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DRM-Free Matters to Me

Palm Pilot 1000, picture by Benjamin ChanIf I buy an ebook from Amazon, I can read it anywhere I can get Kindle software. Which is a *lot* of platforms, desktops, most mobile and tablet platforms. And the hardware kindle readers. But not the Nook because that’s Barnes & Noble’s hardware, and Amazon doesn’t care about playing nice there. In fact all the other eReaders are machina-non-grata to Amazon. No Nook, no Kobo, no Sony, nothing but Kindle.

Not that Barnes & Noble play any nicer with the other kids. They’ll support the tablets, for marketshare, but to hell with the other ereaders. Et tu, Kobo. And iBooks iGnores anything but iOS.

Which is not all bad. At least all of the four have a real bookstore behind them, but Amazon looks like the big dog, and reading Amazon ebooks is the highest probability path to getting your digital fix.

If you’re one of the dedicated hardware manufacturers, it makes the outlook… challenging. Can’t read amazon books, but there’s Overdrive, powering a lot of libraries. And some of those formats that it supports will run on your Sony, or your Aluratek. Some of them. On some readers.

Which is remarkably crappy for us readers and yet the revolution is slow and painful.

Want to see how screwy the support arrangement is?  Take a look at this little table of readers and the book format/stores that will work on them.

Format SupportAmazonNookiTunesKoboOverdriveDRM Free
Win Phone

Did you catch that? The ebook format you bought may not work on the device you prefer to read it on. All thanks to DRM, a security system to control who reads (or listens or watches) what, where.

Take away the DRM and you get to use the book on any reader. ePub file readers are available for pretty much every platform in the last 15 years. And, this is the brilliant part, if you hit something too old or too new to support ePub, it’s trivial to convert a DRM-Free book to work with your PalmPilot from 10 years ago, or with that cheap tablet you got as a prize with your new credit card.

In other words, take the DRM away and what you end up with is a book. A book that you control, not tied to any particular device or retail ecosystem. It’s a book, that you can read, that you can fold and crease and change.

I’m trying to avoid talking about why DRM is silly. But I do have to point out that the media companies have been trying to protect their old business methods by adding DRM and lobbying till they get laws that make it illegal to tamper with the DRM, even if you respect the actual rights that you’ve been given.

Right now, there’s a limited alternative. There’s the growing body of authors who are selling their own works, DRM Free. And there’s Baen Books and now Tor who have decided that they’re in the business of selling books to readers and not readers to consumers. I’m excited that Tor is changing their point of view. I think it’ll break the ice for other big publishing houses.

Here’s hoping, anyway.

Posted in books, rants.

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