All These Calls for Amazon to Drop DRM Are Missing the Point
Ask anyone who has been tripped up by the restrictions that some publishers put on their content and they will tell you that DRM is a terrible crime against computer science. The pain we have all experienced in being stung by DRM continues to inspire bloggers to call for its end.
Unfortunately, most bloggers aren’t looking at the DRM situation from the viewpoint of the publishers and distributors. If they had looked at this issue from the inside out then they’d likely realize that one, there’s non-obvious forms of DRM on almost every type of content we can buy, and two, Amazon doesn’t get to decide whether that DRM is present.
There’s a new open letter over on ZDNet that calls for Amazon to drop DRM on audiobooks distributed via Audible:
When Audible was purchased by Amazon Inc. in 2008 most authors and audio book consumers hoped that Amazon would stop Audible’s widely-hated practice of crippling the use of authors' audio books with Digital Rights Management (DRM).
They’re now one of the last DRM hold-outs.
Violet Blue goes on to argue the many issues caused by DRM, but her article is wrong at its core. Amazon is ultimately not the company which gets to make the decision.
First, Amazon isn’t one of the last to use DRM. Most retailers use it on at least some of the digital content they sell. One problem with these calls to drop DRM is that most of the bloggers don’t look for supporting evidence any further than music. They neglect to consider the apps and movies that can be found in alongside the ebooks and music on a lot of retail sites.
Amazon, for example, uses DRM on the Android apps they sell (the same goes for Apple and probably Google). All of the sites which sell movies use one form of DRM or another. And depending on how you define DRM, it could be argued that even the mp3s you buy from Amazon, Google, et al are not DRM-free.
DRM is much more prevalent than one might think, and it’s going to stay that way at the insistence of the major publishers/studios/labels – or sometimes even at the insistence of the media conglomerates which own the major publishers/studios/labels.
That detail about ownership is rather important because dropping DRM might have to be made at a level above the folks actually running the content business. We know this was true at one time for at least Macmillan, and I’d bet it could be true for some of the other major publishers/studios/labels.
Way back in 2006 Tor-Forge Books, a Macmillan imprint, decided to take a positive step towards dropping DRM. They announced that they would sell ebooks via Webscriptions, the ebookstore run by Baen Books. Unfortunately that plan was quickly scuttled at the command of Macmillan’s corporate parent Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH (or so we were told at the time). Funnily enough Tor-Forge did go DRM-free eventually; it just took another 6 years.
Do you really want to get Amazon to drop DRM from ebooks? Then start a campaign to change the minds of the corporate HQs at News Corp (HarperCollins), CBS (S&S), Lagardère (Hachette), Georg von Holtzbrinck (Macmillan), Bertelsmann (Random House), or Pearson (Penguin).
Change the minds of the corporate parents and they can help push the recalcitrant publishers to switch over (assuming the publishers didn’t already want to make this move).
Calling on Amazon to drop DRM, on the other hand, is a waste of a blog post. They don’t have the power to acquiesce to the demand.