One thing in common with all eReader applications supporting Digital Rights Management “DRM” content is they need to associate protected content with a user. This requires a user account be tied to the application used to read the book. This process is usually referred to as activation. Let’s take a closer look.
For a consumer to purchase content, they first need to create or be assigned an account connected to the seller’s storefront. This is usually done as part of a registration process the user follows before they can purchase content from the store. The consumer then uses this account to make purchases as needed whenever they visit the store. Once purchased, the content gets loaded into the application. This process is known as fulfillment, and can vary between applications. Before the user can access the content, the application must know which user account is requesting access to the files. This process is called activation. Once activated with the users account, the application will verify the user has access to their content and allow them to use it.
Activation is accomplished by prompting the user for a username and password. Sometimes this is part of the installation process, or applications can prompt the user when they attempt to open DRM protected content. In most applications, activation can be managed from options in the settings menu. Depending on the application and how open or closed the ecosystem is, a third value may be used during activation. This value could be referred to as the Vendor ID, Store ID, or DRM Provider. This value lets the application know what vendor the account is associated with. Many applications only support activation with one account. It is possible, though, for applications to support more than one account at a time. This allows users to switch reading books purchased from more than one vendor without having to enter their account information each time they switch books. Once the user has entered in the correct ID, password, and selected a Vendor if needed, a button is pushed to complete the process. The application will then verify the account information with the Vendor or DRM provider and store the information in the application, and activates the device. Having the activation information stored in the application allows the user to access content even when the device has no internet connection. Once activated, the user can use their purchased content and make additional purchases if the application supports it.
The process of activation associates the users account with that specific application on that device. When the activation is completed, either the vendor or DRM provider will store that fact and record that the user has used one activation. Most DRM systems will limit the number of active activations a user can have at one time. Six is a common limit with many applications. This allows a user to access their content across multiple platforms; users typically have a desktop device, a tablet, and a phone to read books.
If a user does not understand how activation works, they can use up all their activations prematurely. When that happens, they are forced to go back to the vendor and ask for additional activations or a reset. How can this happen? As we stated earlier, the activation is assigned to the account, the application, and the device running the application. If the user activates a second eReader application on the same device with the same account, a second activation is used. If the user gets a new phone, then installs the application they were using on the old phone, and activates it with the same account as they used on the old phone, an activation is used. In both cases, the user is using the same account, but because the device or application changes, an activation is used up. Remember, the activation is the combination of the user account, a specific device, and a specific instance of an application. It is possible with some applications to return an activation when the account is deactivated. You should always deactivate any active accounts before removing an application from your device. A normal application update should maintain any current activation. It is the act of deleting the application from the device that will use up an activation.
When activation goes wrong, it can be difficult to identify the cause. Troubleshooting such issues is beyond the scope of this article, but I can provide a few suggestions. First, identify what has changed recently. Did the problem start after an update to the application or the operating system? Check the application support pages to see if it’s a known issue; sometimes applications and the operating system are dependent on each other. Second, identify if the problem occurs with activation, or while accessing the content after activation. Activation issues could be related to the entry of the username or password, or maybe the wrong vendor was selected. If you are having problems accessing content, double check the application is activated with the proper account for that content.
Please note this blog discusses activation in the context of eReader applications being used to read content purchased from a book seller. The concepts can be applied to other environments such as education or lending workflows as well.