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ECPA Wire: Industry Issues

DRM-Free eBooks: An opportunity for Christian publishers and retailers

Wednesday, May 09, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sheri Toomb
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by Cory Verner, President, eChristian, Inc.

If you follow publishing news, you can’t help but hear about the issues surrounding DRM. Lately, things have been heating up even more than usual and this topic has become one of the more debated and widely contested areas of publishing, and for good reason: no matter which side of the argument you’re on, DRM is a big deal.

As a publisher, I certainly understand the desire of those who create content to protect their work from piracy. However, if you’ve talked to me - and some of you have - you know I’m pretty passionate about providing DRM-free content. While I don’t intend to rehash all the pros and cons of DRM vs. DRM-free, there are a couple key reasons why I support removing DRM from eBooks, and I think they are important to consider for those in the Christian publishing and retailing market.

First, DRM creates a roadblock between content and the consumer. If you are an Amazon Kindle or Apple user, you may object to that statement - both companies have created simple, compelling eBook experiences. They have a huge product selection, and offer a terrific delivery experience for DRM content. In fact, 9 out of 10 customers don’t even notice DRM since it happens seamlessly without the customer noticing that anything is happening to limit use of the content.

Amazon and Apple have proprietary systems that are tied into the devices they sell and distribute. To create a similar experience, you would need to have websites that are tied into devices in the same way Amazon and Apple have done and a few billion dollars to create such an environment.

These systems are good if you stay on a device. However, when the user switches platforms, DRM becomes painfully apparent.

When downloading a DRM file from sites like Google, Kobo, Christianbook.com, eChristian.com and soon Family Christian, DRM is apparent at every step to the user. The industry standard solution for DRM, applied by Adobe’s Content Server (ACS), is so invasive that it is a deal breaker for most consumers. In our experience, many customers who have a device that can handle these files ultimately give up, ask for a refund, and decide not to purchase again.

For those who overcome the downloading and syncing obstacles, ACS system isn’t terribly consumer-friendly. While it allows publishers to decide how the content can be used, it doesn’t clearly tell the user. It is nearly impossible, for example, to figure out how to print a section of an Adobe DRMed eBook. A publisher might limit printing to, say, 10 pages. For the user, there are two ways to figure this out: either look in the ACS admin panel on the server (not accessible) or experiment for 15-20 minutes, trying to print. Adobe doesn’t deliver a message explaining that the printing app is stalling or crashing because the user hasn’t selected an allowable print range. This small, singular example is representative of what turns out to be an abysmal experience for the customer.

Second, DRM creates a roadblock for independent retailers. The statistics are everywhere; readers are adopting eBook technology faster than ever in both the general and Christian markets. Twitter feeds of Christian bloggers and authors often contain links to eBook deals and recommendations. But the cost to enter the eBook market is significant, in large part due to the cost of supporting DRM, which puts eBook sales out of reach for many independent retailers.

But for a moment, let’s set aside the cost factor, and consider a retailer who has launched an eBook store. Although they have a loyal customer base who is willing to shop at their site, they encounter the retail side of the consumer roadblock I mentioned above. Although they can sell and deliver eBooks, DRM titles can’t be read on a Kindle, the most popular e-reading device. For other device users, a retailer must be ready to address other questions: Is the buyer’s device supported? Do they need a special app or program? Where do they purchase or download the app? How do they sync their books to their device? What happens if the user downloads a book and is unsuccessful activating it?

While I don’t think we are obligated to resolve these issues primarily for the retailer, I do support independent book retailing, and DRM is affecting that market segment. More than that, I am passionate about helping us, as publishers, deliver our content into the hands of those who most want it - our customers - and I think DRM-free is the best way for us to continue to reach our readers in an increasingly digital world.


Cory serves as President of eChristian, Inc. He lives in San Diego, California with his wife Crissy and two boys ages 10 and 13. Cory is the cofounder of christianaudio (an eChristian owned company). Prior to eChristian, Cory worked for ChannelWave (now Digital River), a leading provider of eCommerce solutions to fortune 500 companies, where he managed large scale eCommerce initiatives for Compaq, HP, Sony, Hyundai, Kia among others.


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