"Halo: New Blood" in the UK, Waterstones' eBooks, and Adobe Digital Editions

Those who know me know that I am a huge Halo fan. Recently, I finished reading Halo: Broken Circle and decided to move on to the latest release, Halo: New Blood. I already knew that Halo: New Blood isn't currently available as a paperback as, for some reason, it was decided that it would be a "digital-first short novel", so I went looking for the eBook. This is the story of my painful quest.

I buy most of my stuff from Amazon.co.uk so I searched for "halo new blood" in all departments and, for some reason, only Halo: New Blood (Unabridged) was returned. So, my go-to eCommerce website failing me, I Googled "halo new blood". I was surprised to see a Google result of "New Blood (HALO) eBook: Matt Forbeck: Amazon.co.uk" result so I followed the link to https://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Blood-HALO-Matt-Forbeck-ebook/dp/B00L4ZZ4BK and got a 404 and the following error:

We’re sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site.

I figured that something had gone wrong with Amazon.co.uk and Google hadn't caught up yet. Next, I followed the Google result "Amazon.com: New Blood (HALO) eBook: Matt Forbeck" to https://www.amazon.com/New-Blood-HALO-Matt-Forbeck-ebook/dp/B00KU4NQV6 but found that it was a Kindle edition. Next, I followed the Google result "iTunes - Books - New Blood by Matt Forbeck" to https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/new-blood/id887011141?mt=11 and selected "View in iTunes" which opened the iTunes desktop client with the following error:

Item Not Available The item you’ve requested is not currently available in the UK Store, but it is available in the U.S. Store. Click Change Store to view this item.

Suspecting that it may be on the UK iTunes store, I Googled "halo new blood site:itunes.apple.com/gb" and followed the "iTunes - Books - Halo: New Blood by Matt Forbeck" result to https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/halo-new-blood/id887011141?mt=11 which opened the iTunes desktop client with the following error:

Item Not Available The item you’ve requested is not currently available in the UK Store.

Even "other" websites didn't have the eBook in any format!

Desperate, I Googled "halo new blood waterstones" and followed the "New Blood - Halo (eBook) - Waterstones" Google result to https://www.waterstones.com/ebook/new-blood/matt-forbeck/9781476796703 and was so excited to see a £4.99 price, "eBook (ePUB)" format, "Available for immediate download" note, and an "ADD TO BASKET" button! Finally, we're getting somewhere!

So, I created a Waterstones account and completed the checkout procedure only to get the following error:

WE’RE REALLY SORRY There appears to be an error occurring at the moment. Our technical teams are working to resolve the issue, and our website will be back online as soon as possible.

I tried again later and received the same error.

I originally posted this to the halo subreddit at https://www.reddit.com/r/halo/comments/32luxa/where_can_i_get_the_halo_new_blood_ebook_in_the_uk/ (spoilers!) so, while I was writing it, I went back to the Waterstones page to get the details and was very surprised to see that the "ADD TO BASKET" button had changed to "DOWNLOAD", despite never receiving an order confirmation email. Great(ish?)!

So, I selected "DOWNLOAD" and anticipated a file called something like "Halo - New Blood.epub" to start downloading. Instead, I saw "URLLink.acsm". Now, I consider myself to be pretty au fait when it comes to file extensions and formats and I had never heard of an ACSM file. Google quickly revealed that it is the American College of Sports Medicine but, after tweaking my search, revealed that it is actually an Adobe Digital Editions file used for downloading eBooks.

I hate having to install unneccessary software on my computer but, considering I'd already paid for it, I relented and downloaded and installed Adobe Digital Editions version 4.0.3 for Windows from http://download.adobe.com/pub/adobe/digitaleditions/ADE_4.0_Installer.exe via http://www.adobe.com/uk/solutions/ebook/digital-editions/download.html I ran the "URLLink.acsm" file and Adobe Digital Editions opened with a lovely "Computer Authorization" window explaining the following:

Authorizing your computer enables you to:
- Easily transfer Adobe DRM protected items between multiple computers and mobile devices.
- Read Adobe DRM-protected items on computers or mobile devices (up to six).
- Restore your content from backup whenever you need to reinstall the OS.

