I’ve really been enjoying my Kindle. I’ve even bought some e-books from Amazon instead of only reading books I could find DRM-free copies of. The little, niggling reminder in the back of my mind that the device and the e-books I was supporting were more restricted than the paper books I could buy on the shelf never went away, but I was able to justify my ignoring it with the pros of the device and formats themselves.
Then a friend of mine wrote a piece titled “Almost, Amazon” about why he couldn’t bring himself to buy a Kindle despite all the enjoyment he’d get out of it, and it made me feel guilty. We show businesses what we want by how we spend our dollars, and here I was part of the problem.
My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t see much of a problem. Sure, she’d prefer that digital books and e-book readers not have anything to do with DRM, but the DRM model is one that doesn’t negatively impact her. So she can’t donate a finished book to the library or sell it to the used book store for a couple dollars; she’s still saving money up front and getting all the e-book benefits that paper books don’t have. The pros vastly outweigh the cons. Also, she reminds me, as e-book sales increase, publishers should be able to stop worrying about digital books (legitimate and pirated) eating away at their traditional sales, and instead take such confidence in their future involving digital books that they needn’t cling to DRM. I understand that DRM is helping give publishers the confidence they need in digital publishing’s infancy, but once it’s learned to walk they should be able to stop holding its hand and let it run. I can still remember the frustrating days when it looked like there was no hope for the music industry, and now DRM’d music is a thing of the past.
But I worry about what could happen if e-books never escape from DRM the way digital music did. DRM for ebooks isn’t terribly restrictive in its current state, but the ability is there for publishers to start getting crazy without a moment’s notice. Just weeks ago Harper Collins declared their intent to start using DRM not just to prevent piracy, but to increase revenue from libraries (and one can infer they hope to make libraries less able to be useful as well). In addition to writing “Almost, Amazon”, my friend also shared a link with me that paints an even grimmer possible future; one not nearly as far-fetched as you may think.
However, I shared this and other “worse case scenarios” with my wife, and again she’s not too concerned. Even if every person in a family needed their own Kindle and their own copy of an e-book in order to read it (as opposed to sharing one copy within the family across multiple Kindles as we currently do) she says the pros of e-book outweigh such cons (her enthusiasm for e-books is impressive).
I understand my wife’s perspective, and I certainly agree with her on the benefits of e-books in general. But I’d really like to help increase the chances that once the dust has settled in this messy birth of e-books we’ll see them left with the same easy-to-share/sell/give/use abilities that paper books have. So I need to write letters to publishers, authors, and e-book DRM providers like Amazon and Adobe. I need to educate my e-book loving acquaintances on how much better it could be without DRM, and how much worse it could be if we never get rid of it, in hopes that they’ll too work to encourage publishers and sellers to end DRM. The Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books sums our demands up nicely, and the website and community its creators have developed around it is bound to be a valuable tool in the fight against e-book DRM.
I have to hope that some day a big player like Amazon will convince publishers to give up DRM and convert all existing and new e-books to open, DRM-free copies, liberating those of us who spent our money on the shackled content of today and giving everyone else sound, reliable, open access to one of the greatest technological advances of our time. If not, I hope we’ll still have paper books around in case publishers decide to use DRM to turn e-books against us.