It doesn’t matter whether Macmillan wins the price-fixing lawsuit bought by the Department of Justice. The point is, the big six publishers’ Plan B for fighting the emerging Amazon monopsony has failed (insofar as it has been painted as a price-fixing ring, whether or not it was one in fact). This means that they need a Plan C. And the only viable Plan C, for breaking Amazon’s death-grip on the consumers, is to break DRM.
If the major publishers switch to selling ebooks without DRM, then they can enable customers to buy books from a variety of outlets and move away from the walled garden of the Kindle store. They see DRM as a defense against piracy, but piracy is a much less immediate threat than a gigantic multinational with revenue of $48 Billion in 2011 (more than the entire global publishing industry) that has expressed its intention to “disrupt” them, and whose chief executive said recently “even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation” (where “innovation” is code-speak for “opportunities for me to turn a profit”).
DRM - for those of you who aren’t aware - stands for Digital Rights Management and is essentially a security lock on every book that you buy from Amazon (or Apple) that means that it is locked to you as a user and the eReading device you have. It is what prevents you sharing or giving the book to anyone else. The eBook files are secure and will only work with your username and password on the device (whether Kindle or iOS) you use. It also means that, if you buy a book from Amazon, it won’t work anywhere except on a Kindle or inside a Kindle app. Likewise if you buy a book from Apple; it’ll only work within iBooks.
The publishers demand for DRM on their books has, inadvertently, ended up giving Amazon even more power. If the publishers were to remove DRM from their books then it would break one area of control that Amazon has. It would mean that users would no longer be tied to any particular device; users would simply own the digital version of the book and be free to use it on any device they choose. And they would be able to purchase those DRM free books from a much wider array of sources; it wouldn’t have to be via the Amazon Store.
John Gruber has added a response to the original article:
I think he’s right, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. DRM is a religion for old-school media executives. Rational thought could, but won’t, lead them to this solution because they’re starting with an unshakable irrational bedrock assumption: that there can exist a technical solution to defeat piracy. Their belief in DRM is a matter of faith, not logic.
If I’m wrong though, and the publishers see the light of day and start selling DRM-free ePub books, I think that’d be a win for Apple, in the same way that dropping DRM from music has helped, not hurt, Apple’s music business. Amazon is the one whose Kindle devices and apps do not support DRM-free ePub books.