The Dangers of DRM: just give it up already

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

E-reader (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love reading books. I love my e-reader more than I ever expected to. I want to support book shops and authors and libraries. I want to give them my money.

So why do e-readers make it so hard?

There are so many things you can do with an e-reader that Amazon etc… didn’t envisage when they first came up with the device. We have the pleasing oddities like the humble eBook bundle, practical extensions that import articles and Google docs from browser to e-reader and new avenues for acquiring eBooks such as Project Gutenberg. However the theoretically simple act of buying an eBook from a high street shop website is more complicated than balancing the government’s budget. Not only is the download process often strangely convoluted and poorly explained but having downloaded and paid for the book there is a high chance it will not be compatible with your e-reader of choice.

Yes, it is that worst of all eBook afflictions: DRM.

There are plenty of, easily available ways to circumvent DRM but the only legal option is to read the eBook on a laptop or buy the compatible e-reader, neither of which is exactly a viable option. While the theoretical logic of DRM is obvious, even a brief investigation of the practicalities shows up serious flaws. Most obviously, nothing drives people to piracy like having to jump through hoops for something they have already paid for. EBooks ought to be available to read on whatever device happens to be available, no matter where it came from. If an e-reader breaks or dies all the books on it should transfer to the next device without any fuss. The fact that this is not the case borders on the ridiculous especially when it is so easy to pay nothing for an eBook without DRM. The reality is that DRM makes eBooks inferior to both physical books and pirated eBooks. In order to abide by the law customers have to make a conscious choice to spend money on a worse product than the illegal version. Clearly this is not a sustainable model.

English: Librarians against DRM

Librarians against DRM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other irritation that people have started to run up against more and more is the fact that eBooks cannot be lent to friends. Marketing studies have shown time and again that word of mouth and sharing books is the most effective way to boost book sales yet lending remains anathema to eBooks. Amazon has started to make steps in this direction, though only for their US customers but most publishers in this country are still struggling with lending libraries. EBooks have been a significant part of our culture for enough years now that the negotiations on this point are looking increasingly like petulant floundering.

Though I was not a fan of Pirate Cinema, Cory Doctrow’s article for the Guardian last year is an incredibly thorough look at the draw backs, for both customers and retailers, of continuing to use DRM. Some retailers are finally starting to wake up to the harm DRM is causing though it lingers in the majority of eBook sales. Last year Tor started selling their eBooks without DRM and others must surely begin to follow. Hopefully as more independent booksellers start to embrace e-readers they will have learned the lessons from the big chains and will steer well clear of DRM.

Ultimately, books are too important to be chained up by DRM and kept behind bars. Reading should be a joy. Reading should set you free.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like DRM?