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March 30 2012

Publishing News: There's no such thing as degrees of DRM

Here's what caught my eye in publishing news this week.

Social DRM is as bad an idea as traditional DRM

HarryPotter.pngThe most talked-about news this week was the release of the Harry Potter ebooks. The release was interesting on a couple of fronts. First, Amazon and B&N were strong-armed into allowing a portal to a third-party sale on an outside website — and into allowing a third-party download onto their proprietary devices. As a post at The Bookseller notes, "It is believed to be the first time Amazon and Barnes & Noble have allowed an e-book sold on a third-party retail site to be downloaded onto a Kindle or Nook device."

Second, the Potter books are being sold DRM free. Well, that's not entirely accurate — Laura Hazard Owen describes the copyright situation:

"Is there DRM? No, the e-books do not have DRM. Instead, they're watermarked (or, as Pottermore kindly describes it, 'personalized'): 'The Pottermore Shop personalises eBooks with a combination of watermarking techniques that relate to the book, to the purchaser and the purchase time. This allows us to track and respond to possible copyright misuse.'

I reached out to O'Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert, who recently called for an end to DRM, to get his thoughts. He says the Harry Potter watermark move is like being "sort of pregnant":

"My first thought is that this form of social DRM provides a similar false sense of security as traditional DRM. Anyone who wants to put this content on the torrent sites is just going to strip the watermarking out, the same as they'd do with the regular DRM. And I find it ironic that so many publishers say they're not concerned about torrents as much as they're trying to prevent customers from sharing the books with friends. Well, watermarking is going to make that much easier (than regular DRM), and I doubt many customers will feel guilty about doing it. They'll probably simply tell their friend, 'it's OK for you to read this too, but please don't pass it along to anyone else since it has my name embedded in it,' for example.

As far as I'm concerned, there aren't degrees of DRM. You either have it or you don't. It's just like being pregnant. You're not 'sort of pregnant.' And social DRM is as bad an idea as traditional DRM. I'd like to think that this Harry Potter situation will cause other publishers to feel they can ease up on their need for DRM, but I'm not sure that will happen."

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has a nice post on some of the major takeaways from Rowling's diversion from the traditional path, which also includes the agreement with libraries: "... the Potter books can be loaned an unlimited number of times, and the lending license lasts for five years."

Survey says ...

PaywallArt.pngGoogle rolled out a new product this week aimed at helping struggling digital publishers with their revenue streams. A post at Adweek says the new Google Customer Surveys "is being billed as an alternative revenue model for publishers weighing whether to erect paywalls on their sites." The post explains how the surveys work:

"When users visit the Web sites of partners like the New York Daily News and the Texas Tribune, they'll find some articles partially blocked. If they want to continuing reading, they'll have to answer a question, or microsurvey, courtesy of Google.

The multiple-choice questions will be on market research, along the lines of 'Which of these types of candies do you usually buy for your household?' The choices for that question include 'None, Hard candies, Jellies, Licorice, Toffees.' Another question: 'Have you had personal experience with filing lawsuits? Please check all that apply.' ... Advertisers pay Google to run the surveys, and Google pays sites 5 cents per response."

In a post at PaidContent,Laura Hazard Owen explains the advertiser side of the survey:

"The customers create surveys and select the audience who will see the questions. Questions seen by a broad audience representing the general U.S. population are $0.10 per response (with a minimum total cost of $100). If companies want to drill down by demographic or select a custom audience with a screening question, the cost is $0.50 per response."

Owen also highlights a potential issue (and the reason both of us couldn't get a survey to pop up at partner site Lima News): The surveys can be blocked by AdBlock and by pop-up blocking options in browsers.

Personally, I'm willing to pay to avoid my content being interrupted, whether that content is news, books, movies, etc., but as Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FT.com, points out in a post at Wired: "Old models may be broken and the industry's initial approach to the web may have misfired, but where there's demand, there's a business. News publishers should have faith that they still perform a valuable service and go out looking for the right model to support it."

