example, if you purchased content using any number of old DRM systems that are now obsolete, you can’t use them on newer players or sometimes even at all. And it also tends to create overly powerful large players.. Amazon now has a lot of power to squeeze book publishers and Apple now has a lot of power to squeeze record labels… and it’s the book publishers and record labels that made this possible.

I know what my ideal version of eBook system is, more or less. It’s kind of the same idea as most other truly useful apps in the cellphone/tablet age. Store the files on a cloud drive (right now, DropBox, but maybe with the option of something else) in a reasonably neutral format (everybody except Amazon has standardized on ePub) and then have the publishers offer it at a reasonable price in a variety of interesting online markets.

Also, actually, Aldiko is a pretty nice eBook reader application on the Android. I don’t really mind the extra step that is importing the file out of the Dropbox application into my Aldiko application.

One ‘nice to have’ feature is that what I’d really like is to be able to get a digital copy of a novel with a physical copy. Now, my friends who work in the ‘real’ media companies pain to point out that the things we think are ‘fair’ are not and have never actually been legally enshrined. Ripping a CD to audio is an example — it sounds perfectly fair but nobody ever really thought that far ahead. So, from my internal gut feel of a ‘fairness’, having a coupon code or bundled Kindle purchase would be nice. But I don’t think it’ll ever happen. At least not unless print gets sufficently rare and unprofitable that Print on Demand becomes the preference, if that happens at all.

Now, there once existed an illegal eBook site that had a nice sorted and categorized list of illegal ePub files. I suspect that, if I were to search, I’d find most of the books I’d want on the illegal file sharing sites. But I’m trying not to do that.

I’m also trying not to just go direct to DRM-cracking.

So far, I’ve picked up a self-published novel series by downloading it via Smashwords (accepting that the Smashwords version was actually a bit more expensive than the Kindle version). I’ve taken advantage of the Humble Indie Bundle for eBooks.

As far as I can tell, Tor/Forge, Baen, and Angry Robot all seem to be DRM-free. That’s… well, a decent set of the market. Enough that if I wanted to prod the other publishers (Ace and DAW and a few others) by buying only from the DRM-free publishers, I could.

However, having done this survey, I can’t actually figure out how to get a DRM-free version of a Tor/Forge book. And they claim that I should be able to get it via the normal sources. So am I able to just go to the B&N online store or Amazon and get a DRM-free download? I don’t feel like buying it to find out.

I’m sure that nobody wants to try and rock the boat, which is why this is such a vague and fluffy thing.