Friday, June 2, 2017

Where Is E-book Interoperability?

Kirk McElhearn:

Not only do I need to sign into two different accounts, but I don’t get all the benefits of Amazon Prime on my Kindle account (my Prime subscription is on my main account; I’ve added the second account, and I can get free shipping, but nothing else: no Kindle Lending Library, no Prime Video, etc.).


This wouldn’t be a problem if these ebooks didn’t have DRM. I would be able to simply download them to my Mac, then send them to the Kindle account of the main account. But Amazon offers no solution to this issue; a problem that they created back in 2009.


If music has managed to shed DRM, why have ebooks resisted? Part of what caused Jobs to issue his statement was a European Commission investigation into interoperability of digital files; why have there been no similar investigation regarding ebooks?

And he’s talking about e-books that are part of the same platform, to say nothing of interoperability with iBooks and Nook. The situation is even worse for video, as you can often buy e-books direct from the publisher (e.g. and Take Control).

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"If music has managed to shed DRM, why have ebooks resisted?"

Well, the simple way to answer this question is to ask a parallel question:

If music has almost completely lost its pricing power, why have ebooks maintained their full pricing power?

Further, Kirk's framing of this situation is incredibly disingenuous. He makes a big point about online music shedding its DRM in 2007. But by then, it was a mere formality. Music had already lost its pricing power by making DRM-free music the default through its short-sighted decision not to abandon the CD format a decade or so earlier. That short-sighted decision is what killed the industry, and allowed Apple to drink its entire milkshake. By 2007, the industry was frantically amputating limbs in an attempt to save something, anything of its shrunken, diseased body.

Other content industries studied the music industry's demise quite closely, and took away good lessons from the debacle. If I were a major eBook publisher, or a major film/TV publisher, I'd be very thankful DRM is standard in my industry. (Same goes for any major artist with business sense in these fields.) Small and specialized publishers of both eBooks and video can sometimes rationally avoid using DRM, but that doesn't scale to the majors.

Now, obviously DRM can create genuine hassles for consumers. Kirk here is experiencing one of those hassles due to rights being silo-ed by nation, and ensuing fallout stemming from how that intersected with his habits. He's got valid reason to be annoyed. But even as a consumer, I'd rather there be some inconveniences than see the industry collapse, and less diverse content being produced, as happened to music.

(Similarly, I don't think professionally produced, non-ad-supported software should abandon its form of DRM. The short-term benefits of "yay! everything can be had for free." turns into the medium-term / long-term detriments of "woah. why is there no new good software?")

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