‘Book insurance’—to try to guarantee you can read your DRMed e-books in the future?

image Publishers Weekly zapped tens of thousands of words of my E-Book Report blog from the Web without any real explanation (brave enough to bring ‘em back, guys?). Don’t you love the permanence of electronic media? Guess I was a little too uppity about Amazon, DRM and the rest. Ironically one of the ideas I proposed in my PW-censored blog was a centralized system to guarantee that consumers would have access to DRM-tainted books, if publishers insisted on using this loathsome technology. DRM’s side effects can be a little like the tornados that insurance companies “protect” you against. You never know what’s coming but would prefer be as “safe” as possible. In that vein, as I recall, I suggested in PW a form of centralized registration.  The best solution would be no DRM on your purchases, of course---such tornados are manmade. But failing that, we need incentives to make certain that to the extent possible, people can own their DRMed e-books. Bravo, Michael: Similar idea from ex-Bowker prez The basic idea is so, so logical, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone beat me to it. Meanwhile, on his own, Michael Cairns, former president of Bowker, is exploring somewhat overlapping territory, and I’m delighted even if I do not agree with Michael on every little detail. I don’t remember if I mentioned the compatibility issue, but Michael, to his credit, did. Here’s an excerpt from his PersonaNondata blog:

Some (new) third party would offer this service to content buyers as a type of insurance or escrow policy. On purchasing content, I would register the purchase as part of my profile. Obviously, I would have to provide some proof that I had made the purchase but the transaction would sit in this profile as long as I paid my monthly premiums. The amount paid by the consumer wouldn’t have to be a lot because only a small amount of the ‘members’ would ever make use of the insurance. (It becomes an actuary exercise).

Circumstances arising whereby a user would make use of the insurance could be anything from ‘passing your library on to a family member’ to simply moving over to a new platform. Depending on how the insurance company was set up (as a pseudo-retailer possibly) they wouldn’t host this content but they would allow the consumer to ‘re-purchase’ the content and then submit a ‘claim’ for the purchase. For each ‘re-purchase’ they would get a refund just like a traditional insurance company. (And maybe the following year your premiums go up also). There maybe other benefits to this solution including the return of the right of first sale: As registered owners maybe we build a secondary market for e-Books.

I assume that Michael’s idea, like mine, would or could cover situations where the publisher went out of business, or decided someday to get out of e-books as Jeff Bezos once reportedly said he might. And therein lies the fun. I’m not as confident as Michael that customers’ purchases would be absolutely safe. For example, to boost Kindle sales, Amazon capriciously decided to discontinue the Adobe format and zap the lockers where customers had stored books in that format. Who’s to say such situations won’t arise again? In an era where even GM’s survival can be open to question, it is just damn wrong to tie a book to any specific format or company.

About David Rothman (6820 Articles)
David Rothman is the founder and publisher of the TeleRead e-book site and cofounder of He is also author of The Solomon Scandals novel and six tech-related books on topics ranging from the Internet to laptops. Passionate on digital divide issues, he is now pushing for the creation of a national digital library endowment.

2 Comments on ‘Book insurance’—to try to guarantee you can read your DRMed e-books in the future?

  1. David – thanks for the notice. Great minds etc. etc.

  2. Exactly, Michael. Meanwhile let’s hope that publishers understand how consumer uncertainty is the enemy of profitability. Thanks. David

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