Home » Ebooks, Nook » Barnes & Noble Decides That Purchased Ebooks Are Only Yours Until Your Credit Card Expires

Barnes & Noble Decides That Purchased Ebooks Are Only Yours Until Your Credit Card Expires

1 December 2012

From Techdirt:

DRM rears its ugly, malformed, malignant, cross-eyed head again. Despite the fact that, as Cory Doctorow so aptly put it, no one has ever purchased anything because it came with DRM, an ever-slimming number of content providers insist on punishing paying customers with idiotic “anti-piracy” schemes.

. . . .

Obviously, no one would expect a physical book to be subject to the whims of the publisher or the store it was purchased from. A sale is a sale, even if many rights holders would rather it wasn’t. But, Barnes & Noble doesn’t see it that way. Sure, you can buy an ebook from them, but you’d better keep everything in your profile up to date if you plan on accessing your purchases at some undetermined point in the future.

Yesterday, I tried to download an ebook I paid for, and previously put on my Nook, a few months ago. When I tried, I got an error message stating I could not download the book because the credit card on file had expired. But, I already paid for it. Who cares if the credit card is expired? It has long since been paid for, so the status of the card on file has nothing to do with my ability to download said book. I didn’t see anything in the terms of service about this either, but it’s possible I missed it.

This is just one more reason to either not buy ebooks, or strip the drm off of the ones you purchase so you can you the book you BUY on all your devices without having to purchase multiple copies for no reason and have access to something you already bought when you want it.

Nice work, B&N. Driving another person away from your offerings with your amnesiac point-of-purchase system. No one’s purchase should be invalidated once the payment has cleared. Barnes & Noble got its money but its customer is out both money and a book.

Link to the rest at Techdirt and thanks to Gary for the tip

Ebooks, Nook

62 Comments to “Barnes & Noble Decides That Purchased Ebooks Are Only Yours Until Your Credit Card Expires”

  1. P.G.

    This is why Apprentice Alf and his team are there.

    I’ll get told off, (again) for supporting pirates, but if this junk isn’t piracy, danged if I know what is.

    The publishers rip the writers, now, with digital they RIP the punters.

    The punters got tools, they’ll use ’em.

    (rude words) ’em.


  2. This is almost amusing at this point. If this happened to physical books, I wouldn’t have any.

    I think it’s time to show ebook retailers and publishers we’re not putting up with this garbage anymore. Customers need to be more vigilant on policies and buy their ebooks from retailers who have brains. I like BN but this is just ludicrous.

    • But are there any major eretailers that sell their ebooks without DRM? As I understand it, DRM is often stipulated by the publisher.

      That said, I still agree with you! DRM, in any form, serves only to punish the conscientious consumer. The readers who want to buy an ebook and read it get spanked. The pirates only feel justified as they rip out any DRM and upload it.

      • I don’t think DRM is really the problem here; when used correctly, it does help weed out pirating. (Personally, I don’t enable it on my ebooks.) I think the problem lies with the retailer and the way they see the purchase. Amazon, for example, uses language that stipulates you are merely borrowing the ebooks you’re purchasing. Customers should pay careful attention to which retailers are using these ridiculous policies and use their money to talk.

        • It took me at most 5 minutes on a google search to find out how to strip DRM from all major platforms. So, as I understand it, DRM does not prevent piracy at all.

          • And that is precisely my point. Nearly every form of DRM gets broken and then it’s a simple Google search to find out how to do it too. Pirates don’t even break their step. But anyone who doesn’t want to fiddle with breaking DRM is isn’t technically-minded enough to do it is prevented from enjoying their property in the way they would like.

        • If you’re just borrowing the books, why do you have to pay for it?

        • DRM never weeds out piracy. Files are meant to be read widely, and so there will always be a way to translate the valuable content into an open format.

          On the other hand, the more robust the DRM, the more paying customers are driven away. Removing DRM is never hard, putting up with it is usually annoying.

      • James, I know you can buy DRM-Free from Book View Cafe. That’s at http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/.

        Another problem with DRM is that writers are encouraged/pressured to use DRM, and once the ebooks are up there, they can’t take DRM off. I’ve found out I’d have to close my publishing account with Amazon and with B&N to get it taken off my ebooks.

        So I also sell DRM-Free at Book View Cafe.

        And am investigating POD. Once the book is in reader hands, the retailer can’t get funny with it!

  3. Extremely glad I checked the “NO DRM EVER” checkbox when publishing my ebook versions.

    Even gladder that I read this blog, where someone told me that I could make sure my ebooks didn’t carry DRM.

