DRM: Unlocking the ebook

All too often, the discussion around the growing popularity of ebooks boils down to antagonisms: digital vs. printed, ink vs. pixels, the new vs. the old.  But more and more we are seeing the differences between print and ebooks narrow and disappear. Today, let’s explore Digital Rights Management (DRM) and the impact this rule is having on content distribution.

Understanding DRM

To go on stressing the strengths of print and digital would just rehash an argument that’s gone around in circles since ebooks started getting serious press. But I couldn’t help revisiting the debate after a recent article I read on the BBC’s Future section. In the piece, Tom Chatfield discusses Tor Books’ decision to release all of their ebooks DRM free. To those unfamiliar with DRM, Chatfield explains:

“Consider the difference between owning a book, and merely owning the right to read a book under certain circumstances – say on a limited number of devices or for a limited period of time. The first is what traditional print publishing offers. The second is the DRM model – one intended to protect publishers and authors against piracy.”

Like most passionate readers, I have a few nostalgic hang-ups when it comes to books, and I’m not alone. I enjoy being able to dog-ear pages, write inscriptions to friends, and make notes in the margins. I like the feel of a pulpy paperback and the reassuring heft of a big book in my tote bag. An ereader offers an entirely different set of joys: storage! convenience! portability!

Chatfield suggests that selling books DRM free, without the use restrictions that most eBooks have, opens up “the tantalizing possibility of helping digital reading preserve all the advantages of its weightless, infinitely capacious medium while regaining some rich possibilities of physical books—and specifically those communities of lending, discussion, sharing and recommendation that are the traditional lifeblood of reading.”

Consider the Author

There are the interests of authors and publishers to consider with an issue like this, but I am excited by Chatfield’s thinking. Imagine being able to pass an eBook back and forth among your friends, each of you scribbling in notes and maybe even a doodle or two. Think about snagging your favorite quotes and sending them straight to a reading group, or posting them in an online literary community.

It’s unclear what this move spells for the young industry, but it’s neat to think about the potential for eBooks to not only become more like the endlessly shareable, modifiable printed books we love, but to push the boundary of how we can read and talk about books.

4 thoughts on “DRM: Unlocking the ebook”

  1. Often when I finished work I might go for a pint and read a (printed) book. Later on the train or bus I could continue to read the book without buying another copy with a different format.
    DRM I leave to the legal people to discuss, but as long as it exists an ebook should be readable on all ereaders.

  2. I distribute my books in electronic form, but never with DRM. Yes, the drawback is that my works may be copied freely, but I’d rather the books be liberated than be locked down by some faceless corporation who controls what you can and cannot do with what you purchase. I’d rather give my books away for free than laden them with DRM.

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