A Renewed Plea for Moving Beyond DRM and Incompatibilities in eBooks

Joe Wikert at O’Reilly clearly articultes a view I’ve held for some time, that we need ebook interoperability that is entirely comparable to that of MP3’s for digital music. The use of DRM by the larger ebook stores has certainly kept me from even contemplating a dedicated reader as much as I am increasingly attracted by the promised advantages.

Imagine buying a car that locks you into one brand of fuel. A new BMW, for example, that only runs on BMW gas. There are plenty of BMW gas stations around, even a few in your neighborhood, so convenience isn’t an issue. But if one of those other gas stations offers a discount, a membership program, or some other attractive marketing campaign, you can’t participate. You’re locked in with the BMW gas stations.

This could never happen, right? Consumers are too smart to buy into something like this. Or are they? After all, isn’t that exactly what’s happening in the ebook world? You buy a dedicated ebook reader like a Kindle or a NOOK and you’re locked in to that company’s content. Part of this problem has to do with ebook formats (e.g., EPUB or Mobipocket) while another part of it stems from publisher insistence on the use of digital rights management (DRM).

Wikert goes on to re-visit the problems inherent in the current ebook market in a coherent and I think compelling fashion. It is worth noting that O’Reilly, who re-posted this piece from Publishers Weekly, is one of the few publisher from whom I regularly buy ebooks exactly because they support all the popular formats and have never used DRM.

I simply will not buy into another platform that has an intentional switching cost built in. I possess the technical experience and skills to exercise what I believe to be fair use in the form of personal copies and format shifting. That doesn’t change how I feel even if that means I still have to live with the limitations of paper books as an avid reader, both for pleasure and for my profession. I would love nothing more than to have my entire non-fiction library always at my fingertips with quick lookup and digital notes to add in my research, writing and other work.

It is more important to me to set a visible example and to keep pushing for a legitimate means to exert my preferences, especially with my purchasing dollar. If I buy DRM’ed or otherwise platform locked titles, I fear it sends the wrong message, that I find this situation acceptable when I clearly do not.

It’s time for a unified ebook format and the end of DRM, O’Reilly Radar

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