Libraries, eBooks and DRM

A Picture of a eBook

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Incoming technologies naturally rustle feathers. They often disrupt ways of doing business that have been established over long periods of time. The growing strength of eBooks is currently rustling feathers in the library/retail/publishing world. Since eBooks require new approaches to technology, pricing, distribution and a host of other issues well established in the print world, eBooks are regarded as an entirely new product. As such, all parties involved are scrambling to position themselves favorably within the new and developing eBook marketplace. Publishers see eBooks as a chance to offer lower costs while reaping greater margins. Retailers are trying to leverage their huge distribution setups, established relationships and proprietary measures to lock in consumers. Libraries are trying to get a seat at the table.

There are numerous endgames for all three of these industry players, not to mention consumers or content creators. But there is one thing I believe is hurting everyone involved, Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM is largely to blame for the divisive formats in which we find eBooks (.azw, .pdf, ePub, etc.). Because of DRM, library users are forced onto extended waiting lists and must suffer through redundant cataloguing and identification systems. Educators, students and researchers likewise are forced to implement eBooks ineffectively. In a recent interview, Brian O’Leary (@brianoleary), founder of publisher consulting firm Magellan Media, recalled a study done with O’Reilly on whether or not DRM prevented eBook piracy. What that study showed was a net lift in sales for books known to be pirated. O’Leary was quick to point out that this study was in no way emblematic of the publishing industry as a whole because their simply isn’t enough collected data to make that connection. All we ever hear about piracy is that it’s bad; it’s hurting record sales, it’s hurting eBook sales, etc. But according to O’Leary, a publishing consultant, “publishers seem reluctant to collect the data required to reveal the true impact of book piracy.” This leads me to my current belief which is that DRM is not about controlling piracy; it is about control, plain and simple. Proponents of DRM know very well that DRM does not prevent piracy. Hordes of Web users are capable of stripping DRM, and once a file is uploaded to a torrent or similar file-sharing site, the game’s over.

Let’s stop acting as though DRM is in the best interest of content creators who are subject to DRM laws on their own creations. Let’s stop pretending our failures are due to inaction on behalf of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other law enforcement agencies. If publishers and retailers value content creators and consumers, they will start working with them instead of against them. Give people what they want and they will stop stealing it from you. Innovation, not prosecution, is the answer.

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About emahollitz

I'm currently a high school librarian at Salesian High School in Richmond, CA. After earning a BA in English Literature and an Editing Certificate, I did what most English majors do, made coffee. However, I simultaneously tried my hand at music journalism and continued a personal hobby of crafting collections, mostly of books and mp3s. Old interests mingled with new-found interests in social media and other emerging technologies and suddenly Library Science crept into view as a viable what-I-want-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life option. I now feel decidedly in the right place and am ready to help my community.
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