Cory Doctorow’s keynote at the O’Reilly TOC conference in NYC today took a refreshing turn from his usual anti-DRM rants: he is now blaming platform providers like Amazon for the evils of DRM. He claimed that platform providers are really the ones demanding DRM — for locking in users to their platforms — and, moreover, getting away with deflecting the blame for it onto publishers.
This may well be true for digital audiobooks. Audible, owned by Amazon, has exclusive audiobook deals with many publishers and (more importantly) an exclusive arrangement with Apple to provide audiobooks on iTunes. Almost a year ago, major book publishers called for removing DRM from digital audiobooks, to bring them in line with DRM-free music, but Audible hasn’t done it. And Doctorow should know: he’s a successful book author whose publishers include the biggest of the majors.
For e-books, as we’ve seen, major publishers still require DRM, and the number of different e-book platforms out there — each with its own DRM — makes the situation a mess. Doctorow called on the publishing people in the audience at TOC to boycott DRM, to at least choose whether a given title has DRM instead of letting the platform vendor require DRM for all content. This is an interesting idea inasmuch as it would give publishers some leverage against platform providers, like Amazon, that seek to dominate the economics of digital publishing.
It’s good to see Cory Doctorow inching closer to understanding the economics of DRM. He’s not quite there yet: he still thinks, for example, that platform vendors like Amazon and Apple try to make money directly from DRM (they don’t). He also thinks that Overdrive is a “proprietary DRM” vendor (it’s not) that went out of business (it didn’t) and turned off consumers’ access to e-books they purchased (not true).
But this is progress. Maybe someday he will also appreciate that DRM is meant to be a speed bump, not a piracy cure-all — which the media industry doesn’t consider it to be, and hasn’t in years, if it ever did at all.
Cory is an important voice in the debate. You might say … that he keeps honest people honest.