Sunday, December 7, 2008

"The Kindle is DRM Agnostic"?

That's what Jeff Bezos supposedly said, according to this Medialoper post. This, from the CEO of the company who has built a pretty solid DRM (digital rights management) fortress around the least for Kindle content you buy from Amazon. The post goes on to say that, "publishers have the option of selling DRM-free eBooks for the Kindle and that he (Bezos) believes publishers might do just that once they become comfortable with the idea of digital content distribution."

Every Kindle product you buy off Amazon's site today comes tightly wrapped in DRM. I wonder how many people realize you can get DRM-free content for the Kindle from a variety of non-Amazon sources, including some well-known publishers. For example, my employer, O'Reilly Media, Inc., has been selling DRM-free ebook bundles since earlier this year. These bundles allow you to get all the popular formats in one transaction, at one very reasonable price. You say you'd like to buy the PDF version of a book but would also like to have one that looks nice on your Kindle? No problem, and we throw in EPUB format for good measure (at no additional charge). Good luck getting all those options from Amazon.

So if Bezos really feels Amazon should be more open and customer-friendly, why not offer the same model we do at O'Reilly? Wouldn't it be great if the next time you bought a title for your Kindle it also included the PDF and EPUB versions, all without DRM? Let's take it up a notch... The next time you buy a print book from Amazon, why shouldn't that purchase include DRM versions of all these e-formats as well?...

I hope Bezos realizes there are a number of publishers out there like O'Reilly who are already quite comfortable with the idea of digital content distribution. Now we need to eliminate DRM and come up with new, interesting distribution and pricing models to helps expand our industry, not sit around complaining about how the old model is drying up.


Anonymous said...

Joe, super-thanks for finding this little gem. It's a great example of the kind of hyper-local journalism that blogging enables as well as a testament to your own skill at rounding up all the worthwhile ebook news.

Sometimes it feels almost impossible to discuss intelligently the whole issue of DRM because there are so many complicating factors. A key distinction between your company and Amazon is, of course, that you all publish books and Amazon doesn't. Amazon's Kindle ecosystem is just like Apple's iPod world and so it's no surprise to me that Jeff Bezos is echoing the sentiments of Steve Jobs in Jobs' famous Feb. 2007 letter decrying DRM after one label finally agreed to sell unlocked tracks on iTunes (see

It's been demonstrated a million times over, both in theory and in the real world, that locking up digital content reduces the value of that content. So kudos to O'Reilly for seeing the wiser way and giving customers what they want instead of treating them like criminals. In Amazon's case, as well as Apple's, it's pretty well documented that the demands for DRM come from publishers, no? (There's the added complicating factor of the revenue split - some publishers might abandon DRM if they got a bigger slice of the pie, in some cases, but then the whole ecosystem can't be sustained, blah blah insert usual he said, she said debate here).

So Bezos is saying he wishes publishers would let him sell unlocked books in the Kindle store. I don't see the statement as any kind of concession, surprise or contradiction. It's just e-business in the early 21st century. Hopefully our grandchildren won't even know what DRM stands for.


ps I am longing for the day when publishers see the light on bundling or discounting different formats together. Why can't I get a deal when I want a print book and its e-book version or a print book and the audio MP3 file? I'm heartened on that score by the recent flurry of movie DVDs that include a second digital file of the movie in an iPod-watchable format.