When Steve Jobs announced the iPad, he also mentioned that iBooks would be using ePUB. There was a brief ray of hope among the eBook world…maybe, just maybe, the majority of ebooksellers would rally around a single format. Unfortunately, it looks like that was a false hope. Teleread is reporting via the LA Times that Apple will be using their Fairplay DRM for iBooks. This will be the 3rd variant of ePUB DRM: Adobe, Fairplay, and Barnes and Noble. And of course, Amazon has their own DRM and ebook format.
So what does this mean for eBook fans? We’re seeing a shattered landscape, one where there is no inter-compatibility, and no easy way to transport your library from device to device. Worst of all, ePUB was supposed to be the savior, the universal format, and instead it just adds to the confusion. As Teleread pointed out:
The Sony and Nook can read Epub, of course, but it’s the DRMed Epub books that cause the trouble. The Nook can’t read Sony DRM* and Sony can’t read Nook DRM and, of course, the Kindle can’t read either and “either” can’t read Kindle DRM and now Apple is saying it will have its own DRM that Kindle and Sony and Nook can’t read. I’m sure it’s all very clear to you now, especially since they are, almost, all using the new “industry standard” Epub.
[*Gear Diary note: The bit abut the nook not reading Sony DRM is incorrect-Sony uses plain vanilla Adobe Digital Editions, which the nook can read. The reverse is not true, due to B&N's extra DRM layer.]
What can we do, as eBook fans? The worst part is that publishers and content providers have us against the wall; they know we love books, and they know there’s a huge segment of the population that accepts DRM as the tradeoff for convenience. It’s incredibly frustrating, and as much as I’d love to take a stand I know full well I am caught up in this as much as everyone else. I love books, and read too many too quickly, not to buy from major ebook stores. Is there a lesser of all evils?
Here’s how I see the marketplace, and the options available:
Personally, even with the mess that Amazon stepped in when they yanked 1984, I trust them more than Apple in the book space. Apple doesn’t need iBooks to be a success; the iPad has a great deal going for it even without ebooks. If iBooks disappeared, people would shrug, and continue to download the various existing ebook options in the app store. Meanwhile, if Kindle fails, Amazon has a real problem. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have a lot more “skin in the game”, and while I’m not thrilled with how locked down either ebook store is, both companies desperately need to succeed. Apple doesn’t, and if I had to worry about anyone walking away and abandoning their proprietary format, it’s Apple. Though, honestly, every digital media company has the skeletons of abandoned formats in their closet; history has not been kind to failed DRM formats. Let’s just hope we don’t see another Playsforsure debacle in the ebook space!
Here’s my wish: I want a store with the selection of mainstream backlist and frontlist that Amazon, B&N and Kobo have, without the DRM. I would happily buy ebooks there exclusively, and I’m willing to bet there are many other avid readers out there who would do the same. Baen publishing sells all their ebooks this way, and so does O’Reilly, and no one is running to pirate their books like crazy. All I want is one store to step up and try it!
Do you buy DRM’d ebooks? Do you worry the fracturing of intercompatibility is going to choke ebook adoption? Share any thoughts (and tips) below!