If you have a Kindle, Amazon are NOT out to get you…

You could be forgiven, this morning, for thinking that Amazon are going to come for you in the night, strip your Kindle bare and terminate your account, with no redress, such is the high degree of panic-mongering going on in articles like this one.

The fact is that the foregoing has happened to one person, and no-one pontificating about it has the full facts of the matter.** Nor do I, but then, I’m not about to predict the end of the ebook world or brand Amazon as some sort of electronic stormtroopers. What I will say is this, a huge amount of disinformation has been extrapolated from one solitary event and, as any statistician will tell you, a single event means close to nothing, and you can extrapolate little that’s meaningful from it.

**It seems to be a fact that this person keeps breaking her Kindle, or it keeps failing. The fault is described as black lines running down the screen and has happened twice, the first time the Kindle was replaced under warranty – I’ve seen that fault on a Kindle which has been trodden on; doubtless it’d be the same if sat on too. Not saying it’s the case here, but like all electronic devices, Kindles need treating with a degree of care – don’t drop them on the floor, or tread on them, or even sit on them. And do use a case robust enough to protect the screen.

By the way, I ordered my Kindle from the first UK tranche, and while I was waiting for it, I talked to Amazon quite a lot about using it (could I, for example, download books while I was waiting for it, and was it really true that they could, pretty much on a whim, destroy my downloads and kill my account). The answer to the first was yes (obviously, but at that point, to me ebooks were very much Terra Incognita), and to the second, an unequivocal no, not as long as I didn’t to something illegal or in serious breach of the T&C, which seemed fair enough as, like most people, I had no intention of doing either.

What seems to be getting far too many knickers in a twist, for no valid reason, is that when you buy a Kindle ebook, what you are actually buying is a licence to read it, as often as you like for as long as you like, on any legitimate device** you like. They don’t actually sell you the ebook as an entity.

**Basically a PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone running the appropriate Kindle app for that device.

That’s OK, Amazon has never made a secret of that, and it’s also common to iTunes and every other ebook vendor so, really, it’s not even an issue, despite pathetically desperate attempts to make it into one.

Also in the terms and conditions is the fact that if you break the rules big time, Amazon can rescind the licenses, in effect repossessing all your ebooks. The simple answer, for any reasonable person, is not to break the rules (but back up your Kindle just in case – no system is immune to error), and the most basic of those rules is that you buy your Kindle ebooks from the part of Amazon with which you registered the Kindle. For me, that’s Amazon.co.uk. I don’t have a problem with that – why would I? I believe the person in question, who lives in Norway, bought ebooks from Amazon .co.uk. Whether Amazon would view this as a capital crime I rather doubt, not least because if it was, they’d have blocked the transaction. That they apparently didn’t suggests that’s not an issue.

Amazon has no problem with my loading my Kindle with ebooks that are outside the scope of Digital Rights Management (DRM), such as those published by Project Gutenberg and others. I have no desire to load pirated ebooks onto my Kindle – I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that I should pay for the products I want. If I did load pirated material, that would breach Amazon’s T&C and I’d be entirely to blame for any consequences.

There are those who maintain that turning off wi-fi isolates you from anything Amazon wants to do to your Kindle, which is true. It also isolates you from firmware updates, so that the Kindle you might have bought 2 years ago will never get any better. It also adds a layer of buggeration to loading books onto your Kindle (It’s not hard, though, as you’ll see).

One thing you must do with your Kindle, though, is back it up, preferably to an external hard drive. True, Amazon archives your purchases, but that’s no guarantee something won’t go wrong at some point in the future, so back it up.

To do this, turn it on and connect it to your PC with a USB lead, go to Computer in the Start menu (or My Computer, depending on your version of Windows), where you’ll see the Kindle icon. Double-click and it’ll display a row of folders, the one called Documents is where your books live (the Audible folder is for Audible audiobooks, and Music is for mp3 files). To back it up just copy the whole folder to whatever you back up to – I use an external HDD – then rename it Kindle backup, and the date.

NB: Kindle also creates a folder on your PC called My Kindle Content. In my experience this does not accurately reflect what’s actually on your Kindle, which is why I haven’t told you to back that up.

