On Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, sales of digital books outnumber those of hardbound and paperback copies.
Most digital books are tied to restrictive digital rights management rules. But you can find DRM-free books if you look in the right places.
You bought it, but you don’t really own it
Buy a hardcover or paperback book, and it’s yours forever. The store you bought it from can’t take it back. You can read it where and when you like — and you never have to sign in.
That should be the case with digital books, but all too often it’s not. (For this article, the use of “books” refers to digital books — or ebooks — unless otherwise noted.) Most commercially sold books come with digital rights management (DRM, more info) that limits your ownership of the book and even controls how you read it. For instance, if you buy a book from Amazon, you can read it on a Kindle, a Kindle Fire, or any other device that runs a Kindle app. And every book you buy from Amazon is tied to your Amazon account.
Amazon has even been known to make purchased books disappear. Ironically, in one of the most widely reported such cases, Amazon quietly removed downloaded versions of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from Kindle devices and apps (more info). There was some debate as to whether Amazon had the right to do that.
The good news: Not all books are tied to DRM. By visiting the right sites, you can legally acquire quite a few DRM-free books in a number of formats.
The bad news: There are far more books encumbered with DRM. The major publishers are completely committed to controlling your access to, and use of, their digital editions. If you want something from a current bestseller list — or a bestseller published after 1923 — you’ll probably have to accept DRM. Or you’ll have to buy a paper-based book.