This is a screencast of the DRM presentations I gave last week at O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference.
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.
In some ways, TOC Frankfurt was like every other TOC conference. The event brought together the usual assortment of publishing professionals, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders to discuss the future of an industry in the midst of a massive transformation. Over the past three years TOC has emerged as the go to source for publishers looking to expose themselves to innovative ideas and the cutting edge technology that is shaping the future of the book business.
TOC Frankfurt differed from previous TOC conferences in a few notable ways, however. First, the event lasted just a single day, rather than the usual three. As a result, attendees got what might best be described as a concentrated dose of the TOC vision. Then there was the fact that the conference was being held in Europe for the first time. The Frankfurt conference had a distinctly more international feel to it than previous TOCs. And finally, there was the post-conference media coverage, some of which was less than flattering.
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
The moment digital media consumers have long waited for finally came this week as the FTC held a Town Hall meeting to discuss issues surrounding the use of DRM technologies.
From the beginning it was clear the FTC has heard consumer complaints about DRM related issues and takes the matter seriously. What wasn’t clear is what, exactly, the FTC is prepared to do to ensure that consumers get what they pay for when they purchase digital media products.
Mary K. Engle, Acting Deputy Directory for the Bureau of Consumer Protections, opened the workshop with some tough words for companies selling DRM protected media products, warning, “If your advertising giveth and your EULA taketh away, don’t be surprised if the FTC comes calling.” Further, Engle noted that consumer distrust over DRM makes for an unhealthy marketplace. [Read more…] about The FTC on DRM: Fighting for Consumers or Making Toothless Threats?
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.