This is a screencast of the DRM presentations I gave last week at O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference.
After two years of non-stop rumors and wild speculation the Mythical Apple Tablet (aka the Unicorn) will apparently become a reality later this month.
Among other things, the Unicorn is expected to single handedly (hoofedly?) save newspapers, magazines, and book publishers, while simultaneously killing Amazon’s Kindle. That’s a tall order for a device that no one outside of Apple has actually seen yet. These expectations are not surprising considering the amount of wishful thinking that has been projected onto the device by print industry insiders desperate for salvation in a world that is increasingly turning digital.
I have no intention of adding to the ill-informed speculation about the Unicorn’s specifications or magickal capabilities. Instead, I’d like to take a moment to dissect the claim that an Apple tablet will somehow kill the Kindle.
The logic seems to be that Apple’s tablet will provide a superior user experience to the Kindle (a reasonable assumption), and that consumers will favor a multi-purpose device over a dedicated reading device (probably true). As a result, the tablet is expected to become the digital reading device of choice. In other words, the Kindle is toast!
Last week bookseller Barnes and Noble unveiled the Nook, its long-awaited eReading device. Although ill-named, the Nook is a worthy competitor to the Kindle, offering a number of features not found on the Amazon device, including LendMe, a feature that allows for controlled sharing of ebooks. While the sharing feature comes with a number of limitations, it would appear to be a small but important step towards making DRM-restricted content slightly more flexible for consumers. There’s just one problem — publishers want no part of the Nook’s LendMe feature.
Publishers Lunch reported last week (registration required) that many large publishing houses have indicated that they won’t participate in the LendMe program.
To be clear, the LendMe feature is extremely limited. Books are lent for a maximum of 14 days. And unlike the library, there are no extensions. When a book is lent, the lender loses access, and once the book is returned to the lender it can never be lent again.
So, why are publishers opposed to the Nook’s crippled ebook sharing scheme? As one Unnamed Publishing Executive told Publishers Lunch:
“if publishers agree to lending then every ebook offer now and in the future will come with this consumer feature. Over time, I’m concerned that lending won’t grow the market and in fact could hurt it.”
What Unnamed Publishing Executive seems to fear most is a sense of consumer entitlement. If consumers have the right to share ebooks now, they’ll expect to have that right until the end of time. Never mind the fact that consumers share print books all the time. Since the sharing of books is apparently a bad thing, we can only assume that the ease with which consumers share printed books is a flaw inherent in the print format. Fortunately publishers can correct that flaw in the digital realm through the liberal use of oppressive DRM.
I suppose this worldview shouldn’t come as a surprise. If the history of digital media has taught us one thing it’s that media companies see the digital future as an opportunity to exert extreme control over how consumers use and interact with content.
The surprise here is not that the paper has rediscovered piracy for the umpteenth time, but rather that, despite the paper’s many discoveries, it has failed to gain a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding piracy. Instead, the paper chooses to play to the worst fears of the publishing industry, while demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of what motivates consumers of digital media.
NYT columnist Randall Stross theorizes that the widespread availability of pirated ebooks combined with growing consumer adoption of digital reading devices like the Kindle, may ultimately lead to massive piracy of the sort that the music business experienced during the Napster era. Apparently it’s just a matter of time before Kindle owning consumers pirates wake up the fact that they can save 10 bucks by downloading bootlegged ebooks from RapidShare instead of buying direct from Amazon.
The scenario might actually seem plausible if you had no knowledge of either RapidShare or the Kindle. Let’s pause for a moment to compare the ebook acquisition process from both sources:
- Find the book you want by searching the store that’s conveniently integrated into your Kindle device.
- Press the buy button. Yes, you just spent $9.99. Painless, wasn’t it?
- Start reading.
- Find the book you want by searching the… Wait a minute. It turns out that RapidShare has no on-site search engine.
- Turn to Google or some other search engine to find the exact URL for the book you want to download. This might take a while, but fortunately pirates have loads of free time.
- Once you’ve found the exact URL you’ll discover that you can’t download the file immediately. Instead, you’ll be told that all of the free download slots are in use. You’ll have to try again in two minutes. Repeat this step until a slot opens up (it might be hours, it could be days).
- Alternately, consider paying for immediate access. For a mere 6.99€ you can download from RapidShare without waiting. That’s only 20 cents more than the price of the book you’re about to steal. A small price to pay for sticking it to The Man.
- Once you’ve downloaded your book you’ll need to find a way to move the file to your Kindle (Whispersync might be convenient, but it’s not the pirate way).
- Prepare for the likelihood of some slight formatting problems with your new book. In most cases you’ll be able to figure out the intended meaning of the poorly OCR’d text. And you’ll just have to get used to the page numbers that are embedded in the middle of each page.
If publishers can learn one thing from other forms of digital media, it is the importance of a quality consumer experience. Consumers place a premium on convenience and ease of use. As a result, free is not always the clear choice.
The best way to prevent piracy is by making it easier to buy a product than it is to steal the same product. Despite my many reservations about Kindle’s proprietary DRM, Amazon has made the Kindle book buying experience frictionless. Publishers who fear piracy should work to emulate the Kindle discovery and purchasing process.
