DRM is a necessary evil

Readings have become the first independent bookseller in Australia to sell eBooks using the Booki.sh platform locally developed by Inventive Labs. Their eBook store has partnered with SPUNC and is offering a range of independently published Australian books, some for the first time as eBooks. I think both Readings and Inventive Labs should be congratulated for not only developing a local eBook distribution platform but possibly providing a solution for other independent bookshops across Australia.

The platform is significantly different to others in the marketplace. Instead of downloading the eBook to an eReader or PC the eBook is stored and read online. This means that any device that has a web browser can become an eReader including the Kindle 3. This makes it the first non-Amazon supplier of eBooks to be available on their device. Unfortunately it also means an eBook purchased from this site cannot be read on a current eReader like the Sony or the Kobo. The eBook can be read offline as it can be ‘cached’ but you do not have access to your eBook library unless you are online.

An eBook platform should offer readers as much choice as possible. Amazon only gives you the choice of their device and their apps. Retailers who sell (or license) you an ePub download enable you to read that file on the device or app you choose. If you want to read an eBook on an eInk device why should the type of eBook you purchase stop you? If you want to read on a backlit screen why should you be forced to read on a web browser when there plenty of really good eReading Apps available that have a lot of built-in features? I really enjoy using the BlueFire App on the iPhone and have just discovered the iFlow reader which has some really cool features including the ability to scroll through the text rather than use page turns (but you can do both because you have a choice!). The Kobo App for iPad also has some very impressive features.

The real issue here though is the pesky one of Digital Rights Management (DRM). Unfortunately DRM is a reality and it won’t go away. DRM is widely accepted by all the major publishers and eReading devices. It cannot be ignored. I know some people who are going to disagree with me here but DRM is a necessary evil. Yes DRM-free removes a tone of headaches involved with eReading and eBook purchasing but when you are dealing with copyrighted works there needs to be a level of protection over that work. When you are in a retailer there also needs to be some protection to stop an item that is being sold from being mass distributed for free because that will devalue the product exponentially.

DRM is not perfect but it is what it is and I can imagine some other ways to protect a digital work that would be much worse than DRM. However DRM does evolve. The DRM for music and DVD is different to what it was ten years ago and it is continuing to change. The same will happen with Books’ DRM. When the marketplace, format and technology finally settles so will the DRM and then it can start to be adjusted to fit consumers needs instead of trying to please everybody (authors, publishers, retailers, readers) which is what it is trying to do  now. To ignore it though is a folly.

UPDATE

The more I think about it the more I realize that limiting the eBook to the Booki.ish cloud and the Book.ish Reader is itself DRM

6 thoughts on “DRM is a necessary evil

  1. I don’t want to get ranty, but DRM for music HAS evolved: it’s gone away. Yet shockingly, people are still making money selling music. The reason for this is that the path to acquire paid music (eg. the iTunes store) is trivially simpler than acquiring the same music via a pirated path. combine this with a general perception that artists deserve to get paid, and you’ve given valueless product (the digital file) a value through an associated opportunity cost (the ease of acquisition).

    This same model will work with ebooks, but unlike the chronically backwards music industry that has finally come to terms with this and is changing its business model, the book industry is unimaginably more ancient and rigid and will probably simply die in its current incarnation, rather than adapt organically.

    Nontheless, I wish you good luck in the struggle with publishers, DRM and pricing, and look forward to watching the industry evolve in the next few years.

      1. Absolutely. But they used their dominance to force the industry to remove DRM after they gained dominance. With crazy concepts like the Hachette Agency Model in place, establishing dominance by publishers, not distributors, would you expect Kindle to approach it the same way?

        My understanding is that Apple’s intent all along was to turf DRM, and only when it gained market dominance did it manage to convince the studios to get onboard enough.

        It makes sense: DRM is ongoing, costly and value-reducing, and the distributor certainly gains nothing from it.

        So…I’m not sure how your statement invalidates my point? 😉

  2. I am not sure what sort of protection the Book.sh system provides against piracy.

    They were selling the Australian Book of Atheism which to my knowledge has not been released as an eBook anywhere else and doing a simple search on bit torrent and book title reveals 4 copies that have been uploaded in the last 10 hours or so.

    They could have been book scans but I find the timing rather interesting

    I am a bit cynical I don’t mind the system( I won’t be buying from them until I update my devices in a couple of years) but this seems to me more about gaining control of an audience.

  3. This is quite serious. I try to monitor the torrents closely, and I’ve scoured them for the Australian Book of Atheism. It would be great if you could (publicly or privately) point me towards a torrent tracker you saw hosting the file.

    That book (which I’m reading at the moment!) is published by Scribe. Scribe is a Kobo partner. So the ebook is for sale on Borders: http://www.borders.com.au/ebook/the-australian-book-of-atheism/23982900/

    But I would still like to track it down and analyse it if possible, so any tips would be really helpful Sean.

  4. If the reason ebooks still cost as much as paperback because the editors still cost the same then they better be declaring a structure for the ebook and not letting the software infer it or else what am I paying for?..EPUB isnt a retro-spec. What you have if you have a 1gb ebook is an outlier for which there are better options than Zhook but none that will serve you particularly well.

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