Fair play to Adobe, they have put a great spin on Adobe Digital Editions and their (proprietary, nonetheless) ADEPT (Adobe Digital Experience Protection Technology) Digital Rights Management to actually make it sound like it's benefiting you! But... I'm old-fashioned and I prefer to have the raw file so that I can use it on whatever I want and I will always have it regardless of whether Adobe decide to up and abandon ADE. However, in this situation, I had to comply. So, I opened the "eBook vendor" dropdown menu and saw this: Because I'm incredibly pedantic and so that you can understand what it's like to, after everything thus far, search through a list of 78, non-alphabetised company names, I have painstakingly, manually typed out the entire list:

Adobe ID
3M
Alcatel-Lucent
BibletStore
Bokskya
Books-A-Million
Copia
Datalogics
Google
MediaCorp
Nokia
RM Books
txtr
The Book People
Elisa
UTPL
Penguin Books Australia
BookPal
Box of Books
Aldiko Feedbooks
Copia EDU Subscriptions
Saraiva
eBookPass
Courseload
axisReader
Booktopia
Millennium Medical
eCampus.com
OverDrive
ReadBooks
COSMOTE
Books Entitle
BajaLibros
HarperCollins
Librify
DIDGIO
Campus BookStore
Odilo
allbrary
Adobe ID
3M
Alcatel-Lucent
BibletStore
Bokskya
Books-A-Million
Copia
Datalogics
Google
MediaCorp
Nokia
RM Books
txtr
The Book People
Elisa
UTPL
Penguin Books Australia
BookPal
Box of Books
Aldiko Feedbooks
Copia EDU Subscriptions
Saraiva
eBookPass
Courseload
axisReader
Booktopia
Millennium Medical
eCampus.com
OverDrive
ReadBooks
COSMOTE
Books Entitle
BajaLibros
HarperCollins
Librify
DIDGIO
Campus BookStore
Odilo
allbrary

If you actually read that list in its entirety, firstly I commend you and secondly you should have noticed a few things:

  1. The list is a mixed bag of some well-established organizations but mainly companies that seem like their names were the result of a 2-minute-long brainstorming session carried out by a group of small children
  2. Half of the list is duplicated
  3. Waterstones isn't listed

TO THE INTERNET! I Googled "waterstones adobe digital editions" and followed the "eBooks & MP3 Audio Downloads | Waterstones.com Help" result to https://www.waterstones.com/help/ebooks-&-mp3-audio-downloads/12. The "READING EBOOKS ON AN EREADER, PC OR MAC" section, unhelpfully, advised the following:

  1. Download and install Adobe Digital Editions
  2. Open Adobe Digital Editions and follow the steps to get started
  3. Download your eBook from Waterstones.com and it will be opened by Adobe Digital Editions
  4. Connect an eReader to transfer the eBook across using Adobe Digital Editions

Well, thanks, Waterstones, but I've already done that, so now what? Oh, I see. "Need more help? Read our FAQ, below, or contact us for assistance". The "HOW DO I READ EBOOKS ON AN EREADER, PC, OR MAC?" section, actually helpfully, advised the following:

You can download eBooks from Waterstones.com onto your PC or Apple Mac and then transfer them onto any eReader that is compatiable with ePub eBooks such as NOOK, Kobo or Sony devices device using Adobe Digital Editions.

1. Before you download your first eBook, please create an ‘Adobe ID’. This ID (usually your email address) acts as your unique key to be able to open the eBooks that you buy. Please note that this is different to your Waterstones.com account.
2. Download and install Adobe Digital Editions on your computer.
3. During the simple set-up process, please select the ‘Authorise my computer’ option by selecting ‘Adobe ID’ as the eBook Vender and enter your Adobe ID and password.
4. If you have an eReader, connect it to your computer and turn it on; you will be able to use Adobe Digital Editions to transfer eBooks onto your eReader. You may then read the eBook or copy the eBook(s) to your eReader by dragging and dropping them from the ‘Library view’ onto the Reader icon in the left hand panel. If the eBook is a large file, a progress bar may appear as the eBook is copied.

