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The Beginning of the End for DRM?

October 16, 2009

DRM.  Three letters that mean the world for the proliferation of e-readers.

Digital Rights Management.  It’s what “protects” the e-books you buy and keeps you from copying them.  It basically tells you where you can read your e-book once you make the initial decision.  You want to read it elsewhere, buy another copy for that device.  Not very consumer friendly.

Imagine going to Barnes and Noble and getting a paperback off the shelf.  You go to the checkout and buy it.  They ask where you are going to read it.  “I’m going to read it in my chair in the living room,” you say.  “That’s fine,” the clerk replies, “But we’re going to have to insist that it never leave the living room.  If you want another copy, for the bedroom or whatever, you’ll need to buy a copy for that.”

I don’t know about you but that exchange would leave me flabbergasted.  It’s my book once you take my money!  If I want to read it on the toilet, what business is it of theirs?  Same thing goes for e-books.  If I buy an e-book and download it to my laptop, I want to also be able to put it on my PDA so that I can read it in the doctor’s office waiting room, in line at the store, at the mechanic’s, etc.  I don’t want to have to buy a different copy based on how portable I need it to be.

I can understand the whole not wanting to sell one copy and have 1,000 people end up with it for free thing.  But, really, how is that a different issue from one person buying a paperback and loaning it around town?  Are they going to start policing that too?

I’ve basically ignored e-readers because of this stuff, telling my wife that I wasn’t even going to think about buying a dedicated reader until the DRM issues were ironed out.

Google may be pushing the industry toward that end with the launch of Google Editions in the first part of 2010.  It will be Google’s e-book “store” which will digitally warehouse around half a million titles, many of which they have from their whole Google Books scanning project.  They are, however, trying to set up to allow publishers to sell new e-books through it as well, for a fee amounting to 37% of the receipts.

It will give web browser access to the books;  rather than PDF, ePub, Kindle Edition, etc.  If your device has a web browser, it can access your book.

It sounds to me, based on what I’ve read, that Google is merely selling access to the book rather than the book itself.  Kind of like a 24-hour library where you can look at the book anytime you want for the small initial fee.  I’m not sure if that approach is the best way to go but it’s surely a step in the right direction (read: a step away from restrictive DRM).

It will be interesting to see how this changes the landscape of e-publishing, if at all.  I know I’ll be keeping my eye on it.

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