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June 27 2012

"Lightweight" DRM isn't the answer

To: Bill McCoy, IDPF Executive Director
From: Joe Wikert, GM & Publisher, O'Reilly Media, Inc.
Subject: "Lightweight" DRM Isn't the Answer

The world doesn't need another DRM platform, regardless of whether it's called "lightweight." DRM is annoying for customers and provides a false sense of security for publishers. As author Charlie Stross wisely stated, publishing's "pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder."

I realize your proposed solution is intended to become an industry standard and prevent the type of lock-in Stross describes. Let's face facts though. Amazon doesn't use the EPUB format and their current market dominance means they're the least likely player to advocate an open, interoperable solution like this. And since Amazon owns approximately 60-70% of the ebook market, your proposed standard would only apply to the remaining 30-40%.

Why would anyone want to develop yet another DRM option for, at best, 30-40% of the market?

More importantly, why do you want to give the publishing industry another distraction and reinforce that false sense of security when we're finally seeing movement towards a DRM-free world?

We've been very open about the success of our DRM-free approach at O'Reilly Media. One simple guiding principle led us to being DRM-free: We trust our customers. We get plenty of compliments from those customers throughout the year and it's clear our trust has created goodwill with them. After spending years touting the benefits of being DRM-free it's encouraging to see others adopting the same approach, including Tor, a Big Six imprint. O'Reilly has long maintained that the costs of DRM — even lightweight DRM — far outweigh any potential benefits. Our position has not changed since Tim wrote "Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution" back in 2002.

If the IDPF really wants to make an impact on this issue I suggest you forget about creating another form of DRM and instead spend time educating publishers and retailers on the virtues of going DRM-free. Besides the obvious benefits to customers this could also lead to the end of Amazon's big stick that Charlie Stross says we're all getting hit with.

Once we've completely eradicated DRM perhaps the IDPF could offer their own mobi-to-EPUB conversion and sideloading tools for consumers to further level the ebook playing field. That would be a much better use of IDPF resources than any DRM project could ever be.


June 13 2012

For many publishers, direct sales is an untapped opportunity

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

Our June TOC theme is retailing, and there's never been a more important time for publishers to build a direct sales channel for their customers. Far too many publishers still ignore this opportunity, claiming their existing retail partners already do a good job and they don't want to compete with them. That should put a smile on the faces of the biggest book retailers who are only too happy to compete with publishers by creating and distributing their own content.

OR Books isn't like these other publishers. I recently spoke with company co-founder John Oakes (@johnghoakes) about the importance of a direct-to-consumer channel and why OR Books has made it a priority.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Start by scrapping distribution & production — It's a classic example of how a startup isn't weighed down by The Innovator's Dilemma; OR Books is an alternative publisher in many ways. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
  • Requires title-specific marketing — Because OR's books cover many different genres, they have to develop unique marketing campaigns for each rather than just trying to get a bunch of copies stocked at a retailer. [Discussed at 2:07.]
  • Another DRM-free advocate — Despite the fact that all OR Books products are sold DRM-free, John points out that piracy has never been an issue for them. [Discussed at 4:07.]
  • Non-returnable, prepaid basis — Those are the terms OR Books has with print book retailers. It probably means they don't get huge placement, but it also eliminates the pain and expense of returns. [Discussed at 6:30.]
  • Less gambling, more hand-selling — John feels there's still an important role for brick-and-mortar retailers, but they need to change their purchase and selling models. [Discussed at 10:55.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.


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