It feels like we’ve seen this show before. Media companies offering content with utterly frustrating digital rights management (DRM) to keep their content from being pirated. People that want to pirate their content figure out a way to pirate it anyway. Their customers end up being the only ones affected by DRM so the media companies decide to offer their content without DRM.
You’d think we’re talking about the music companies, but we’re actually talking about the book publishers and ebooks. Big six book publisher Macmillan is the first major book publisher to take the plunge into DRM-free ebooks. Tom Doherty Associates, part of Macmillan, announced that the Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen ebooks will all be offered DRM-free beginning in July of this year.
Macmillan decided to make the move because their customers were constantly complaining that they couldn’t use the content that they legally purchased on all their devices. DRM on ebooks makes it very difficult to copy an ebook to a different device or to use a different ereader.
Macmillan decided to offer DRM-free ebooks of only their sci-fi and fantasy titles. They are definitely testing the water to see what impact this might have on their sales. If history ends up repeating itself they will eventually publish all of their ebooks without DRM and then the other book publishers will follow. This is exactly what happened with the music industry so it makes sense that it will happen with ebooks.
Unfortunately, this will not solve the problems of platform specific ebooks. You currently cannot purchase an ebook for a Kindle and read it on a Nook. The major ereader manufacturers have chosen to use their own proprietary formats which make ebooks incompatible with other ereaders. Making ebooks DRM-free will not solve this problem.
Also, libraries will still have to struggle with DRM on the ebooks that they are allowed to loan out. OverDrive uses DRM on the ebooks that it lets libraries loan out so that it is more difficult to pirate them. Book publishers selling DRM-free ebooks will not change this.
Ebook fans can finally rejoice now that ebooks will be DRM-free. Now if only we can get Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble to make it so that you can buy your ebook once and read it on any ereader.