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The nature of virtual goods, TBD

Tim Carmody took an in-depth look at the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into agency pricing this week. He argues that the investigation goes much deeper than issues of price fixing:

"... the DoJ's investigation and a related civil lawsuit touch on issues bigger than rising e-book prices or even collusion between publishers. The cases are also about who has the right to sue e-book publishers, the nature of publishers' bilateral interactions with Apple and other retailers, and whether it's even possible for a true agency model to exist for virtual goods like e-books."

That last point regarding virtual goods is particularly interesting — it looks like the courts will be facing a landmark decision regarding the nature of virtual commodities. Carmody explains:

"There are two legal models that could apply to the publishers' sale of e-books. One is agency; the other is retail price maintenance. In a genuine agency model, the agent doesn't own or bear legal responsibility for the stock; the seller does. Price maintenance simply allows the original seller to set a floor for final customer prices that retailers have to observe as part of their agreement.

According to [Donald Knebel, an IP and antitrust attorney affiliated with the Center for Intellectual Property Research], the usual legal tests for whether a retailer is acting as a publishers' agent hinge on issues of liability that don't apply to virtual goods. There is no physical possession of the stock, there are no storefronts catching fire. Knebel says this issue has never been adequately determined in court, even with software in a virtual app store, let alone e-books in a virtual bookstore.

Carmody's piece is a must-read for this week.

Photo: Beyond the wall by Giuseppe Bognanni, on Flickr

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July 01 2011

Radar's top stories: June 27-July 1, 2011

Here's a look at the top stories published on Radar this week.


Get started with Hadoop
Focusing on the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) and MapReduce, this in-depth piece offers tips for organizations that are looking to evaluate Hadoop and deploy an initial cluster.
Clojure: Lisp meets Java, with a side of Erlang
Stuart Sierra digs into Clojure: what it is, how it works, and why it's attracting Java developers.
Two lessons from Pottermore: Direct sales and no DRM
It's not surprising that J.K. Rowing is forging ahead with a well thought-out direct sales plan for Harry Potter ebooks, but it's a shock that publishers aren't doing the same things for their titles.
What CouchDB can do for HTML5, web apps and mobile
Bradley Holt talks about what CouchDB offers web developers, how the database works with HTML5, and why CouchApps could catch on.
How Netflix handles all those devices
Matt McCarthy explains how WebKit and A/B testing play important roles on Netflix's many apps. Plus: Platform lessons Netflix has learned that apply to other developers and companies.




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June 29 2011

Two lessons from Pottermore: Direct sales and no DRM

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("Harry Potter and the Direct, DRM-Free Sale"). It's republished with permission.


PottermoreIt took her a while, but J.K. Rowling now apparently believes in the future of ebooks. Last week's Pottermore announcement featured two important publishing elements: a direct sales model and a lack of DRM.

Harry Potter is one of those unique brands that dwarfs everything associated with it. Most Potter fans can name the author but few could tell you the publisher without looking at the book's spine. Although that's often true with other novels, Harry Potter is much more than a series of books or movies. It's an experience, or so I'm told. (I'm not a fan, have never read any of the books or seen any of the movies, but my house is filled with plenty of diehards who have told me everything I need to know.)

Rowling realizes the strength of her brand and knows she can use it to establish direct relationships with her fans. And so via Pottermore, the author doesn't need any of the big names in ebook retailing. Why settle for a 20% royalty or a 70% cut of the top-line sale when you can keep 100% of it? And why only offer one format when some portion of your audience wants MOBI for the Kindle, others want EPUB for their Apple/Sony devices, and maybe a few more would prefer a simple PDF?


It's not surprising that J.K. Rowing is forging ahead with a well thought-out direct sales plan. What blows my mind is that more publishers aren't doing the same. Sure, you'll find publisher websites selling PDFs. Some even offer other formats. But rarely do you find a publisher's website with all the popular ebook formats. Regardless of what type of device you have, it sounds like you'll be able to purchase a Harry Potter ebook for it on Pottermore. I hope they take the extra step and include all the formats in one transaction like we do on oreilly.com.

The other smart move by Rowling is the exclusion of DRM from Pottermore ebooks. Here's an important question for authors and publishers everywhere: If Harry Potter doesn't need DRM, why does your book?! If you ditch DRM you'll be able to offer all the formats. You'll show your customers you trust them and you'll also make it far easier for them to actually use your content.


