The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Monday, June 14, 2010

DRM and content ownership

As e-readers and e-books become increasingly popular and pervasive, the rights surrounding e-books and issues of DRM are at the forefront of industry concerns. An article from Mainstreet.com takes a look at digital books, noting that “for the most part there is no real distinction between an e-book and a piece of software. When you buy either, what you are really paying for is a license to use the product, not to own it.” The interesting title for this article is "Do we own the e-books we buy?" An interesting phrase choice, as most of the options for students to buy digital textbooks fit this concept of paying for a use license for a period of time -- more like a digital rental than a digital purchase.

Publishers and e-book sellers rely on DRM software to prevent piracy, and it is used by all major e-book readers with the exception of the iPad.

“Amazon took a big step and allowed publishers to decide whether they wanted a particular book to use DRM. While this is definitely a step toward allowing consumers more control over the books they buy, Nieman Lab points out that most publishers will likely choose DRM for fear of piracy.”

With Google Editions expected to be launched later this summer, which will not be focused on proprietary devices and software, and with publishers pushing for a standardized e-book format, perhaps DRM restrictions will be at least somewhat reduced in the not-too-distant future.


Anonymous said...

How important is ownership of the content? Why own a book? How often does one read it anyway? Most books are like movies, one time use. The publishing industry would do well to learn from their own experience with the introduction of the paperback decades ago. With DRM one is effectively renting the book. That being the case, charge for it as a rental not a purchase. How much does it cost to rent a DVD as opposed to buying it?

As far as textbooks go, there is no doubt that the amount of books sold back to stores during buyback is ample evidence of the fact that hardly any student wants to own their books.

Publishing has made its money by getting inventory as cheap as possible (a publisher's inventory consists of the authors they have under contract and for which they want to pay as little as possible) and copyright law which protects a publisher from having its business infringed upon not by a reader of a book but by another publisher. Copyright never protected authors, it protected publishers. What has changed is that publishing does not require hardly any investment in capital equipment. In this respect it is no different than the music business. One can set up a music studio in a bedroom. The expense of a recording studio has dropped precipitously just like the cost of publishing. How much should one charge when the distribution cost of a book is almost zero and the production of a book can be handled by anyone with a cheap laptop and some software?

Publishers are seeing a decline in the asset value of an infrastructure built for an era that no longer exists and this includes the relationships of distribution.

The "middleman" function is always to act as a facilitator between actual producer and end consumer. What happens when producer and consumer can almost deal directly with each other?

Erin said...

Actually the iPad does use DRM, it is an Apple proprietary DRM, familiar to some which is FairPlay. Previously this was used on all iTunes music, before going DRM free.

As to Anonymous' statement that "there is no doubt that the amount of books sold back to stores during buyback is ample evidence of the fact that hardly any student wants to own their books."

From the numbers I've seen no more than one quarter sell their books back. Personally in the long run I do not see the lease method in digital textbooks as tenable. Inevitably the student wants the right to do with the book they purchase as they wish. Lend it to their friend, sell it to a classmate, or keep it in their "closet" for the next ten years, when they "buy" it they want to own it.