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Why do we buy books with DRM?

December 31, 2012

Ars has a good column about why DRM persists in ebooks despite being dropped by the music industry.

So maybe you were lucky enough to get an e-reader for the holidays. In fact, maybe you’re reading this article on one right now! Maybe you’re cozying up to your fire and you’re considering what e-book you want to download to get through these dark winter days.

But you’re an Ars reader, and you actually know (and care!) what DRM stands for. After all, we’ve been covering digital rights management for years, ever since it was a contentious issue in the music industry.

And that leaves this question: where’s the DRM outrage over e-books? Or put another way, why doesn’t Amazon care about eliminating DRM for books, when it did for music?

What is DRM?
If you aren’t familiar with it, here’s a good definition of DRM:

Digital rights management (DRM) is a class of access control technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders, and individuals with the intent to limit the use of digital content and devices after sale. DRM is any technology that inhibits uses of digital content that are not desired or intended by the content provider. DRM also includes specific instances of digital works or devices. Companies such as Amazon, AT&T, AOL, Apple Inc., BBC, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, and Sony use digital rights management. In 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed in the United States to impose criminal penalties on those who make available technologies whose primary purpose and function are to circumvent content protection technologies.[1]

The use of digital rights management is controversial. Content providers claim that DRM is necessary to fight copyright infringement online and that it can help the copyright holder maintain artistic control[2] or ensure continued revenue streams.[3] Those opposed to DRM contend there is no evidence that DRM helps prevent copyright infringement, arguing instead that it serves only to inconvenience legitimate customers, and that DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition.[4] Further, works can become permanently inaccessible if the DRM scheme changes or if the service is discontinued.[5] Proponents argue that digital locks should be considered necessary to prevent “intellectual property” from being copied freely, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen.[6]

Why Buy eBooks with DRM?
The article got me thinking about my own ebook buying habits. I have to confess that I have about 300 ebooks, split between Amazon’s Kindle platform and Apple’s iBooks. I know that these books contain DRM, so why did I buy them despite not liking DRM in general?

Well, I’m a bookworm. I always have been. When it became possible to download book samples via Amazon and Apple’s ebook stores, I could not resist. I can lose myself for hours poking around in both stores, downloading samples and reading them (and, in some cases, buying the entire book).

There’s an amazing convenience level to ebooks that really isn’t there with print books. I used to get in my vehicle to drive to the book store, to check out new books. I haven’t done that in years and years. These days, I just pick up my iPad and open iBooks. Or I go to the Kindle store via my web browser. There are more books available than I’d ever have time to read, and I can easily see all the newest releases for whichever category interests me.

You just can’t get that immediacy with print books, without having to drive to the store. And  you can’t easily sample print books for the same reason.

Another thing that makes me excuse the evils of DRM in ebooks is that portability advantage. I can carry hundreds of books on my iPhone, iPad or Kindle device. Again, you simply cannot do that with print books.

I find myself able to easily kill time when out and about by pulling up whatever book I’m currently reading on my iPhone. I can grab a few pages while waiting in line or for an appointment or whatever.

Sure, I could carry a print book around but why bother? Reading on my iPhone is comfortable and it’s always with me.

eBook Pricing Stinks
I will admit that ebooks are way too expensive for what they provide, particularly for new releases. However, if you can wait a while you can often get the book at a lower price later on. I admit that this is sometimes very difficult.

A recent example of this for me was “The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm” by William Manchester and Paul Reid. The book cost $19.99 in ebook form on iBooks. That’s no small change for a book. However, I (and many others who read the previous books in the series) had waited years for this book to be released. The minute it came out, I wanted it. And so far it’s been a great read, and the $20 I spent has given me more interesting entertainment than spending a similar sum on movies or TV shows.

The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm

The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm

Will DRM Go Away?
Will we ever be free of DRM in ebooks? I truly hope so, but I don’t want to wait for it. I want my books now, and – for the time being – I am willing to put up with DRM even though I really don’t like it.

I suspect that there are lots of other bookworms who feel the same way. We don’t like DRM, in fact some of us hate it. But we can’t help ourselves. We must read, it’s what we do.

What’s your take on this? Are you a bookworm? Tell me in the comments below. 


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One Response to Why do we buy books with DRM?

  1. Jim Lynch on December 31, 2012 at 1:12 am

    This is a repost due to site problems over the last few days.

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