KindleMy business partner, Barrie Bramley recently wrote a report about how digital readers are changing his reading habits. I too started using a Kindle in 2010, and have enjoyed it. Much more than I thought I would.

There are frustrations, since I use books as academic tools. Kindle books do not have page numbers – they use something called “locations”. This is fine for referencing, as long as everyone else uses a Kindle. So, if you’re collaborating with someone else, and they’re using the printed version, you can’t easily cross reference. That seems foolish, and is very irritating.

But I very much like the ability to highlight text, and have that text immediately copied to a clippings file. The highlights are kept, and can supplemented with notes typed in by myself. So, I can still annotate my books like I am used to. That was a big issue for me, and Kindle has made it easy. It is irritating that they are kept in a text only file, so all formatting is lost, and only text can be copied (no tables, no images, only text). But mainly it is good.

Except that this past weekend, I discovered an undocumented problem. You can’t highlight more than 10% of the book. Well, you can. But after 10%, the clippings file (“My Clippings.txt”) just lists this: “You have exceeded your clippings limit for this book”. No explanation given, and no warning in the actual document itself (thank goodness I was extracting the clippings chapter by chapter, otherwise I might have wasted a lot more time and effort than I did).

The problem is documented well here.

The problem is one of digital rights management (DRM). Amazon and Kindle needed to find a way to ensure that whole books were not simply copied. That’s what the documentation says. I suppose therefore they’ve found a way to destroy all scanners, all photocopiers and all OCR (object character recognition) software in the world? No. I didn’t think so. If anyone wanted to copy a book, it wouldn’t be too difficult. Or they could just retype it anyway. If someone wants to do it, they will. So, the 99.9% of us who are law abiding are saddled with the ridiculous – and reasonably arbitrary – 10% clippings limit.

This is the same mindset that got the music industry into its current mess. I am disappointed.

I am even more disappointed because I found a way around the limit. There is a way to access the clippings you’ve made on your Kindle, by going to your Amazon online profile. This is the link I use:

It only works for books I’ve purchased through Amazon, though; stuff I’ve highlighted in personal documents or public domain stuff I’ve uploaded doesn’t appear here. There doesn’t seem to be a limit. I also worked out that you can use the downloadable Kindle software to read your books and highlight them, and this will sync with your Kindle.

It seems strange that my clippings file has a limit, but not my online Kindle page. Why? There is no logic here. Amazon hasn’t yet figured out the longer-term implications of content management decisions. They need to do so soon.

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