As if you didn’t know already, no party line exists at TeleRead, and yesterday’s post by Co-Editor Paul Biba is a good example---the one where he knocks ePub and talks up cross-platform DRM. What’s more, he is all too tolerant of Amazon as it exists now.
Yawner if we all agree on everything, right? Ahead are reminders of why we need ePub but not cross-platform DRM, or Amazon’s currently obnoxious ways of doing business.
ePub: A must
First, the arguments for ePub:
1. Paul is more sophisticated technically than the average user, regardless of what he may say; and we need to watch out for the true newbies. E-book formats are complex animals, and even automatic translation isn’t always painless. All kinds of nasty surprises can pop up. Someone like Paul, who cares a lot about the proper reproduction of his favorite books, might be disappointed. I want the day to come when shoppers can see an ePub logo on a bookstore or reading device and confidently buy without worrying about the Tower of eBabel.
2. ePub does not benefit only consumers. Just ask Twilight Times Books, my publisher, about the Tower of eBabel---and the need to get formats just right. Let’s see: Twilight must worry about PDF, eReader, Mobipocket, HTML...
3. If we want advanced interactivity and other wrinkles, then ePub will help. Here’s to shared annotation and reliable interbook linking!
4. The Tower of eBabel if left intact would make it harder to preserve books long term, because of the complexities of translation. New operating systems will come and go. Better to standardize on ePub. Yes, it will change over time; but let the evolution be graceful and well-documented.
DRM: A must-not
Now let’s remind ourselves why we don’t need cross-platform DRM:
1. What’s the point? Traditional DRM is laughable for e-books, in an era when you can just take a scanner and scan in a paper book. None other than Mike Shatzkin, one of the leading gurus of the publishing industry, would prefer social DRM over the traditional variety in most situations. We’re talking about embedding users’ names and/or other identifying information in books to discouraging copying. This wouldn’t stop piracy but keep it down to an acceptable level while reducing inconvenience to consumers compared to the current DRM
2. DRM actually encourages piracy by penalizing legal users (especially those with multiple reading devices), just as you’d infer from the last sentence above.
3. With traditional DRM in use, e-booklovers may not be able to back up books as easily—or, Paul, translate them into different formats. I suppose you could use multiformat files. But then somebody is bound to come out with new formats. Just how many occupants of the container file, or of Tower of eBabel in general, do we want?
4. If you have a truly open DRM arrangement, then it’s all the more vulnerable to being cracked.
5. DRM adds to the costs of e-books in an industry where earnings can be slim, and can be hard on small e-tailers, whose software has enough to keep track of—even at a time when most states are not forcing them to collect taxes.
Even for educational purposes, traditional DRM is a loser. The real remedy is to change business models, so that, for example, e-books are included in tuition. What’s more, a TeleRead approach, a well-stocked national digital library system with fair compensation for content providers, could reduce the incentives for piracy.
Amazon: Exactly why we need ePub
As for Amazon, it does have some very nice little ergonomic wrinkles in the latest Kindles, as well as other features such as auto-sync, er, WhisperSync, but perhaps other vendors can do still better. Amazon for now is doing its best to use proprietary technology to trap consumers and thwart the dreams of those who long for a more open approach.
The current Amazon, as it exists now, is an unwitting but powerful arguments for ePub and related standards. The more popular becomes the Kindle format, the less leverage publishers and consumers will enjoy in their future dealings with Amazon.