2010-01-21

Kindle and Sharing

On the TeleRead blog there's a post from a fellow who introduced his elderly stepfather to the Kindle. Interestingly enough, though he had no knowledge of DRM, he pretty quickly understood what some of the limitations of the device and system would be.

First (though this is not really DRM-related), when he discovered that he would have to use an "account" for this, he had a privacy concern: would Amazon be keeping track of what books he had bought and loaded on to various devices?

Second, he quickly understood that, unlike with paper books, lending would be a problem: how would he lend a copy to his wife? His stepson suggested sharing an account, and this seemed to be acceptable to him. But then he asked how he'd lend a book to a friend:
When I explained the potential snag here ([you could] add him to your account; but that would mean he could spend your money with it), he matter-of-factly pointed out that if he had a paper book, he could give it to whomever he wanted to.
However, the issue of lock-in (due to DRM and proprietary formats) didn't seem to be a problem: "He is not the type to re-read a book and is not concerned with how accessible a title might be to him 25 years down the road. But he did ask about reading library books."

Publishers, of course, are not going to be happy to hear this. They quite dislike both lending and resale of books, since they consider these to be cutting in to their market for new copies.

I wonder if publishers would be happier moving to a purchase/rental model like that of home video, where as well as having the option of spending $15 to buy a disc, you can also spend $3 to rent it for a week. Even as an anti-DRM guy myself, if the price were low enough I would be fine with "renting" books in that way. While I do want to have a large library of my own always available (for those moments when I get a craving for something in particular), and I own a lot of books I'll re-read, there are a substantial number of books I'd be happy to rent, and in those cases the DRM isn't much of an issue for me.

With anything I buy that's got DRM on it, that is in fact the way I look at it now: I'm essentially "renting" the item for an indefinite period, which means I have no right to re-sell it and will lose access to it one day. (I wonder what happens to all of the DRM'd e-books owned by someone's estate after they die?)

The key, of course, would be to make it cheap enough. Renting a video for $3 is a no-brainer for me (it costs me more than $3 in hassle to download a video, and often the quality is worse); but spending $15 on an e-book without the ability to lend and resell that I get with the $15 paperback is not something I care much for.

Update:

In this comment Skip notes that he will buy an e-book he's not going to read right away if it's cheap enough because that gets it on his list of things to read while his attention is there. I do exactly the same for DVDs: if I come across something I want to see, but it's low on my priority list, I'll buy it anyway if it's less than $10 because then it's there when the mood strikes me. (And yes, amongst the 300-odd DVDs I own, I have a stack of thirty or forty waiting to be watched. Some have been there for years. :-))

The interesting thing he mentions is that if the e-book is too expensive and he passes by the opportunity, it probably won't come again:
So what happens is, the marketing machine will do its job and generate a page hit - I'll go look at a work. If it falls into the category that in the past I would have waited for the paperback, at this point, if it's $10, i go ahead and buy it because that's only a few bucks more than the eventual price I'd have paid. If it's, say, $16 for the electronic edition I'm not going to buy it right now.

So now the publisher has to fund a second PR cycle when the price drop happens, or the odds of me ever buying the book drop drastically, because they're no longer getting the free eyeballs on the product when I go to check out the other new stuff.
This idea conflicts with the traditional form of rental, where you have the item for a limited period of time and then lose access to it. DRM does in theory enable "view once" or "read for one month starting at any time in the future" models, but remember, I think of DRM as giving me something for a limited period of time: if something happens with the device or the publisher, I may lose access to that book even before I've started reading it.

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