Have Publishers Won the DRM Debate and Does It Matter?
How many people remember that All Romance EBooks sell DRM free ebooks from Avon? Or put another way, how many people actually buy from All Romance for the purpose of obtaining a DRM free ebook? Avon doesn’t make it easy for you to find the DRM free ebooks. You must first use its Facebook App “Avon Social Reader” which requires you to allow their “App” access to your Facebook timeline. From there, you can click on various books and follow their purchase links to All Romance.
You can tell on ARE which books are DRM free only if you are paying attention to the “Available” formats section. “Available in: Epub, Secure Adobe Epub eBook” The key here is “Epub.” There is no easy way at ARE or BooksonBoard or Fictionwise or any of the major retailers that allows you to filter books by whether the books have DRM or are DRM free. While most search capabilities at online retailers are fairly simplistic and lack decent filters, there appears little movement to differentiate between DRM and DRM free books.
Truthfully, DRM at this point only helps to enforce platform dependency and reduces smaller bookstores ability to compete with Amazon. Indie bookstores, for example, are partnering with Kobo but the over 10 million Kindle owners won’t be able to purchase books from their local indies because of format incompatibility.
Much of the talk out of the most recent publishing conference, Digital Book World, was how publishers needed to develop direct to consumer platforms. Without abandoning DRM, publishers will have to sell only ePubs and will be bypassing a huge number, maybe 60%, of the ebook reading public. Further, with DRM come fewer rights for readers which, in turn, fosters readers belief that the product they are consuming is ephemeral and of lower value.
Most casual readers don’t even know the difference between the two. Most casual readers won’t be affected by DRM until one of two things happens:
- They lose access to their ebooks through a computer malfunction or upgrade
- They want to change ereading devices.
Number one has been largely resolved by the retailers creating individual cloud accounts for their customers and allowing customers repeated redownloads and archiving. Access isn’t dependent on remembering a password and username via the Adobe Content server and while customer support at most retailers isn’t great, even the much dreaded Kobo is better than Adobe’s non existent CS.
Number two is declining in importance as readers move steadily away from the dedicated device and adopt tablets. While it is more difficult to read ePubs on a Kindle or Kindle books on a Nook Tablet, Android and iOS tablets allow for a reader to shop at any number of retailers out there.
Further, there has been little effort by the retailers to make their DRM more robust and DRM stripping tools are easy for any person who can point and click. A user doesn’t have to run python scripts and stand on their heads while rubbing their stomachs any longer to crack DRM. It’s as easy as installing Calibre and a few plugins. The stripping of DRM is automatic after that.
It’s almost as if the knowledgeable reader and the publishers have entered into a detente. They aren’t going to invest in making DRM harder to crack but they aren’t going to do away with it either. The knowledgeable ebook reader knows how to crack and convert their ebooks and thus DRM restraints are of little bother to them.
While there is the occasional clarion call for the elimination of DRM such as when the reader last fall was locked out of her Kindle account and lacked access to any of her digital books, the general ebook world has largely given up on rattling the DRM cage of the publishers. The conversations that are being held at publishing conferences about DRM are the same ones held two years ago and two years before that. In sum, nothing has really changed.
It seems that the publishers have won the DRM debate, but that has been a minor victory that they should have given up long ago. It has done nothing to abate piracy; it has eroded value; and it has increased platform dependency. DRM abandonment might make sense now, but it won’t reverse the trends that have already been set in motion.