To load books without using wi-fi, such as those from Project Gutenberg or other legit sources, just copy and paste them into Documents, it really is that simple. If you don’t have wi-fi because your broadband is connected via Ethernet, Amazon offers the option to download books to your Desktop (or wherever your browser is configured to put them), by selecting the Transfer via computer option. But it also precludes firmware updates, as I’ve mentioned

If you choose to load pirated copies, that’s your choice and your risk. The same with sharing copies you’ve bought from Amazon. You might think it’s safe to share with a friend who promises to keep wi-fi turned off, but if they turn it on for any reason, you’re both going to have problems.

There is, by the way, software that will strip out the DRM data from ebooks, to allow them, at least in theory, to be read on Kindle or any other ereader. There are a couple of problems, the most obvious of which is that it’s not legal (which is why I’m not saying what it is, and comments that do will be binned). The other problem – and presumably it’s possible – is that Amazon might recognise that this has happened and punish you by closing your account and emptying your Kindle.

OK, I hear you saying, but not if I turn off wi-fi. Fine for now, but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that a detection algorithm could be built into the Kindle firmware, to reject dodgy ebooks if, indeed, it hasn’t happened already. If I were Amazon, it’s what I’d do.

The bottom line, though, is that if you stay within the law, and comply with the rules – which, frankly, most people will do without giving it a second thought – you shouldn’t have any problems with your Kindle unless you do something incredibly stupid, like stand on it!

Note: It is possible that an occasional book might be lost if the licence expires or is withdrawn by the publisher or author. This has happened once to me, though I didn’t lose the book, Amazon just notified me that the licence had been withdrawn but that no action would be taken. An attitude rather at odds with the rabid picture that’s being painted, don’t you think?

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6 thoughts on “If you have a Kindle, Amazon are NOT out to get you…

  1. Thanks for that Ron – I hadn’t read the article and would have taken little notice of it if I had. Big thanks on how to back up my Kindle :) I am away to do that now. I would be lost without my Kindle, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought and I would be devastated if I lost all the content. I’ve got the original keyboard version and see no need to update it as I got it to read – and read is what I do – can’t understand all these new Kindles that have appeared and don’t want one. Mine’s easy to use, and does what it says – lets me download my books and read – and save them if I want.
    Any more hints and tips on the kindles would be gratefully appreciated although I know that’s not the reason you are here nor the reason you wrote what you have today.

    • The new Kindles work in the same way as the old, except via touchscreen, not buttons, and they have a virtual keyboard. The big reason for the new one is the built-in light. If I want to read in the pub I have to take my iPad (it’s a gloomy hole!), and there’s always the risk of it getting stolen. A Kindle is far more discreet.

      When I get the new one, I’m going to keep all the reference books on the old one, and everything else on the new one.

      As for hints and tips, is there anything specific you need to know?

      • Well I’m chuffed to pieces that I have now backed up all my books and that’s thanks to you. I am going in for a below the knee amputation in the next few months (I’m hoping that I can hold on till January) – all due to a surgeons negligence! Anyway, I am going to be downloading loads of books and as I will not be able to get near a computer for weeks (barring the odd day they let me home) – our hospitals are in the dark ages, you can’t use computers unless you are in the maternity unit!!!!!!!!! Anything at all that is helpful to keep my Kindle in tip top working order :) Maybe, just maybe I will get a new Kindle next year. It’s great that you are going to keep your reference books on one and anything else on the other – really good idea.

        • The Kindle has a browser, it’s under Menu – Experimental. It’s not great but it works and, if you have a smartphone, you can link the two and go online for things like Twitter and FB. The Text to Voice app and the mp3 player are in there too. Be aware that music soaks up a whole lot more memory than books, though. I’ve got over 200 books on mine, and I still have 2.8GB free

          There’s not really much to tweak on a Kindle – if it works, it’s fine. If you press the AA button, to the left of the Home button, you can change things like font size, line spacing and the number of words per line (which is really a margin width control), plus which way up you want to hold it, but that’s pretty much it.

  2. Have to say my Kindle has allowed me to re-engage with one of my lifelong pastimes, after Carpel Tunnel and other related problems, meant I can no longer hold a book long enough to read anything.

    I fell in love with it 10 month ago (it was a birthday present) and would now be totally lost without it.

    Well Said Ron x

    • Well, this is weird, I posted a reply to you hours ago – and it’s vanished.

      I read Stephen King’s book Under the Dome a couple of years ago – damn thing weighed about 4lb and wrecked my hands (osteoarthritis), so as soon as the first Kindle ads appeared I got my order in without a second thought.

      Never looked back. Had to wait about 6 weeks for the first one, and a month for this one – I think it’s just a marketing ruse.

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