April 23, 2012

If publishers dropped DRM, would it help them fight Amazon?


Over at GigaomMathew Ingram suggests that publishers who mandate the use of DRM on ebooks may, more than anything else, be helping Amazon. The idea is that anti-piracy software doesn’t actually do much to stop illegal downloads, as it’s simply too easy to crack. Rather, it hooks honest, low-tech users to a single reading ecosystem. Ingram says it’s a question that’s more urgent than ever in light of the Department of Justice suit against Amazon and five of America’s biggest publishers:

If the publishers dislike the power Amazon has over them, they need to recognize they shoulder much of the blame, since they helped to forge the DRM chains that have kept them shackled to the company’s platform. Why not break those chains and try to set their content free instead?

It’s an interesting notion, especially given that some of the biggest U.S. publishers have considered—as revealed in the DOJ lawsuit—creating an alternative platform for selling ebooks.

Moreover, Ingram suggests that DRM may be hobbling ebook sales in general, since books from most publishers:

… Can’t be loaned or borrowed, or they can only be loaned or borrowed a certain number of times. And they can only be used on one platform, with all kinds of restrictions. What these chains and locks do, more than anything else, is to make the simple act of buying and reading a digital book horrendously complicated. Does that make more people want to buy and read e-books?

But slowing the growth of ebook sales, via DRM or other means, may also be a strategy for New York publishers—after all, they sell a ton of print books in a marketplace where they have a decided advantage over smaller players, a marketplace where, for now at least, Amazon isn’t the only game in town.


Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.