Amazon Will Be The Big Winner When eBooks Go DRM-Free
You may have read the hot news today about Tor/Forge Books. They’re going DRM free round about July of this year, with all ebooks in all stores dropping existing DRM. There’s even a chance that Tor/Forge ebooks might even show up in ebookstores that never offered DRM, though that seems unlikely (side from Baen’s ebookstore, none are large enough to matter).
One curious detail about this story is that there are signs that this move was discussed all the way at the top of Macmillan, the corporate parent of Tor/Forge. Charlie Stross has posted about a meeting he had in NYC with senior folks at Macmillan where DRM was the main topic.
The talks at the top are particularly interesting because it’s a sign that the senior folks are likely to be at least talking about the idea that Macmillan as a whole might go DRM-free.
Let me assure you, nothing would make Amazon happier.
Right now DRM-free ebooks are being touted as the next step in fighting Amazon domination of the ebook market. Agency pricing has gone by the wayside thanks to the Price Fix 6 colluding in expensive NYC restaurants. TBH, I’m not sure it helped at all, given that the agency model only affected a fraction of the ebooks on the market from a fraction of the publishers in the market. But that’s a post for another day.
I’m sure many publishers see DRM-free ebooks as a chance for other ebookstores to start poaching Amazon’s customers. The idea is that dropping DRM will enable customers to walk from the Kindle Store and take their ebooks with them when they move to another ebook platform.
While that will likely happen, I wonder if everyone has really thought this through. There are a couple details that most seem to forget when they pin their hopes on this: Amazon has a nicer ecosystem and Amazon is better at selling stuff.
They are not quite as lean and hungry as they used to be but they are quite nimble. If the new game is poaching customers then Amazon will figure out how win it. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that Amazon is probably already planning for the day when the walls come down.
Let me make a prediction about that day. Some time about 2 weeks before the first major publisher follows through on going DRM-free, Amazon is going to offer a couple new services:
- they’ll bump the space available in the Kindle Cloud to 10GB so you can store more ebooks, and
- they’ll start supporting Epub for the email conversion service.
I’m pretty familiar with the Kindle ecosystem, and so far as I can tell Amazon’s first major stumbling block for poaching customers is getting the content from other ebookstores into the Kindle ecosystem. Before you can read the ebooks in the apps and on the Kindle you first have to upload them, and that usually also requires conversion.
Converting a lot of Epub files at once can be a hassle; I know because I’ve tried. So Amazon will need to make the process super easy and they can do that by finally allowing the automated email conversion service to accept Epub. This is a minor technical change given that the email service is based on KindleGen (which already works from Epub).
Now, they won’t really need to increase the storage, but I would. The Kindle is the one ebook platform that lets you store your own ebooks on their servers. That gives Amazon a decided advantage over everyone. And what better way to emphasize that advantage than by making a spectacle over giving everyone more space to store their ebooks?
Admittedly, this is a marketing suggestion rather than an improvement to the service, but it’s still worth doing just because of the attention it will generate.
The free storage and free conversion, as well as the many other services offered by Amazon, are all part of the Kindle ecosystem. To hell with low prices; that ecosystem is Amazon’s greatest weapon, which is why it will be the reason everyone starts running towards Amazon, not away.
Here’s my point, folks. Like a lot of heavy ebook buyers, I’ve purchased ebooks in a number of different ebookstores. If and when the major publishers go DRM-free I am going to be able to concentrate those ebooks in a single location (thanks to the many services pioneered by Amazon). Is it the best format? No. But it is the most convenient solution, and that is what is going to win out.
And once my ebooks are on the Kindle servers, guess where I will most likely buy my ebooks?