  4. Yeah, this is ridiculous. At my small pub we never put DRM because 1, what’s the point and 2, you never know who’s going to cause you issues down the line.

    Make the customers happy. Without customers, you have no business.

  5. This could make their customers buy less Ebooks, but, oh wait, maybe that’s what they want to happen.
    I’ve always thought that Barnes & Noble selling Ereaders was the equivalent of McDonalds selling grills.
    A man, or a business, cannot serve two masters.

    • I’ve always thought that Barnes & Noble selling Ereaders was the equivalent of McDonalds selling grills.

      I don’t see those as the same at all. BN sells books. It makes perfect sense to also sell another medium to read books.

      • Yes, they sell books, printed books, and they sell a great deal of them through brick & mortar stores that require heating and air-conditioning and maintenance and upgrades and physical stock, shelves, employees, etc.
        Those things cost a lot of money to keep going and the stores also give them power in the printed book world.
        Every Ebook they sell takes away from their print side and diminishes their power

  6. Don’t like DRM, don’t use it on my own books, think B&N’s policy is evil, etc. However, I can’t resist playing devil’s advocate on this one.
    By my reading of this story, the guy bought his book and put it on his Nook. The problem occurred when he tried to come back and download it a 2nd time.
    How is this different than buying a paper book? You buy the book, take it out of the store, and that’s then end of the transaction for both parties. You can’t come back and take a second copy out of the store because you paid for the first one, arguing that you now own the content. It doesn’t matter if the the paper book got lost, stolen, or destroyed. Once it’s in your hands, it’s your responsibility.
    B&N is just saying that they’re going to treat ebook sales the same as paper book sales, not differently.
    Sure, I know that the cost to them for downloading a second copy of an ebook is negligible and the cost of producing and printing a paper book is not.
    But people here aren’t arguing about economics, they’re saying that B&N is morally wrong for not keeping every transaction open forever.
    I don’t see the moral issue for them wanting to end the transaction for an ebook the same way that it ends for a paper book.

    Yours, Ashley (the Devil) Zacharias

    • An interesting argument, Ashley. If ebooks were paper books, your argument would make perfect sense. But they aren’t as we’re reminded when we try to do things that we could easily do with a paper book, like loan our ebook to someone or (depending on the rules for the particular ebook and vendor) to a series of someones.

      However, ebooks have some advantages over paper books. There are the more obvious: many find reading with an ereader a better experience than a paper book due to form factor, ability to read one-handed, change fonts, etc. But there are some less obvious advantages as well. Some of these vary from vendor to vendor and sometimes from book to book, but you can:

      Lend the book a single time with the advantage that you don’t have to deliver the physical book to your friend who could be across the country, and its return is guaranteed.

      The ability to have multiple people in your family (on your account) read the book at the same time.

      The ability to read the book yourself on multiple devices so for example you might be reading on your Nook or Kindle at home, but read on your smart phone, picking up where you left off last at lunch, in the doctor’s office, or other times when you’re waiting.

      The ability to store your book in the vendor’s archives rather than having to store it on your device and the ability to retrieve a book you’ve purchased for reading on a new device at a later time.

      All of these advantages appear to be lessened or at risk with this policy regarding your account. Licensing of the product might decrease the rights the purchaser has as compared to paper books, but it also increases them in others and also creates an obligation on the part of the vendor that doesn’t end when you walk out the virtual door with your purchase.

      • I agree, it’s different because you have a license to use that on your devices. You have the right to ongoing use of this virtual product by terms they set. Their requiring a credit card is their own addition to a contract they already made.

        My kindle fire has required that I reset the whole thing to factory settings, I’m sure nooks need fixing like that sometimes too. And sometimes they just break completely. Or you just really want the new shiny one. If you can’t re-download your books it’s just too random, who would spend any money on that?

        My device- that the bookseller sold me- malfunctions and now I have to re-buy dozens of books? No, I wouldn’t, and I’d never buy the device or books to start with if I thought that were the case.

        • Denise, I have a Nook Color and also a Toshiba Thrive Tablet of that I downloaded the apps for Barnes and Noble and Amazon Kindle and all the ebooks that are on my Nook Color automatically downloaded to my Toshiba Thrive Tablet once I downloaded the app for Nook Color. I did not have to re-purchase any ebooks that I originally purchased from Barnes and Noble on my Nook Color.

    • Ashley, I think you have a point, to a point. 😉

      B&N’s servers, as does Amazon’s and others, act as a cloud server to store your purchased copy on. Some people chose to store their ebook on the cloud built into the Nook, Kindle, what have you. If you stored them somewhere that B&N or Amazon couldn’t get to, like on Dropbox, they wouldn’t be able to do this. Most all licensed software, for example, allows you to make a backup copy of a program. This would be similar.

