My latest Guardian column, “Why the death of DRM would be good news for readers, writers and publishers,” looks at the wider consequences of Tor Books’ dropping DRM on its ebooks, and what it would mean for writers and publishers if DRM was dropped across the industry:
Back when ebook sales began to kick off, most major publishers were still DRM believers — or at least, not overly skeptical of the claims of DRM vendors. They viewed the use of DRM as “better than nothing”.
When queried on the competitive implications of giving control over their business relationships to DRM vendors, they were sanguine (if not utterly dismissive). They perceived “converting ebooks” as a technical challenge beyond the average book buyer. For the absence of DRM to make any kind of difference in the marketplace, they believed that book buyers would have to download and install a special program to let them convert Kindle books to display on a Nook (or vice-versa), and they perceived this to be very unlikely.
But it’s only the widespread presence of DRM that makes “converting ebooks” into a technical challenge. Your browser “converts” all sorts of graphic formats — GIF, JPEG, PNG, etc — without ever calling your attention to it. You need to take some rather extraordinary steps to find out which format of the graphics on your screen right now are using. Unless you’re a web developer, you probably don’t even know what the different formats are, nor what their technical differences are. And you don’t need to.