Feb 21, 2008

Why Ebooks DRM Isn't Likely To Die

I was downloading the other day my medical ebooks on the tablet, after I managed to make Mobipocket work, when it hit me. DRM is such a PIA! I am not accustomed to music DRM because I find my music elsewhere. Here, there is a shop that sells 4GB DVDs full with MP3s for 2$, there are the shops that sell audio CDs for 1$, or the Syrians on the street who sell CDs full of MP3s for a little more than 1$, and if not, there's always Limewire and eMule (yes sue me)!

But when it came to getting medical ebooks of quality, like the ones sold on Mobipocket, I couldn't find them anywhere, seemed like their DRM is uncrackable or still uncracked , or maybe cracked but not known by the medical community. Point is that I had to buy them, something I did without much grunting, because I knew I was getting value for my money. And later, I was glad because most of them had a dictionary layout allowing me to type a word in order to find what it is (drugs, diseases, organs, symptoms,...)

It isn't until later that I realized how much of a PIA DRM is. Everytime I get a new device, I have to get the Mobireader for it, get my device ID, go to the Mobi website, register this device and DOWNLOAD all of my ebooks AGAIN! Just so that they work on the new device! And that is seriously a joy killer because I got to trial a couple of mobiles lately and I had to do everything from scratch for each one.

That got me to thinking. The trend with music is all about going DRM-less or DRM-free, a service that even the mighty "close-garden" strategist Apple got into with iTunes. Suffice it to say that music DRM is starting to vanish, slowly but steadily and not so painfully. The big and small labels might have put all of their effort into defending themselves against crackers and leechers and whatnot, you could always launch your P2P or Torrent download and get whatever song that you wanted. With ebooks, the trend is the opposite.

The fact is that music is ubiquitous, whereas books aren't. You can listen to music while you drive, you can't read a book while you drive. You can listen to music while you jog, run, go grocery shopping, walk to the bus, work, clean the house... you can't read a book while doing any of those (under normal circumstances). Meaning that the target of music is each and everyone, whereas the target of books/ebooks is a select one. All of this to say that the bigger the target, the more there is likely a cracker/leecher purchasing the material. That's why there is more music available online for free, if you know where to look for it, and that's why you have to look for hours before finding an ebook. This is the reason why music records stopped feeling like getting money from MP3 sales is necessary for them.

It's true that ebooks are becoming more and more mainstream, probably stealing the thunder from regular books, a trend that has been noticed and promoted by the Amazon Kindle. The sales of the device are rocketing for an ebook reader and that should be something we are thankful for and not reluctant towards. Why? The Kindle might as well become the iPod of ebooks, it could bring ebooks to the masses so hard that instead of providing more revenue to publishers on the short run, it will help people realize that DRM sucks on the long-run and drive them to find and if not create ways to avoid it. But what I believe is that, even so, publishers won't go DRM-free. Why?

The fact that Music Records accepted to remove DRM isn't as much driven by the frequent leeches as much as it is by the fact that they can get their money elsewhere: concert tickets, events, artist swag stores, putting the artist in a certain publicity for another product and cutting shares, ... , they can find payment in more places than one. Plus with the recent rise of blogs and what everyone is calling web2.0 as well as independent records, every little artist can get famous within minutes. It takes a well-placed and linked YouTube video and there you are, no need for high-quality camcorders either because the YouTube codes will hammer it. Meaning that record labels are no longer the referee in this game, but more of a goalkeeper: still essential for many games, but some teams can go a whole match without needing one.

The problem with ebooks is that there is no elsewhere. Probably 99% of authors get their money from their books, nowhere else. It's only with great franchises like Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings that publishers can go elsewhere for the money: swag stores, movie rights, and the likes. But the grand majority of books won't have this possibility and will only remain a "book" and that is why publishers will never allow DRM to die on ebooks, not in the near future at least.


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  2. The new Banner is nice.But don't completely turn away from s60.you were doing well on it.

  3. Not only for the reasons you mentioned (difficulty of multitasking while reading) but I think that people still have a difficult time moving from bound paper to electronic format. I love tech and mobility, but I am no exception to this rule. I have tons of out-of-copyright books on my 800, but i pretty much only read them when i find myself without something to do. If I slot some time to read, it will lmot always be with an actual book. All my reading i for pleasure, however, which is different from your usage pattern.

    For those reasons, the market is so small as to not have any push for DRMless books. Perhaps if people start to use devices like the kindle, their phone, palm, etc for reading books and then suddenly find they cannot move their purchased books with them when they get a new device that cannot run the reader software, there will be an outcry for either more platform support or for open eBooks. Sadly, I think this is a long way off.

  4. Don't give up. I've heard rumors of a new "standard" for ebooks that is in the works. If enough publishers and reader software houses adopt it, Amazon can either join in or go pound sand.

    This should mean that even DRM protected stuff should be readable by any platform you want to use (no more having to be stuck with Mobi and not being able to migrate to something that doesn't handle it).

    If something like that should take place, I see an opportunity for ebooks to grow in popularity while still protecting the author's intellectual rights with some form of DRM (I think we're stuck with that one until all the thieves out there turn over a new leaf or go to jail -- don't hold your breath).


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