DRM free ebooks!? It is going to happen …

Last year I wrote about J.K. Rowling, author of the immensely successful “Harry Potter” series, breaking out of the traditional publishing mould by offering Harry Potter ebooks through her own site. Another interesting recent development within the ebook world is digital publishers slowly starting to drop digital rights management (‘DRM’) from their ebooks.

The main thing about DRM is that it is meant to stop piracy and to stop people from sharing content. However, DRM also makes it harder to read an ebook across different devices, limiting users to a single technology to read ebooks with.

This BBC post explains this problem very clearly: “At present a user who buys a DRM-encoded book via Amazon, for example, can only read it on one of the firm’s Kindle e-readers or a device running one of its Kindle apps. They cannot transfer the title to a Sony Reader, Kobo eReader or use it with Apple’s iBooks.”

Last month, sci-fi publisher “Tor” announced that it will release all its digital titles DRM free as early as July 2012, citing author and reader requests as the main reason for this bold move. Tom Doherty, president of Tor, explained about his readers that “they’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

Going back to J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore site; she also chose to offer her ebooks DRM free (mind you, this only applies to ebooks sold through her site directly). The only thing she did do instead was inserting a digital watermark to prevent users from copying her books illegally. The question remains how many other, less ‘niche publishers will start releasing their ebooks without DRM protection. It is interesting to note in this respect that Tor  is part of Macmillan, a publishing giant, who seem to have gone for a strategy whereby DRM is dropped on a small scale first, to then roll it out across a much larger catalogue of – more mainstream – titles.

Main learning point: it will be interesting to see how many other, more mainstream publishers will follow Tor’s lead. One could argue that the effectiveness of DRM protection in light of battling piracy is limited and that therefore a better user experience should prevail. The publishing industry seems to be going for a ‘softly softly’ approach where DRM free ebooks are introduced gradually, which makes a lot of sense. From a purely personal point of view, I welcome any move towards DRM free ebooks since I think it will force publishers to rethink their anti-piracy measures and improve their readers’ user experience at the same time.

Related links for further learning:






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