Luc Reid suggests a type of ebook DRM that actually might not suck

The eBook future looks pretty bright for consumers, with devices improving and dropping in price, and a wealth of material to read thereon. But writers are worried, with some justification – after all, if the Kindle does for publishing what the iPod has done for the record labels, no one’s going to get much money for writing short stories any more.

Writer Luc Reid has been scratching his head over the Digital Rights Management question in an attempt to satisfy his requirements as both a writer and a reader, starting from the premise that DRM is necessary to enable authors to be paid for their work:

In general, the biggest argument against DRM seems to be that it provides positive things for the seller but only negative things to the buyer. Here’s a DRM proposal that actually helps the buyer, while taking away some of the biggest nuisances. I’m sure I’m not the first one to come up with it. It’s account-based DRM.

What I mean by “account-based” is that when a person buys a book, that person gets a permanent license to read that book on any eReader device they own, from a smart phone to a dedicated eReader to, who knows, their wide-screen TV with a little black box attachment. Computers might or might not be included; that would be mainly a technical issue.

This “account-based” idea is different from what’s usually talked about when people talk about eReader DRM, which is “device-based.” That is, much of the thinking about DRM has been that when I buy a book, I get to read it on the particular device I bought it for and nowhere else.

It’s a well-thought out set of ideas, and Reid has worked hard at including the flaws and objections. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s predicated on too many ‘ifs’ for it to be viable. An industry-wide standard retail structure complete with hardware and software that supports the system may sound easy on paper, but the real world is a little more messy, and getting competing companies to work together is like herding cats.

That said, Reid’s piece is one of the most honest defences of DRM I’ve ever read; maybe the publishing houses should get a think-tank of smart writers and readers together to boil up new ideas instead of leaving it to the beancounters and engineers?

4 thoughts on “Luc Reid suggests a type of ebook DRM that actually might not suck”

  1. Ha ha ha! This has to be the biggest laugh of the morning: “[N]o one’s going to get much money for writing short stories any more.” Excuse me, but who is making “much money” by writing short stories now?! Any short-story writer who can earn enough money through his or her art to cover the cost of mailing manuscripts is already a winner in this game.

  2. Fully aware of that, Robert; the point is that even that small input may dwindle away if better business models for the short form can’t be found – one of the purposes for Futurismic‘s existence, no less. And if things are already bad, does that mean there’s no point in trying to staunch the bleeding? Not to mention the fact that the same issues will become endemic in the novel market as ebooks become more prevalent…

  3. I posted this comment on Luc Reid’s site too…

    ok, so the first thing I would say is that wouldn’t it be better to develop a trust relationship with your readers? Of course maybe that sounds scary. Maybe that just sounds unrealistic to you, but maybe instead of fighting to keep the tide out you should figure out new ways to use the all that power rushing in.
    So, what happens when the company administering the DRM servers decides to close them down, or goes out of business? Because in the last year or so we have seen that happen again and again for music DRM servers.
    Also, why should I have less rights with an ebook than with a regular paper book? If I wanna do something with my ebook that you haven’t anticipated, why shouldn’t I be able to? What if I want to use a device you don’t support? If I want to cut my paperback up and make a collage I can… why shouldn’t I be able to with my ebook. How about reselling my books? I can sell paperbacks, why not ebooks? I could go on and on.
    You don’t need DRM to sell books, the marketplace may change but people love stories and writers will always be in demand. We might make our money from signing appearances, fan pre-payments for new books, speaking engagements, or any of a dozen other ways as yet un-thought of.
    Be open to the future, forget DRM

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