Steve Jobs: “Eliminate Music DRM!”: So, What About eBooks?

A provocative thought piece by Steve Jobs today, arguing that the industry as well as consumers would benefit from the elimination of DRM on music sold online. It’s covered here by Forbes.
Whether or not this is an entirely serious proposal or more in the way of a smokescreen for Apple’s refusal to license its Fairplay [sic] DRM to other device and music store vendors is open to debate. And Jobs pointedly limits his discussion to music, where as he points out more than 90% of the sales of digital content are entirely DRM free CD audio. DVD videos have a sort of DRM with copy protection and region coding, and physical books arguably have this as well given the inconvenience of scanning paper.
Nevertheless Jobs has clearly elevated the DRM debate to a new level. His offer to stop selling DRM protected music altogether on the iTunes Store, if the top four music companies agreed to eliminate the DRM requirement, certainly raises the ante. As a consumer and advocate for maximum access to information, I hope that the “Jobs Principle” that DRM hurts content publishers as well as consumers spreads, not just for music but for other forms of content. For eBooks, I really like the “social DRM” approach of The Pragmatic Programmers, who “stamp” PDF eBooks with a “For the Exclusive Use of …” and the name of the purchaser. Given that they are making more than 30% of their total sales on eBooks, far more than any other traditional publisher, it’s hard to argue that this approach is infeasible.
Adobe is committed to continuing to supply DRM technology in our solutions as required by our publisher partners. We will continue to work to make DRM as seamless as possible for end users, while also protecting rights holders from piracy or unauthorized use, and we are poised to deliver some innovative new capabilities in this regard.
Yet, I would like nothing more than to have DRM technology just fade away. After all the main challenge we have in digital publishing is to get it adopted by mainstream consumers. And the main challenge 98% of book authors and publishers have is to get people to be aware of their books, not to prevent piracy. So my challenge to print publishers and authors: why not support “social DRM”, rather than heavyweight DRM? If that’s a direction you are willing to go, Adobe will back you up, 1000%.

4 Responses to Steve Jobs: “Eliminate Music DRM!”: So, What About eBooks?

  1. Hi Bill,
    Strongly agree with you! We’re witnessing growing customer pain around DRM ebooks these days — and if you can believe it, even around free ebook updates when they’ve been offered! We’re exploring all of options, and we too have been experimenting with some digital-only products that employ social-DRM similar to the “Prags.” Customers like it. Here’s a data point for you that makes my hair stand on end: Some 12% of customers who had signed up to fet a free updated ebook for download reported having trouble downloading the ebook and abandoned the process. I’ll be sharing more data points in my next blogpost at peachpitcommons. And FWIW, I think Adobe is right on by supporting interests of users.

  2. Michael Jahn says:

    your comment “…and physical books arguably have this as well given the inconvenience of scanning paper.” – humm – that it is cost prohibitive to print out an eBook, bind it somehow and distribute it – yes. But I could take a 300 page paperback, cut off the spine and scan it bulk in less than 4 minutes, then run it through our software and have a cleaned up, deskewed, ready to read PDF eBook in 12 minutes, tops. 600 ppi scans of pages do not reflow on a palm pilot mind you, but these images of pages display just fine on the Sony eBook reader or your laptop or desktop. The lack of a demonstrable eBook with DRM made J.K.Rowling uncomfortable enough to not release any Harry Potter book as an eBook, and that is a shame – but I do see she has released HP books as audio books on iTunes, undoubtedly as someone has proven DRM works to her liking.

  3. We’re happily wrapping our PDFs in Cadmus’ DRM wrappers on all our pay per view documents. No fallout and making a fair bit of money at it. Elsevier uses the same vendor/approach. It’s working well all the way around.

  4. Frank says:

    Bill, I do not think that the DRM issue is an issue of adoption. The real issue is about controlling the distribution of your intellectual property. The current DRM solutions may not be easy to use, consumer-friendly, etc. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the concept – or vilify content owners – because of it.
    At core, a digital version of a song, book, drawing, or anything that can be copyrighted is no different than any other piece of software. Thus, if you don’t believe in music DRM, then you also do not believe in software licensing, digital keys, etc. Can you imagine Adobe removing the license requirements from Dreamweaver and Acrobat? It’s a silly idea.
    As much as I can’t stand music DRM from a user’s perspective, I think we should work to improve, not remove it. Here are a few places to start:
    1. Create an open system for DRM. It’s absurd to let any company own the system. Enough with the monopoly @#$#
    2. Create a web-based system that requires authentication when connected (won’t be bulletproof for now, but with more devices able to connect, it will improve over time)
    3. Let people share files with limitations set by the content owner. This will allow content owners to gather user data at minimum. They could also allow a portion of the file to be viewed for free before payment is required.
    We’re a long-way off, but I’m optimistic.