      Of course, there is a big difference. Not only is the ebook content licensed, like all books, but the ebook container is licensed, unlike any physical book. So a lot depends on what the license limits the user on. If B&N has it in there agreement with the purchaser that it can be withdrawn from their cloud if their credit card expires, then B&N is in the clear, though I consider it unethical not to tell the customer plainly this is the case. If they don’t, they are violating the implied contract with the customer by having a button that says, “Buy Now” when the customer is really not buying it.

      As a matter of fact, I think all leased ebooks should have a “Lease Now” button instead. The “Buy Now” button is false advertising and an implied contract term with the customer. I could see a judge upholding the rights of a customer over the eretailer even if it is buried in their terms of service. Problem is, books are so small amounts, it would probably take a class action lawsuit to generate a change in that practice.

      • > “If you stored them somewhere that B&N or Amazon couldn’t get to, like on Dropbox, they wouldn’t be able to do this.”

        Though the truly paranoid will keep in mind that Dropbox runs on Amazon servers.

    • I’d be very surprised if B&N has never advertised that you could use them as cloud storage for your Nook library, in those words or others.

      The issue is not access per se, but that the card ON FILE had expired. Presumably updating with a current card fixes the problem. So, even B&N isn’t denying that customers have also bought cloud storage of their books.

    • That is why buying (or publishing) on Apple iBooks has an advantage; just like Apple iTunes or apps, you own it forever, connected to your Apple ID. One thing Apple got right…

  7. Unless it’s a free kindle book, I shop at smashwords now. Never any DRM security, and I can put it on all of my devices.

  8. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think the average customer with a Kindle cares about DRM. Most readers have one device they read on, and there are apps if they want to read on their phones.

    I have DRM on my books to send a signal that I don’t want the buyer who enjoys them to email them to her entire book club. I am aware it doesn’t deter pirates.

    • Dear Lexi,
      For once, I’m proud of something we make better in France with regard to ebooks as in the US : Watermarks.
      All the “minor” players here (be it publisher OR resellers) either do without any protection, or use Watermarks.(Of course, resellers also can do DRMs, for either the rare author who insists on DRMs, or for the Big-<6 's ebooks.)

      While far from perfect, Watermarks reach the exact goal you out on DRMs, without restricting "fair" use by honest customers.

      Such a shame though that the big players (the same as yours : Amazon/Apple/Google and the Big less than 6) don't do it.

      • It is rarely the eretailer that requires DRM. It is the publisher. Amazon has to put it on their books here if the publisher demands it, or they won’t be able to sell the book.

        Self-publishers, however, are free to chose not to add DRM to their books. Amazon doesn’t force anyone to do so, but it is an option if the publisher wants it. Most of the traditional publishers do.

        Watermarks are a good compromise solution, however. It won’t prevent piracy, but will at least indicate who does hold the copyright to the book.

        • Far from me claiming that eretailers would be the one requiring DRMs. Where some retailers (Amazon among them) fall short, is on providing the same granularity for big Publishers as for indie authors.

          In fact,AFAIK the French Amazon system only provides a unique DRM setting for all ebooks of each single publisher. If that setting is DRM, all ebooks from that publisher are set with DRMs, otherwise, none.

          The only way for publishers to bypass this limitation is to create two “feeds”, one with DRMs, and one without, with all follow-up complexities…

          The eretailers’s failure to provide Watermarks also means that in most case, where the publisher would be comfortable enough with it, DRMs are applied instead.

          One last thing : I really HATE it when eretailers fail to disclose the presence of DRMs on the books they sell… Especially Amazon, which for that too has regional specificities : On French (and others) store, there is No indication whatsoever telling if an ebook has DRMs before buying.

          • I was wondering if it would be necessary to put the “DRM free” detail in the description. Thanks for the data point.

          • You can tell if a book is *DRM free* on Amazon if you see the following in the book’s product description, where the publisher and ASIN are listed:

            “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited”

            • As I failed to explain in my comment, that’s right, but for the US store.

              There is no such indication on the FR, ES, IT, and while there was on the UK and DE stores, there is none anymore.

    • Lexi, as a reader who sideloads everything I buy onto my Kobo, but prefers to buy from Amazon, I never buy anything that’s DRM enabled. There are now so many good books out there with no DRM.

