Sony may have gotten out of the consumer ebook market in May of this year, but that doesn't mean they lost all interest. A new report is coming in today that, in addition to developing a new ebook DRM, Sony is looking into used ebooks.
Details are still scarce, but lesen.net reports that the new project is being developed by Sony DADC, a completely different part of Sony from the previous ebook efforts. This firm is primarily interested in DVDs and CDs (they also made LaserDiscs way back when) but Sony DADC also develops the DRM and related tech used on those physical disks, and they have recently turned their attention to ebooks.
Sony isn't sharing very many details, but they are saying that under their system, the seller will be able to transfer a sold ebook to the buyer and in the process lose access to the file. I can also report that this new DRM platform is indeed based on the work of Marlin, the cooperative DRM development group that Sony has been investing in for the past several years.
The Marlin ebook DRM platform, which I have reported on once or twice in the past, doesn't have a huge presence in the market but it has shown up here and there. The platform supports consumers lending an ebook to their friend, and it also supports library loans and on the fly renewals.
And yes, it also supports the option of reselling a used ebook.
Sony hasn't said how wide the interest is in the new DRM, but they did report that the first contracts with publishing customers have already been signed. The system is due to go live in the next 3 to 6 months.
To be honest, I think my source is overstating the possibility of used ebook sales; at this point we don't even know who is planning to adopt the DRM and to what degree it will be supported, so it's far too early to suggest that consumers will be able to resell ebooks.
eBooks are actually licensed and not sold, but it is arguably legal to sell them in the US and in parts of Europe. But since this issue hasn't been decided either in the courts or by legislators it is too early to say whether it is a practical possibility.
And then there's the question of publisher and retailer adoption, without which you have nothing to resell.
But in spite of the unanswered questions, I do expect to see this DRM platform show up here and there. FBReader announced earlier this year that they will be integrating Marlin DRM into their app. This should enable the app to support ebooks bought from ebookstores which (I assume) are working with Sony support this DRM.
I doubt Sony new DRM will supplant Adobe in the larger ebook market, but that doesn't mean it won't be used. Adobe might be the most visible DRM when it comes to Epub ebooks but they're not the only one. Kobo, Google, and Apple all use their own unique type of DRM internally, and so does Oyster, the subscription ebook service.
image by Steve A Johnson