Publishing News: Week in Review

An open question on DRM, a bookstore puts ebooks in the cloud, and unwanted Kindles find new homes.

Here’s what caught my attention in this week’s publishing news. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

What is DRM for, exactly?


Last week in an interview with Brian O’Leary about the current state of piracy in the book industry, the subject of digital rights management (DRM) and its relationship to piracy came up. Brian said:

I’m pretty adamant on DRM: It has no impact whatsoever on piracy. Any good pirate can strip DRM in a matter of seconds to minutes … DRM is really only useful for keeping people who otherwise might have shared a copy of a book from doing so.

To be clear, Brian wasn’t saying he’s against DRM — he actually didn’t state his opinion about it at all, other than to note that DRM is a useless tool against piracy.

Mike Shatzkin responded to Brian’s interview, agreeing that DRM isn’t an effective tool to prevent piracy, but that it is important because it prevents casual sharing. He wrote:

I do think DRM prevents “casual sharing” (it sure stops me; and I think most people are more like me than they are like my friends who break DRM for sport) and I believe — based on faith, not on data — that enabling casual sharing would do real damage to ebook sales with the greatest damage to the biggest books.

A piece from Wired further muddied the DRM waters by showing how almost anyone can strip book DRM in a few short steps.

All of this leads me to a couple questions:

  • What fears, concerns, and issues do publishers hope DRM can address? Piracy? Sharing? Something else?
  • Is DRM is a long-term solution?
  • If you work for a publisher, how is your organization using DRM?

To chime in, share your thoughts in the comments area of this post.

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Access rights versus ownership: Are URL-based books the future?


The idea of access versus ownership is coming to the forefront quickly in the book publishing world. Inventive Labs recently launched the beta site for their HTML5 ereader. All you need to use is a web browser — you sign in and read your books. There’s no software or files to download, just complete no-muss no-fuss access to your books. You don’t own your books in the traditional sense — you own the rights to access them.

Australian indie bookstore Readings is in full experiment mode with the cloud-based pay-for-access concept. On Monday, they launched their ebook store, Readings Ebooks, which works together with

This cloud model will allow for lending, and it opens the possibility of resale for ebooks. In a recent post, Joseph Pearson (@josephpearson), one of the minds behind, argued that cloud access is a better ownership model:

…if you “own” the ebook file, locked up with DRM — that’s actually the most anemic definition of “ownership” I can think of. I don’t see how — short of hacking it — that file is any insurance of your continued access to the book if you’ve purchased it from any of the major ebook platforms.

If we ditch that bad idea, new and perhaps better models of ownership can begin to supplant it. If a book is a URL, it is fantastically easy for you to lend a book to a friend: you simply give up access to the URL while they have it. That seems to me like a vital aspect of ownership, and an incredibly problematic aspect with files. More significantly, the right to re-sell your ebook emerges as a possibility — because you can transfer your right of access to another individual.

It will be interesting to watch the response not only from consumers, but publishers as well. uses ereader technology to educate students in developing nations, and unwanted Kindles find a new home in Oregon


If you’re an extreme curmudgeon who deems the Kindle to be a “soulless faux-literary technology,” the Microcosm Publishing Book and Zine Store in Portland, Ore., has a solution should you somehow come into possession of the device. Trade your Kindle — dollar for dollar — for old-school paper books.

I spoke with Matt Gauck, a bookseller at the store, on the phone Wednesday night. He said the plan is to add the Kindles to the store’s collection of outdated technology. So far, storage limitations haven’t been an issue because they’ve had just two participants in the exchange program. If the trade-in catches on, however, they’ll need a plan B.

One potential solution: Consider a tax-deductible donation to The nonprofit organization provides access to digital books in developing countries. In November, they launched a project in partnership with Amazon called the iREAD Pilot Study. Kindles were distributed to more than 500 children at six schools in Ghana, providing them with books and textbooks to which they wouldn’t otherwise have access. The preliminary progress report is worth a read and quite inspirational.

Anytime technology can be used to make the world a better place, it’s a success in my book.

Got news?

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