eBooks, File Formats and DRM

The intention of this is not to be a rant, but rather a discussion. I still feel like it may rant at times… so apologies.

Right now, in the grand scheme of things there are two major outlets for eBooks: Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (but what about iBooks!? two examples are enough for this fable…)

Amazon uses a proprietary formate .azm, and the Kindle can also read .mobi files.

Barnes and Noble uses a DRMed epub format and the Nook can read epub files.

Now, even if Amazon sold epub or BN sold mobi files chances are that the Kindle would still not read BN books and vica versa. This is an issue not with the format (well, maybe for azm; epub is a standard) but rather the DRM. Incompatible DRM prevents compatibility.

What the hell does that mean?

If I buy an MP3 from iTunes I can put it on my Android phone. I can play it on my computer or in my car. I can play it on my Nook or my DS. It is an MP3. It is a standard, it is DRM free, and there are lots of things out there than can play MP3’s.

Now there are a ton of file formats for text out there: word documents, RTF, PDF, epub, just plain ol’ text files (and many more). Any one of these could be used for ebooks, but for now, no single one of them is. eBooks doesn’t have its MP3.

Add on top of that DRM, region locking and other publisher non-sense and what do you have? Frustrated users.

Think of it this way: you write a book and publish it on paper… anyone who can read that language can read your book. Do the same in eBook? well, they have to have the right reader, or reader software, live in the right place, even sometimes read it in the appropriate amount of time. Why would you do that? Why would you make it harder for people to pay for your book?

If I want to give you money, why won’t you let me?

In the end it is more about DRM and control than anything else. Amazon and Barnes and Noble want you to buy their ebook reader. The publishing companies want DRM because they believe with out it we would all be horrible pirates… and then they can sell us our books/movies/music all over again when the next new gadget comes out.

That DRM is making it so I cannot buy a book through Amazon for my Nook. I am not buying a Kindle; one $150 device is enough. So who does that hurt? Me, kinda, because I am missing out on a book. But really it hurts the author. That DRM is preventing me from giving them money.

The optimal solution would be for writers to sell DRM free files directly, thus allowing me to: a. give the author money directly and b. put and read my ebook on anything I want to, just like an MP3. Now I am fully aware of the technical and logistical problems with setting up a store on a website and would not advocate it to everyone. But it would be nice. Instead, as a community of readers and writers ,we should push back against this trend and say “Hey! let me buy from where I want and read where I want!”

I just want to read your book.

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