When Random House Germany announced earlier this week that it was softening its stance on DRM by adopting digital watermark DRM, many erroneously reported that the German ebook market had gone DRM-free.
The forecast isn't quite so rosy, but this does present a great opportunity for German ebook retailers to start actively competing with Amazon for the euros spent by Kindle users.
As of 1 October, the majority of ebooks published in Germany will be available (outside the Kindle Store) with only minimal DRM. This means that a tech-savvy consumer can buy one of those Epub ebooks, download and convert the ebook to Kindle format, and then load the ebook on to their Kindle.
It also means that a retailer can launch a feature which does this on behalf of the consumer.
It's technically feasible for ebook retailers to automatically convert the ebook and email the ebook to a customer's Kindle account. This feature isn't common in all markets, but several publishers who sell DRM-free ebooks direct to consumers, including Baen Books and O'Reilly, have offered this option almost since the day the Kindle Store launched, and Hachette intended to offer it in the ebookstore they didn't launched last year.
Hachette's ebookstore, eBooksForAll, was going to use digital watermarks so that the publisher could sell to Kindle owners. Now German ebook retailers have the option to follow the same path, but will they?
One would think that the retailers would take the obvious step, but that's no guarantee that they will.
Take, for example, the Dutch ebook market. Publishers in the Netherlands wholeheartedly adopted digital watermark DRM several years ago, and so did the ebook retailers.
Those retailers have every opportunity to support Kindle owners with a conversion+email service, and yet Timo Boezeman of CB Logistics informs me that retailers like eBook.nl and Bol.com do not offer this option.
I've never been able to find out why the Dutch ebook retailers don't better support Kindle users; as we can see in the Polish ebook market, there's no technical reason that this can't be done.
Poland's ebook market exists in the shadow of the Amazon ever since the German Kindle Store launched in 2011, and that shadow has shaped the market.
Polish consumers have bought Kindles, and then turned to local ebookstores to buy the Polish-language ebooks that Amazon would not sell. This forced the local ebookstores to adapt and sell ebooks that could be read on a Kindle.
In short, the Polish ebook market is, in many ways, the ideal market that we all want. There's just enough DRM to satisfy publishers, but not enough to annoy consumers or create walled gardens. It's a market where Amazon's customers are fair game for its competitors.
So do you think German retailers will head down that path?
image by kodomut