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With Rumors of Amazon Selling DRM Free Music, Will Books Be...

confusionI received an email this week from a reader who wanted to buy an ebook reader. She wasn’t very familiar with ebooks other than the epublished ones and didn’t know at all about DRM (digital rights management). She wasn’t aware that when you bought a Sony Reader, the books you bought for the Sony Reader would be forever tied to the Reader. Essentially this is like buying a house and filling it with furniture. When you decided to a buy a new house, you weren’t allowed to take the furniture with you. The furniture can only be used in the old house. Sure, you legitimately bought it, but the furniture makers have to make money so it is incumbent upon you to buy new.

The laws (DMCA) make it so that if you make a special key to get into the old house to get that furniture over to your new house, you would be a criminal. Crazy? Yes. Unfair to consumers? Yes. Even Steve Jobs thinks so. In February, he wrote an open letter to the music industry advocating the elimination of DRM. The digital music industry is like the digital book industry. In the music industry, the big four: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner, and EMI control the distribution of over 70% of the market. In the book industry, the big five: Penguin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, and Grand Central Publishing (formerly Warner) produce 92% of the fiction books that you will find in the bookstore.

In the music industry, Apple, Microsoft and Sony all have proprietary formats for their music. Proprietary means that music bought from Itunes can only be played on an IPOD, music for the Zune can only be played on the Zune, and music from the Sony Connect store can only be played on Sony devices. In the publishing industry, Sony and Ebookwise are the proprietary devices meaning books bought from the Sony Connect store and the Ebookwise store can only be read on the Sony and Ebookwise devices. There are other formats that can be read on a number of devices but only using that particula piece of software, such as the MS Lit books can only be read using Microsoft Reader software or books purchased from Ereader.com can only be read using the Ereader software.

Jobs believes that these types of restrictions are crippling the digital music industry. Right now, digital music comprises 10% of the market which means that 90% of the music market is sold DRM free. This is because CDs have no DRM. CDs are universal and can play in any number of CD players manufactured by a host of different companies. My Gwen Stefani,
The Sweet Escape, CD can be played in my HP Pavillion or my car Bose car CD Player or my Dell work computer. More importantly, my Gwen Stefani CD can be ripped and uploaded and played on any MP3 device including my IPOD. There are no laws that restrict me from doing this which means that after about an hour, I have a DRM free collection of Gwen Stefani music.

With books, its a bit harder to accomplish this. You have to scan in a book, page by page. Then you have to run a program that turn the scan into text. Then you have to convert it to be read on one of your ebook devices. It would take hours of hands on work to turn a paper book into a DRM free ebook, but it can be done.

The problem is who wants to? Certainly not me and not the rest of the reading public. What we would like is to be able to buy an ebook and read it on any device we own today and any device we may own in the future. I think that is reasonable. Steve Jobs thinks that too and he convinced EMI of that. EMI announced on April 2, 2007, that all of its music on ITunes would be sold without DRM, meaning that an EMI song purchased at ITunes could be played on any digital music device that plays AAC. This announcement was accompanied by a raise in the price of the song by 30%.

Rumors have been flying fast and furious around the web this past week that Amazon would be opening a music store that would sell DRM free music. The rumor specifically is that Amazon sent contracts out to the major music distributors informing them that the music store would sell only DRM free music at variable pricing. Some independent bands are already participating in selling DRM free music like Barenaked Ladies at Amie Street. Nine Inch Nails even released three audio tracks on Pirate Bay, a notorious peer to peer sharing site.

If DRM free music sells tremendously well, increasing the digital market share of music, it would seem backward for print publishers not to follow suit. E publishing has so many cost saving attributes that an increase in ereader can only be beneficial.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

8 Comments

  1. Rosie
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 10:40:36

    Jane, it would take me forever to figure this stuff out on my own and tons of reading and checking. Which is why I’ve been resistant to buy an ebook reader. Thanks for educating me in a way I can understand.

    ReplyReply

  2. Charlene
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 11:31:35

    This is interesting stuff. I know that DRM has to be an obstacle for many readers. I know how many hoops my husband and I have had to jump through to make secure ebooks and audio books work, and what a hassle it can be when you switch computers or hand-held devices. And we’re both pretty technically savvy people. For somebody like my mom, forget it. The hassle alone would mean they’d never try one. So I’d love to see the ebook experience made easier for more people but I’d hate to see that come with a higher price tag. Charging 30% more would probably lose more ebook customers than the format change would attract. It’ll be interesting to see how this works for music!

    ReplyReply

  3. TeddyPig
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 18:45:57

    iPhone does 8 gigs of pdfs
    iPhone does 8 gigs of pdfs

    OSX which is on iPhone reads pdfs natively in preview.

    No DRM, I repeat no DRM

    ReplyReply

  4. TeddyPig
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 18:57:58

    Oh, I had a request!

    Since we are on this subject I have unwittingly over time bought a few books with that nasty pdf key locking feature.
    Not the normal “no print” deal, but where you actually have to go to Adobe to register your reader so you can read the book you just PAID FOR and do all that crap.

    Can you list out those publishers that do that junk and do a “hall of shame” listing.

    Those freaks need to stop that crap. It sucks and it is intrusive and I REFUSE TO PAY FOR A HEADACHE.

    Just because you can use that shit does not mean you should.

    If that happens I have decided the only way I can fight it is to in no way review the book or even acknowledge it.

    I am all for making sure these wonderful companies get no more of my business.

    Not to mention, I would love a chance to list the publishers that do this and say STAY AWAY! to anyone thinking about buying from them.

    ReplyReply

  5. Jo
    Apr 30, 2007 @ 03:03:29

    Thank you for this article. I was thinking of buying an ebook reader, as all my ebooks are on my pc, and was completely unaware of the issues you highlighted. Thanks for saving me time and probably money as well.

    Jo

    ReplyReply

  6. Genene
    Apr 30, 2007 @ 07:10:45

    Excellent piece! I hope that publishers get the message sooner rather than later!

    Unfortunately all of the major publishers and producers of content use some sort of DRM. They have a huge vested interest in doing so, which means that it may be a slow process. Look how long it has taken the music industry.

    Readers should know that a number of smaller publishers who have very fine material do not use DRM.

    Finally, as a publisher and a eBook distributor we made the decision to stay away from DRM not only because consumer’s hate it and because it is not really all that secure but because it makes no sense to pay Adobe 3-5% of your profits for the illusion of protection.

    ReplyReply

  7. Dear Author.Com | I’m Exhausted and Need Your Help
    May 06, 2007 @ 04:01:45

    [...] be blogging about ebooks and ebook technology. I feel like there isn’t anything new to say. DRM is bad. New York needs to do a better job getting their books digitized. There is no perfect ebook [...]

  8. ian W
    May 17, 2008 @ 19:07:50

    Jim Baen’s webscription.net sells DRM-free content. Of course it is largely scifi – but it is seriously DRM-free in a variety of formats. And they have a free library at http://www.baen.com/library/ just to whet your appetite…

    Resistance is NOT futile!

    ReplyReply

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