This is an easy one. I’ve assumed through this that you already understand DRM, or Digital Rights Management. In case you don’t, we’re going to break that down. See that candy? (Right now, I could totally go for one of those fat frogs in the lower corner.) Imagine you’ve bought a big old bag of it. Maybe you’ve been opening the bag and eating a piece here and there. Maybe you’ve been saving it up. Whatever, it’s your candy and you want to eat it. Now imagine that you take a piece of candy out of the bag, put it on a plate, and someone hits your hand. “That’s not your candy.” Of course it’s your candy. You bought it. You saved it. It’s yours. “No, it’s not.” That is the DRM experience, right there.
When you purchase a book (or the right to read a book, actually) it is encoded with security software designed to keep you from giving the file to 100’s of your closest friends. Because of that, you cannot change the format of the book. If you buy EPUB (for Sony) or AZW / MOBI (for Kindle) you are locked into that choice forever. Deciding to change readers means buying all of your books over again. Because of DRM, you may find yourself unable to read your books even with that reader attached. Forget a password, have a computer clock error, there are literally dozens of ways your candy will be taken from you. It’s absurd. DRM is a far greater impediment to legal book purchasers than it is to book thieves. As long as people make money off DRM, then DRM will be suggested as a helpful tool to publishing, data be damned. Removing DRM is either Not Cool, Illegal, or A No Brainer depending on who you’re speaking with. (This issue is going to fall under personal choice.) Adding insult to DRM injury is a little thing called Agency Pricing. We used to call it Price Fixing and it used to be illegal, but now it just means that publishers can charge you the exact same price for a book at every outlet. If a retailer wants to offer you a discount or incentive? Too bad. They can’t. Want to buy the book at Target? They can sell it to you for a penny if they want. In e-book format? Full MSRP with no ability to resell or give the book away and no promise that DRM won’t (at some point) keep you from reading it. Attractive, huh? Of course there are publishers who do not practice Agency Pricing, and there are publishers who do not use DRM (Carina Press, that means you!). You could stick to their books (or free books) and live a perfectly happy (if restricted) e-reading life. But we both know you won’t.
I’m not going to explain DRM removal to you. That’s on you to find out, should you choose to do so, because I don’t need the legal hassles. I can give you an example of a situation where you might choose to remove DRM even if you feel you would never want to do so. There’s a Kindle owner I know who was reading a multi book series. All but one of the books was for sale as MOBI. One volume was inexplicably unavailable. She could buy it elsewhere in EPUB, or she could download it from a pirate site. She chose to buy it in EPUB, strip the DRM, convert it to MOBI with Calibre and load it to her Kindle. She jumped through 5 hoops to make sure the author was paid and she paid a price far above a used or new paper copy. I promise you that was no deterrent to piracy. (Her kid said they would have just picked up the pirated copy since it was less hassle.) So let’s assume that you have decided not to lock you (and your books) to one device. Keeping track of your books is light years easier with a program called Calibre.
Calibre is a means to store your books. Think of it as your virtual bookshelf. You can (on DRM free files, files with DRM cannot be changed) modify a cover, assign tags for easy organizing, rate the books or arrange them by series. Calibre will convert whatever format the book is in to whatever format you need it to be in. Step on your Kindle and break it in half? Calibre will convert the AZW file to EPUB for your iPhone to use until you replace your reader. Here is another place your choice of reader is important. Files from iBooks are locked into Apple’s DRM tighter than tight. Hope you don’t run into any technical problems (On a computer? When does that occur??) because those books are not currently strippable. If you order from Amazon, you shouldn’t update your software. When Amazon improves their software they tend to also improve their DRM restrictions. New hoops for the paying consumer. (I just want to eat that frog, I don’t want to play Frogger.) When it comes to freeing your file, the big A’s are not your friends. However, if all of this gave you a headache, my advice is to go with a Kindle and don’t buy more candy than you can eat in one sitting. Make a wish list of stuff you might want to read and buy one book at a go. (It will minimize your losses, even if it doesn’t maximize publisher profits.)
Did we cover everything? If we didn’t it’s going to have to wait. I feel downright fragile from all this thinking. My Courtney Milan Fan Girl card and I are going to spend some quality time with Unclaimed. I’ll let you know how that turns out.