Freedom to Read – a DRM free world?

Electronic publishing industry’s rapid advancement is driven by electronic devices / tablets and the high consumption of the internet. There is a constant concern among publishers and authors regarding their eContent availability and and more importantly, its protection.

The ongoing discussion in the publishing ecosphere is whether dropping DRM (Digital Rights Management) would be a good move. Top level executives from the industry are brainstorming on the pros and cons of removing DRM completely from all eContent. Quite a few publishers have announced to waive off DRM completely as it prevents them from using legitimately-purchased eBooks in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.

Cost per download, device or platform lock-ins and device fragmentation are some of the reasons which compels publishers to drop DRM. Consumers are also quite technology savvy these days, they read on a variety of devices and find DRM a deterrent to accessing content on a variety of reading devices. One of the announcement by Tor/Forge to go DRM-free by July has made publishing giants to think on whether dropping DRM is a reasonable call. According to Tor/ Forge “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance for their authors and readers”.

In the past Apple revolutionized the sale of Digital music when they started providing DRM free downloads through their iTunes service. This started the DRM free revolution in online sales of music. If history were to repeat itself, if 2 or 3 top tier publishing houses were to drop DRM on eBooks, most other publishers would follow suit.

Removing DRM allows the small retailers and distributors to compete effectively with the current major players.This in turn will encourage diversity in the retail sector, force the current these players to inter-operate with other supply sources (or face an exodus of consumers), and undermine the tendency towards oligopoly.

The winner here would be the consumers, who are able to use the content they have bought on any of their devices without restriction. If they can find content without any restriction in the format they require easily, the likelihood of them purchasing it is so much higher. If they feel DRM is restricting their consumption, they are forced to look for “alternate” (and often illegal) sources of content. Studies by a prominent digital publisher have shown that dropping DRM in their case has actually more than doubled their sales in a pilot they ran.

Dropping DRM many not have an immediate positive impact on the sales across the board, but rather will have mixed impact. Whereas smaller publishers and retailers will have an upper edge than the big retailers like Amazon. Finally, going DRM free completely can take time and will undergo many more discussions and analyses before the final decision.

The future of DRM is something we will have to wait and watch, and can have mixed results for different publishers. In my opinion, DRM should be completely removed in order to give consumers freedom to consume eBooks when and how they want. After all, keeping a customer happy would only drive up sales of eBooks and not the other way around.

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