Is Amazon Cornering The Market Because Of DRM?

Last week a number of independent booksellers filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit against Amazon and a number of its publisher partners over the use of DRM. Specifically, they feel that Amazon’s DRM restricts eBooks to being read only on Kindle based devices, and that since many of the publishers named only provide eBooks through Amazon, it effectively cuts other eReaders and potentially even other brick and mortar stores (more because of price) out of the market. The suit floats the possibility of “open-source DRM” which would allow a book to be protected, but still able to transferred across devices.

I am no great fan of DRM, and as an author think it’s best to sell without it, even with the risk of piracy. Even though piracy can take a sale away, it can spread buzz about an independent author who’s making his start which may lead to more sales in the long run. But let’s unpack whether Amazon unfairly restricts DRM.

Amazon’s DRM is device specific. In other words, if you own two Kindle eReaders and download the same book to both, those files are not actually the same. Each is encoded against the serial number of your device. You can’t move a book downloaded to one device to the other unless you do it through your Amazon cloud archive. The difference is especially noticeable when we’re talking about Android based readers like the Fire or the Kindle app. This being said, the Kindle app makes Kindle books available on any phone, tablet or PC. The main restrictions is eInk eReaders, for that you’ll need a Kindle.

Amazon’s DRM policy is only really restrictive when we’re talking about eReaders (and magazines since these are not archived in the cloud like all other books). I think the real basis for any complaint would be that certain publishers are only selling through Amazon, which has nothing to do with DRM.

Open source DRM as I understand it would take away the serial number part of the DRM encoding. In other words, if I had two Kindles I could transfer a book I downloaded to one to the other through my computer and not through the cloud. The file would still be restricted to be re-encoded into another format (which would still make them unreadable on the Nook, Nooks read epubs and Kindles read mobi). Maybe the seller could provide software to convert while preserving DRM (only convert to DRM supporting formats) but I don’t see much of an incentive for them to make their books easy to port to another device. And open source doesn’t really apply in this case. Open source implies the source code for the DRM is available to the public, which would effectively defeat the purpose. Open source DRM is a contradiction in terms.

I don’t like DRM, as I said above, but the way to fight it is not through lawsuits. It’s through individual authors making the choice to sell without DRM (which you can even do on Amazon (all of TOR books for example)). And it’s through consumer demand, refusing to buy a product unless it doesn’t have DRM. Amazon doesn’t make its money with its eReaders, but the books themselves. If you really want to read on another device, buy that one, and complain to the publisher if a book is not available for it.

Full disclosure, I own a Kindle Touch, Fire and an Android device with the Kindle App, as well as using the Kindle Cloud reader on several devices, though some of my books are purchased in DRM free format and converted to MOBI using Calibre. I made the decision to buy Amazon devices because I thought the hardware was the best, and I already had established accounts in music and video. I think if we want to talk monopolies and DRM, we need to bring the whole media infrastructure into the argument, but that’s a blog post for another time.

What do you guys think, is Amazon cornering the market? If you’re an author have you taken the DRM free pledge?


Filed under Books + Publishing, Trube On Tech, Writing

3 responses to “Is Amazon Cornering The Market Because Of DRM?

  1. Not sure if I have understood this correctly but I download from Amazon on to my iPad and then via icloud it can go to my laptop and my iPhone. So I think they are doing ok and it works for me.

  2. This issue has always confused me. DRM seems to equal protecting your work, but if it’s at the cost of making problems for your readers then it’s not worth it. My husband and I are both indie authors and only know of one item of ours pirated. That hasn’t hurt us.

    • Actually, not that I’m encouraging anybody to steal my book, but I’m kind of looking forward to seeing a pirated copy be out there. For an indie author it’s one way of telling that someone actually cares about your work 🙂 I like making life easy for my readers, if they buy my book once that’s enough. Just so long as they buy the next one 🙂

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