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The E-Book DRM Mess February 4, 2009

Posted by Bill Rosenblatt in DRM, Publishing, Standards.
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I have articles in the latest issues of two venerable publishing industry journals, Publishing Trends and The Seybold Report, on the mess that is e-book DRM.  Those two publications have paid subscriberships; far be it from me to circumvent them.  But let me give you the gist.  Besides, you’ll find this familiar territory if you read this regularly.

Growth in the resurgent e-book market is threatened by unfettered proliferation of e-book platforms, formats, and DRMs.  Amazon has its own DRM for the Kindle, which is based on the one it acquired from Mobipocket.  Adobe has an e-book DRM based on its Content Server software platform, which it is trying to get various e-book reader makers to adopt; only Sony has done so thus far.  And then there is the increasing number of proprietary e-book platforms and DRMs.

Publishers I’ve talked to seem oblivious to the strategic implications of this mess.  They seem happy to do e-book deals on an ad hoc basis, and they are hardly involved in setting industry strategy for e-book DRM at all.  The IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum), formerly known as the Open e-Book Forum, designed the EPUB standard but punted on including DRM.  

Amazon appears to be following a strategy for e-books that is right out of the Apple iTunes/iPod music playbook.  Amazon’s equivalent of iTunes is its existing website, which has an enormous user base.  The Kindle is a proprietary device that is being positioned as revolutionary with respect to reading rather than just as a better e-book reader — just as Apple positioned the iPod for music listening.  

Even “Jeff Bezos” is nearly an anagram of “Steve Jobs.”

Meanwhile, Adobe’s strategy begins to look like that of Microsoft for digital music — they may get lots of partners, but they risk little traction. 

If publishers don’t act quickly, they face two alternatives, neither of which is very pleasant.  In one, Amazon succeeds in emulating Apple’s success in music and takes control of e-book business models.  In the other, excessive fragmentation leads to confusion, frustration, angry pieces from the blogosphere about the evils of DRM, and a limited market.  

Publishers need to get involved now at a strategic level.  At a minimum, this means understanding the technology as well the implications of interoperability and standardization.  The industry must take into account the real differences in requirements from one segment to another: for example, DRM must be more stringent in higher ed (e-textbooks) than for trade book content.

As a veteran of various publishing industry rights-related standards initiatives — which have ranged from narrow successes to outright failures — I have a jaundiced view of standards as the solution to this problem.   My view is not only that they take too long but also that they lead publishers to believe that they needn’t take responsibility themselves — that they can just leave it to the standards body.  And of course standards initiatives in general are constrained by antitrust law.

Besides, Amazon won’t adopt standards anyway if it truly intends to follow the Apple model.  

One possibility for the publishing industry is to follow the model that Hollywood is crafting through the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), in which users can purchase rights to content once and be able to download it onto the (compliant) devices of their choice.   Some service providers, such as Overdrive and eBooks.com, already support multiple e-book platforms and DRMs.  They can adopt this type of model, but publishers must agree to support it in their licensing agreements.

Comments»

1. Derek - February 5, 2009

Why would I as a consumer want to use any of these solutions? When I buy a paperback, I don’t have to worry about which ‘standard’ it’s published in, (unless it’s in another language or something). And I don’t have to worry that the provider I chose will go out of business or just shut off their DRM servers like Yahoo, Microsoft and many others have or tried to do in the past.

All this mess does is make me not want to even try any of the book readers now. Currently I use audible for my electronic ‘books’ which sends me an unencrypted mp3, which I KNOW will work on any system I have today or anything I will get in the future.

It seems like all these solutions do is take away many of the convienences that I have with either analog solutions (like paper books) or makes me want to go to another source for my entertainment. (Read ad-supported blogs on the internet, public domain books etc).

2. links for 2009-07-23 : Bibliothekarisch.de - July 24, 2009

[…] The E-Book DRM Mess « Copyright and Technology "If publishers don’t act quickly, they face two alternatives, neither of which is very pleasant. In one, Amazon succeeds in emulating Apple’s success in music and takes control of e-book business models. In the other, excessive fragmentation leads to confusion, frustration, angry pieces from the blogosphere about the evils of DRM, and a limited market." (tags: DRM E-Book Copyright amazon Kindle Digital_rights_management 02/2009 2009) […]

3. E-Books and Digital Rights Management (DRM) | The Muse - September 28, 2009

[…] Neither offer a solution solid enough to bet on in five years. Publishers must step in, says Bill Rosenblatt in Copyright and Technology: If publishers don’t act quickly, they face two alternatives, neither of which is very pleasant. […]

4. The Aura of Literature in the Age of Its Virtual Dissemination - May 12, 2010

[…] (There is already an abundance of information available on what Copyright and Technology calls “The E-Book DRM Mess.”) Very shortly, desultory and philosophical determinations of whether or not a book is […]

5. Will the iPad Kill the Publishing Star? « JETLawBlog: The Official Blog of the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law - May 18, 2010

[…] the publishing industry has taken a play from the record industry’s playbook by including a variety of DRM technology in authorized e-books. However, DRM will never be able to win the electronic arms-race with online […]

6. Mark - September 11, 2010

I’m just peeved I can’t transfer (not even lend — I mean an outright transfer) kindle books from one account to another.

7. Ebooks and DRM | Obversa.Info - January 11, 2011

[…] http://copyrightandtechnology.com/2009/02/04/76/ This entry was posted in books, ereader. Bookmark the permalink. ← Ditch the Cable Monopolists! Web TV Viewing Web Sites […]

8. Thad McIlroy – Future Of Publishing » eBooks and the Conspiracy against Public Libraries - February 23, 2011

[…] if public libraries failed in lending ebooks, not because they’re worried about theft (OverDrive, ebrary et al, protect their ebooks with more robust DRM than Amazon does). Amazon wants to sell […]

9. Thad McIlroy – Future Of Publishing » Shh! eBooks and the Quiet Conspiracy against Public Libraries | Write Your Own E-book - March 2, 2011

[…] libraries failed in lending ebooks, not because they’re worried about theft (OverDrive, ebrary et al, protect their ebooks with […]


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