books The avalanche has started, but the pebbles are still trying to vote.

That’s the sense I get from some articles and attendant analyses that came out of BEA last week.

This Reuters piece has quotes from Kobo and Penguin execs about how publishers really would like a universal, platform-agnostic e-book format so that books bought from one source can be read on any device. The fly in the ointment is the need for DRM due to concerns over piracy.

Ars Technica has a deeper analysis of the issue, taking the Reuters piece as a starting point and talking to writers and others in the industry about it.

"The problem still lies with publishing houses and their inability to talk to one another. Everyone is doing their own thing without any regard for readers or customers," [self-published author Cesar] Torres said. "Apple and Amazon would be toast if publishers really got their act together."

The problem as Ars sees it is that publishers can’t agree on how to handle e-books. Some, like Baen, are quite progressive about it. Others seem to want to protect print books at e-books’ expense. And e-book sellers such as Amazon, Apple, and Barnes and Noble don’t have incentive to press for more universality—they use their own unique DRMs because it’s in their favor to tie buyers as closely to them as possible.

And Kassia Krozser at Booksquare sees a lack of leadership from publishers on the most important issues, which means retailers are taking the bit in their teeth and building out e-book purchasing processes that make it easy and painless for customers to buy from—and be locked into—them.

She also has some things to say about the idea that concern over piracy and DRM is what is holding e-books back:

Piracy is publishing’s bogeyman. It exists, oh, does it exist, but all the DRM in the world won’t stop it. Keeping books in print-only formats won’t stop it. Smarter thinking about piracy is the key. Heck, we don’t even know how big a problem piracy is. There is much intellectual dishonesty in publishing about this very real problem.

I think that the publishing industry really could do a better job of handling this transition. As Krozser says, there needs to be more leadership in the field. But publishers are as human as the rest of us, so I imagine the disagreements will continue.

It’s also worth noting that, even as execs from Penguin claim the problem is DRM and piracy, they are instituting pricing that readers are finding upsetting and offensive. That doesn’t seem to be the way forward to me.


  1. The interesting thing about this is that Apple and others accept ePub, a preferred format of eBooks. They then add DRM, which to me is just another layer that they are adding onto ePub. In some regards, epub is universal, but harder to say let’s have a universal format when publishers also create their own apps, which is a proprietary format in a way. Let’s say ePub is the standard format (I won’t get into the arguments for or against it), if all you are doing is adding a layer of DRM, in essence, it is still the ePub format, just a form of security on it.

    Now let’s get to DRM, many people hate it; authors, readers, even some publishers. Publishers on many sites, articles and other avenues I’ve read have said that they want to better serve their customers. Well, to do that, start listening to them, no DRM, no app vs eBook unless you can truly show the value of it. But to better serve your customers, you know, the ones that keep the lights on, pay your bills and all of that, then actually listen to them and your authors.

    I’m curious to see how many authors actually care about DRM. Let’s be serious about this, if someone really wants to pirate the content, they will find a way to do it. The other issue nobody has brought up is that along with all of these formats everyone likes for an eBook, best practice says to have a unique isbn for each; that could be 10-12 isbns per title, how do you spin that to a small pub or author and then you sell an eBook for $.99 or maybe higher. To an author or company, they need to see the return on the investment of an isbn, they aren’t cheap.

    To me, an epub is an epub, no matter the drm layer or not, isbn should be able to be the same. Publishers need to really embrace the customer culture and work with them and listen to their needs and wants along with their authors and those in the trenches, they understand it often better then those in the upper levels. Want a universal format, then you have to give a little to get a little without the authors or readers losing out in the end or the vendors.


  2. It’s no so much the DRM that I object to, it’s the fact that the epub format with DRM can not be read on all devices. How about we go with a universal DRM for epub, that way regardless of the device, the DRM ebook is accessible on all devices.

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