Who Really Wants DRM?

April 26, 2012

Do you want DRM on your ebooks? I certainly don’t, and I would guess that most of you would much rather not have to deal with the security theater of DRM either. So who really wants to lock down your content?

Soon, it may not be publishers who are forcing us to deal with DRM on our e-content. TOR/Forge, a major science fiction and fantasy publisher within the Macmillan group, announced earlier this week that it will stop applying DRM to its ebooks by July.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “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.”

What Doherty does not acknowledge, however, is that in addition to being an annoyance, DRM is pretty much a complete failure at actually securing digital content. All of the major DRM schema (Adobe, Kindle, Apple) have all been cracked for one-click removal. So why keep using DRM? For publishers, the decision to apply DRM is mainly based on maintenance of the status quo and a reluctance to step back from the FUD that has been spread in the past. That a Macmillan publisher is willing to look beyond the mythos of DRM and piracy is a great sign for the future.

But I am not sure it will be the end of DRM. Who wants DRM? The ebook reader manufacturers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble who want to lock readers into a single bookstore platform. As someone who has to try all of the new ebook readers (I know, tough job!), I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the latest Kindles. The E Ink models are overpriced if you don’t want advertising, and the Fire is so concerned with other media that the reader app is a mess. And yet if I have previously purchased Kindle books, I am locked into compromising for one of the new Kindle models.

Even if TOR/Forge is going to release ebooks without DRM, are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple going to sell them to consumers without DRM? Are Amazon and Barnes & Noble going to include multiple download options (including their competitors’ ebook version) with the purchase of a TOR/Forge book? My guess is that Amazon and Barnes & Noble would much rather continue to apply DRM to lock readers into their hardware. The Kindle and the Nook are the razors, the real profit is in the content purchased after the initial sale.

Of course, this is all a bit academic for us because Macmillan does not sell ebooks for library lending . . . yet.