      And as an author, I’d rather not imply that I think my readers are pirates, which I think putting on DRM does, if only in a subtle way. 🙂

  9. Unreal. The most interesting thing I have to contribute here is that I am a current user of the Nook app (actually desperate to support B&N by using the Nook app whenever possible and avoiding using my Kindle app), and a former user of ereader.com’s ereader software for Palm devices. I own hundreds of books purchased through ereader.com. That site, and likewise Fictionwise, are both owned by, or have been purchased by, B&N at this point. And B&N recently emailed me, out of the blue, that I would soon be sent information for transferring my ereader book purchases to my Nook (ostensibly free of charge). They sent a link, I clicked it, and nothing has happened since. I have yet to figure out if this offer was for real, or some kind of phishing scam, and I’ve yet to hear back from B&N. If you’ve got any info on this bid by B&N to do right by former ereader.com customers, I’d love to read it.

  10. I’m no fan of DRM, I think it is pointless and only gives honest customers a bad experience with your book, but I don’t see what DRM has to do with B&N not allowing additional downloads of an ebook. The former only limits your ability to copy and use it on different devices and accounts. The latter on B&N policies that are inherent in the download software used by a device. I don’t think DRM checks your credit card expiration. B&N programmed their software to do that. So I don’t see the link here.

    • Agreed. All of these problems lately are because of the retailers, not DRM itself.

    • DRM didn’t cause the problem, but if no books had DRM then backing up your book files to your computer or somewhere would insure you wouldn’t lose them due to something like this.

      • I can see that point, BigAl. And a valid one. Still, DRM didn’t prevent the download like everyone seemed to be implying. The retailer did. But the difficulty in retaining your own backup is an issue. Related, but separate.

  11. What I wish is that those of us who upload through KDP could go back and un-DRM our books if we want. When I uploaded my first two, I had no clue whether I should use DRM or not and made the mistake of using it. I didn’t in my last two, but that really doesn’t help since the middle two books have it.

    • MP, maybe you buy your daughter a Kindle of some kind, put it on your account, and don’t want her to stumble on that erotica book. 🙂

  12. I hate to tell everybody but this is simply not true.

    I lost my card and had to replace it. I didn’t update it on B&N for over a week and my books were available on my nook. It’s only when I went to purchase another book that I realized there was a problem (obviously).

    I read somewhere that the person who originally had this problem caused the problem by ‘deleting’ the book instead of ‘archiving’ it. It was coincidence that his cc expired around the same time.

    (Actually, that’s one huge thing I like about B&N – from your nook, you can either ‘archive’ (which removes it from your nook but keeps it in the cloud so you can re-download if you wish) or you can ‘delete’ (which removes it from book your ereader *and* the cloud). And – yes – it does warn you of the difference each and every time and asks you to confirm that you really want to ‘delete’ it instead of ‘archiving’.

    I much prefer this to Amazon’s convoluted system for removing books from the cloud. I’ve given up on it actually.

    • I’ve deleted lots of books from my ereader, but never from my cloud. I’m trying to think of a reason why I would want to since there is no limit?

    • Yes, I’m wondering this, too. I see the cloud as a useful backup, since storage is unlimited. What if your e-reader is lost, damaged, stolen, corrupted? If the books are not in the cloud then you’d have to re-buy them.

      • Actually, I like the Cloud for that same exact reason, but since we know services can be shut down, I also do my own backup, with the help of my Friend Apprentice Alf.

        No slight intended in any way to the author, and no “piracy” ensues. Just my own private library safeguarding preacaution.

    • Right now my Amazon cloud maybe two hundred books that I want to keep and hundreds upon hundreds of books/samples that I no longer want.

      Now something happens to my ereader (it’s stolen/broken/lost/etc.). How am I going to find the two hundred books I still want (to download onto the new ereader) among all the other junk that’s in the cloud??

      My B&N cloud is much simpler to manage since it’s not filled with stuff I no longer want. I can simply download everything to my new ereader.

      • You can permanently delete things from your kindle library, in “manage your kindle”. It could be streamlined, but it’s at least possible. I like to keep mine clutter free too.

  13. Well, if Barbara is right, then this comment is irrelevant. But if Barnes and Noble is doing this, it’s crazy.

    Not just the DRM thing, but to do anything the consumer will percieve negatively, that might drive the consumer to Amazon. Totally nuts.

    • When I was researching which e-reader to buy, I ran into B&N’s requirement that you keep a valid credit card on file to be able to access your books. I was ready to buy a Nook until I found this. I own a Kindle now.

      My gut feeling is that the only relationship a retailer should have with my credit card is at the actual transaction. After that, I firmly believe it’s no longer their business.

      B&N drove me to Amazon with one requirement. This latest news only confirms my decision.