Right now the number one tool against ebook piracy isn’t DRM, it’s Whispersync.
When media historians write the history of DRM they may well devote a whole chapter to the day that Amazon customers awoke to find that their Kindle editions of “1984” had vanished into a memory hole and that Big Brother Bezos had apparently turned George Orwell into an unperson.
You would be hard pressed to invent a more apt or ironic example of the dangers of DRM. Surely this will be the incident that finally raises consumer awareness of the risks involved in buying DRM protected media.
And yet, after digging deeper into this story, I’m not convinced that this was a DRM issue at all. At least, not in the truest sense.
Further, this incident raises a host of interesting rights related issues that have largely gone unexplored in the days since.
Consider the following: [Read more…] about Digging Deeper Into Amazon’s Orwellian Moment
The Kindle is popular for a reason.
Amazon has created the most painless ebook experience any consumer could possibly ask for. No other system makes the discovery, purchase, and transfer of ebooks so frictionless. As a result, Kindle has become the standard everyone else in the ebook business will have to match just to compete. So far no one comes close.
But Kindle has a dark side that is starting to emerge with startling regularity.
This past weekend Dan Cohen was surprised to find that he could not re-download some of his Kindle books. After several lengthy exchanges with Amazon customer support Cohen was informed that some (but not all) Kindle books have download limits. Or maybe it’s a limit on the number of devices they can be transferred to. Or it might be both…
To be honest, Amazon’s customer service department isn’t entirely sure of what limits are imposed on DRM protected Kindle books. [Read more…] about Why Kindle’s DRM Free-for-All Is Bad for Consumers and for Amazon
Any way you look at it, the Kindle is a remarkable reading system. Amazon has managed to capture massive mainstream attention for an electronic reading device that combines seamless wireless content distribution with a purchasing process that is so transparent you’d be forgiven for not realizing you’ve actually paid money for a book.
Equally remarkable is the fact that Amazon sells DRM-restricted ebooks side-by-side with DRM-free ebooks while making no distinction between the two formats. From the consumer’s perspective there’s no way to tell which Kindle books are locked down by DRM before purchase.
Over the past week, Teleread has been orchestrating a consumer driven tagging effort to tag DRM-free books in the Kindle store. While I think the project is a brilliant use of crowdsourcing, it also reveals just how bad the problem really is. In order to accurately tag a Kindle ebook as DRM-free, Amazon customers must first buy the book, then go through a somewhat involved process to test whether or not the book is locked down. [Read more…] about Amazon’s Kindle Disclosure Policies Could Attract FTC Attention
Kindle 2 shipped this week, and all over America ebook lovers are gleefully tweeting the arrival of the new reading device.
That’s all well and good, but those excited new Kindle owners may want to proceed with caution when it comes to using one of the device’s most highly publicized new features. In fact, they just might want to consult a lawyer before pressing that “read aloud” button.
The Authors Guild believes that Kindle 2’s text-to-speech (TTS) feature is an infringement of audiobook rights. In fact, the Guild contends that because of this new feature, every Kindle book sold is not only an ebook, but also an audiobook. Never mind the fact that Kindle 2’s voice has been described as sounding “oddly norwegian” or that Jeff Bezos recently joked with John Stewart that the read aloud feature sounds “a little freaky.”
By now it should be clear that ebooks are more than just a passing fad. That digital reading revolution we’ve been hearing about for over a decade is finally starting to take shape. Amazon has sold over a half million Kindles, Sony has moved several hundred thousand digital Readers, and Stanza, the free reading app for the iPhone, has been downloaded over 1.3 million times.
As consumer adoption of digital reading devices accelerates, publishers are grappling with the impact that digital distribution will have on existing business models. It’s hard not to feel a certain sense of déjà vu as we witness yet another form of mass media completely remade in the digital era. And it’s hard not to feel just a little bit sad that publishers are making many of the same mistakes we’ve seen made in other industries — most notably by the recording industry.
Confession time. I was wrong about reading ebooks on the iPhone.
When I evaluated various ereading devices a few months back, I came to the conclusion that the iPhone was not suitable for long form reading. Months later, I’ve now read several books on the iPhone and I have to admit that the experience is growing on me. In fact, I frequently find myself looking at my bookshelf and thinking, “I wish I had that book on my iPhone”.
In most cases those wishes are an impossibility because there’s no (legal) way to get the book in question onto my iPhone — or any other reading device, for that matter. In some cases, where digital editions are available, they aren’t available in a format that would work with any of the current iPhone reader applications.
There’s hope that all of this may be changing soon, as publisher interest in the iPhone/iPod Touch seems to be growing by the day. Publishers are rushing to experiment with all manner of ebook releases targeted at the iPhone.
In part, publishers are turning to the Apple platform as a way to neutralize the momentum building behind Amazon’s proprietary Kindle platform. Ironically, not long ago record labels were headed in the opposite direction, offering up their catalogs to Amazon in hopes that Amazon’s MP3 Store might neutralize some of iTunes’s momentum.