“THAT COMPANY is destroying my P&L, the entire book industry, and the fabric of civilized society.”
“I really like their free, two-day shipping, though.”
There’s a lot of tsoris in the publishing community right now over ebooks. Much of it has something to do with THAT COMPANY WITH THE WEBSITE THAT SELLS ALL THE THINGS, how THAT COMPANY has a stranglehold on the book market, how it’s devaluing our literary canon, how it has publishers right where it wants them.
But we’re not just cranky about THAT COMPANY. Other jeremiads include—but are not limited to—the painfully slow adoption curve of EPUB 3, the demise of beloved sites like Readmill, the failure of “enhanced” ebooks to gain traction, sundry ereader feculence, stagnating ebook sales, and sideloading.
I’m a cynic by nature, and count wallowing among my favorite hobbies, but after half a decade as a software engineer in the digital publishing space, even I’ve had enough and am issuing a moratorium on the negativity! Instead, I want to talk about some of the promising trends I’ve seen develop over the past year that foretell a bright future for the digital book. Forthwith, Five reasons for optimism about the future of ebooks.
#1: Ebook standards development is flourishing
I think there’s a tendency in publishing circles to look at EPUB 3 as some sort of digital-book endgame (e.g., “When NOOK finally fully supports EPUB 3, I can upgrade my entire ebook catalog”), when in reality, it’s merely a precondition for the real cutting-edge work to come.
. . . .
#4: Might the tide be turning against DRM?
When Tom Doherty, publisher of Tor Books, announced at IDPF Digital Book 2014 that Tor had eliminated DRM from its ebooks and had seen no significant detrimental impact on sales, the audience erupted in a loud cheer.
I took this as a hopeful sign that publishers are perhaps becoming more receptive to the notion that DRM is maybe not so much the solution to safeguarding ebook sales, but in fact the problem. In his 2011 dispatch, “Cutting their own throats,” author Charlie Stross put it thusly:
As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six’s insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy…it has locked customers in [THAT COMPANY WITH THE WEBSITE THAT SELLS ALL THE THINGS’s] walled garden, which in turn increases [THAT COMPANY’s] leverage over publishers….If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding [THAT COMPANY’s] monopoly position.
In addition to fostering a more competitive ebook retail landscape, I believe dropping DRM from ebooks will help lead to more competition, and thus innovation, in ereader software. When the ebook point of sale is decoupled from the platform on which the product is consumed, customers have the freedom to choose retailer independent of ereader, and vice versa. Regardless of where they purchase their ebooks, they can choose the reading system that has the features they like best—e.g., best CSS3 support, best open annotation functionality (see #1, above), or best accessibility for those with visual disabilities.
I hope more and more publishers will be swayed by the case against DRM and follow Tor’s lead, or at least consider that the benefits DRM affords in terms of the illusion of piracy prevention might be outweighed by unfavorable market effects and diminished customer satisfaction.