  14. If these sort of shenanigans keep up, we should change DRM to mean digital reclamation management.

  15. I would usually be the last one to defend DRM, however, the poorly written article leaves lots of misinformation.

    This *is* a DRM problem, but unlike the summary is only a small nuisance, not something that takes away your books.

    The B&N DRM is a little unique. Rahter than relying on 3rd party servers to transfer keys between devices, B&N encrypts the books with your Credit card number as the key (a simplified explenation, but that’s the general gist of it.) The book doesn’t expire with the expired credit card. However, the user does have to update their account with a current Credit card, so that the B&N would then be able to use that as the new key for the new download.

    And yes, I know, this means that people who have chosen to forsake CC’s would be locked out of their downloads. I still prefer B&N’s drm since it’s the only one (for books) that does not require the use of any vendor software to extract keys.

    • IMHO using a form of identification that is expected to change on a regular basis (all credit cards expire) sounds like someone was being lazy. If B&N wanted to use a unique number they should have just assigned a customer ID to each account that both devices and content could be linked.


      • Not only that, but that is a dangerously insecure way to employ someone else’s credit card number. When I use my credit card online, I want it transmitted with encryption, stored securely, and not used for anything other than those credit-card transactions I have specifically authorized.

        It would be interesting to see if letting B&N use your credit-card number in lieu of a key violates the terms of service with either Visa or MC providers.

        • Actually, this is not a problem, since the CC number is not stored “as is”. It is combined to some additional information (The CC’s registered customer’s name), through a difficult to revert mathematical operation (algorithm), to create the effective key.

          That key is the one used to encrypt the ebook (and is the one kept by B&N). From the key, there is little to no possibility to get the CC’s number back, and without the key, there is little to no option to read the file.

          The “Hole” in the scheme from a DRM point of view, is that the user’s reading software/hardware needs to compute the key for the user to be able to read the file.
          So it suffices to “catch” the key at the moment it is computed by the reading software for the DRM to fail completely.

          In B&N case, since the algorithm used to get the key from CC and user’s name has been discovered, it can easily be re-implemented.

          Once again, the only customers who have any real problem with the DRMs thing are the one who don’t know about it, when they get bad surprises such as here above.

        • I believe B&N uses the CC number in their DRM deliberately, in order to dis-incentivize people to do anything that might reveal their CC number publicly.

          (I also believe that the solution to the “CC number changes” is as follows: put in valid CC number. Re-download. Read.)

          (Since all my CC numbers don’t die when the card expires — I just have to put in a new expiration date when I get the new card, and maybe put in the Sekrit Kode on the back — this isn’t as likely to generate zillions of re-loads every 4 years. My CC number generally only changes if I change banks, or if the CC thieves get hold of it, and we need new cards.)

    • Per PCI DSS credit card processors are not to use the CC# for anything other than payment processing.

      Also while it skirts the edge of CA state PII laws (they do not consider CC# to be PII) and is likely legal, it violates the intent.

      This is idiotic and I am surprised that passed a PCI audit.

  16. The problem isn’t with the credit card, it’s with the encryption. Barnes and Noble uses your credit card number as a part of the DRM encryption key for each purchase. Change cards (like we all do!) and the key for previous purchases no longer matches. This sounds more like a logistical oversight than any intentional eBook mongering. BN simply needs to change their DRM encryption process OR they should allow customers to be issued new copies of their previously purchased books, encrypted against their new credit card. A hassle, but not a showstopper.

  17. This happened to me once when I was buying a free book. But you CAN access your books when your card is expired if you disable the internet.

  18. I may be a little slow…but why not just update your info….you don’t get charged a sec time…my card expired I updated it and nothing happened. I think people are trying to make this bigger then it needs to be. Update your info and get your book….kids are starving in this country let’s talk about helping them.

  19. I have mixed feelings on DRM because I do believe it can help. On the other hand, DRM doesn’t always work. Books are still stolen, although sometimes when they strip the DRM they also mess up the file and the person getting the stolen books can’t access them. Copyright is better because if you register the copyright you can sue the heck out of them in federal court and get your legal fees back. Without registration you can’t go through federal court, but you can take it to another court…you just might not get your money for legal fees back.

  20. I”m for DRM for the same reason that I lock my car at the shopping mall parking lot. I also lock my garage at night and my neighbors don’t go crazy over it.
    If a thief wants my car, let him work to defeat the door and ignition locks.
    That being said. I think the B&N policy is absurd and has nothing to do with DRM.
    Suppose McDonald’s told me that my credit card used for last month’s Big Macs has expired.
    Am I supposed to give the Big Macs back?

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