You may then exit Adobe Digital Editions and disconnect the USB cable from your eReader. Your eBook is now loaded to your eReader and can be read.

Note: Nowhere on the original product's page was this mentioned.

OF COURSE! Why didn't I think of selecting "Adobe ID" as the eBook vendor when the vendor I bought the eBook from Waterstones?! /s

Surprisingly (because I have 151 personal web accounts), I discovered that I did not already have an Adobe ID. So, I created one via https://accounts.adobe.com/ -> "Get an Adobe ID" using my usual randomly-generated, very long passwords containing uppercase, lowercase, numerals, and special characters (because, you know, security) and verified my email address. I re-opened the "URLLink.acsm" file and entered my Adobe ID credentials into the "Computer Authorization" window and got the following error despite confirming in many different ways that it was the correct password:

Incorrect login ID or password for the selected eBook vendor. Please try again.

I recalled my past experience where the Costa Coffee Club - UK iOS app kept reporting that I had entered the wrong password and I figured out that it was because the app didn't support special characters, even though their website and, ultimately, database did. So, I changed my Adobe ID password to be alphanumeric-only and voilà - "Your Computer Has Been Authorized" and Halo: New Blood downloaded!

Hurrah for good software development[!] Right-clicking on the book and selecting "Item Info" revealed that the EPUB had finally been downloaded locally! I don't have a dedicated eBook reader so I usually just open ePubs and PDFs in the iBooks app on my iPhone and I'm travelling to London very soon, which is a good few hours each way, so I wanted to get Halo: New Blood into iBooks ready. So, I copied the "New Blood-3.epub" file to my Dropbox on my PC, downloaded it in the Dropbox iOS app, selected "Open in iBooks", and got the following error:

Cannot Open “New Blood-3” It is formatted incorrectly, or is not a format that iBooks can open.
 
 
 
 

I know for a fact that the iBooks app supports ePub so I concluded that this was due to the DRM. I managed to "circumvent" this issue and, after 30 - 40 minutes, I was finally allowed the privilege of reading my own purchase on my own terms.

I can't help but find some sort of sad humor in all of this. The irony is that DRM exists to prevent piracy but DRM like this (note: not all DRM) does everything but discourage it because piracy is actually more convenient, flexible, and (heh) affordable! It's like squeezing jelly with your hands - the harder you squeeze, the more that slips between your fingers.

Now, I've survived the past 2 days without the need to write a 1,800+ word rant about this (not that that has stopped me from ranting 3 times IRL) but what really tipped me over the edge was seeing that Waterstones billed me twice for Halo: New Blood!

Interestingly, when I was gathering screenshots for this blog, I discovered that Waterstones have now removed the Halo: New Blood eBook! It's as if the publishers are desperately trying to revoke the book from the United Kingdom, for some bizarre reason!

A very long story short (TL;DR, if you will): I will not buy an eBook from Waterstones or support DRM like this again. Colour me a restrictive DRM-boycotter.

Update 2015/04/21: Apparently, the same is of Google Play. Searching "halo new blood" in Google Play's books section returns The Ron Perlman Handbook, The Web in the Halo, and The Delilah Complex but dialing a VPN to America and performing the same search in Incognito (I couldn't be bothered to sign out of my Google account) returns Halo: New Blood exactly as desired.

Update 2015/04/22: Apparently, not even Matt Forbeck, the author of Halo: New Blood, knows why this is happening. https://twitter.com/mforbeck/status/590733793302077442

Update 2015/05/05: Waterstones have refunded me for BOTH of my purchases and confirmed that the publisher has withdrawn the book, so that's something. I've asked if they could advise why the publisher has done so and am currently awaiting their response.

/