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June 24 2011

Publishing News: Direct "Potter" ebook sales fire up the book world

Here are a few publishing highlights from the past week. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published here on Radar.)

Harry Potter ebooks coming via new Pottermore site

JK Rowling's announcement of her Pottermore website — and the long-awaited arrival of "Harry Potter" ebooks — was the most talked about story this week in publishing circles.

Pottermore will offer extra Harry Potter content for fans (Wired has a nice breakdown on the content speculation), and in the fall the site will exclusively sell the ebook versions of the popular series. Thanks to a partnership with Overdrive, the ebooks will be available across multiple ereading platforms, including the Kindle.

Rowling introduces Pottermore in this short video:

In a post by Philip Jones and Charlotte Williams for Bookseller.com, Rowling commented on why she's choosing to sell directly to her readers:

It was quite straightforward for me ... It means we can guarantee people everywhere are getting the same experience and at the same time.

Some see the move as the big game changer in publishing, and it definitely has ruffled some feathers. In a post on Beattie's Book Blog, a spokesperson for UK book retail giant Waterstone commented:

We always sought to add value for the fans when a new Harry Potter book was released and their launch days have become the stuff of legend at Waterstone's and other booksellers. We're therefore disappointed that, having been a key factor in the growth of the Harry Potter phenomenon since the first book was published, the book trade is effectively banned from selling the long-awaited e-book editions of the series.

The site will go live in October, but Rowling will hold a contest that will give one million fans early access to Pottermore in July.

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Amazon tablet rumors leak


KindleTabletArt.pngThe rumor mill lit up this week with leaks of a possible Amazon tablet coming to market in August or September. Digitimes says Amazon is aiming to sell 4 million units, globally, this year.

Additionally, Ed Sutherland notes in a Cult of Mac post:

Earlier leaks indicate the Kindle-maker will offer two tablet versions: a 7-inch device codenamed "Coyote" for $349 and a 10-inch model for $449.

A PC World post points out that Amazon hasn't officially commented, but that same post also links to a story where Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told Consumer Reports to "stay tuned."

A faster horse isn't the answer: How content should be conceived in a mobile world

As the mobile space increasingly connects the real and virtual worlds, changing the way people communicate, shop, read, and (very soon) pay for things, some argue that amidst all these shifts the space really needs a creative spark. Taking the analog experience and simply making it digital isn't cutting the mustard.

In the spirit of disruption, I've reached out to several people across the tech and publishing industries to answer one question: If you were going to build an app that fully harnessed mobile's capabilities, what would it do and how would it work?

Up first is Joe Wikert (@jwikert), general manager and publisher at O'Reilly Media. Wikert recently posted a piece bemoaning the state of digital content, specifically in relation to magazines. He summed up the issue succinctly in his post:

The bottom line is that I had higher hopes for the shorter-form content model by now. I'm hard-pressed to point to any one magazine app and say, "yeah, they've really created something special here." Instead, the Wired's of the world came in and offered the print content in e-format and thought they could charge a lot for it. I'm glad they've learned that won't work, but now I'm hoping they'll start experimenting more, either on their own or jointly with some of their competitors.

Joe's response to my question follows:

If you were going to build an app that fully harnessed mobile's capabilities, what would it do and how would it work?

JoeWikert.jpgJoe Wikert: That's the million-dollar question ... or maybe the billion-dollar one! I have a few thoughts on the capabilities required to capture my attention, but I also realize that there are probably many features I haven't even thought of. It reminds me (once again) of a Henry Ford quote I like to toss out from time to time: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse." In other words, if customers aren't already used to a particular platform or its potential capabilities, it's easy for them to limit their thinking to what they already know, not what they haven't yet experienced.

One of the key things I'd like to see happen with content is for us to stop looking at it through the lens of a book. We tend to get hung up with animating page-turns and we think less about how the content should be conceived in a digital-first (or digital-only) world.

  • This story continues here.

Photo: Kindle vs. iPad by kodomut, on Flickr



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