Rapid Adoption of Adobe Content Server 4

I don’t like to be overly commercial on this blog, but will make an exception to express how delighted I am that our new Adobe Content Server 4 solution is being quickly embraced by publishers and content distributors worldwide. ACS4 (as our marketing folks prefer we not refer to it), is server software for copy protection (DRM) of PDF and EPUB publications for use with Adobe Digital Editions and compatible devices (such as the Sony Reader models 505 and 700).
The major content aggregator Ingram Digital last week announced that they are already delivering secure e-books via the Content Server 4 technology. Since we only shipped ACS4 on Sep 22 (US), that means they were live in production within a matter of days of commercial release. Anyone familiar with enterprise software integration and deployment timelines will realize that this implies a light-speed rollout. And only a few days after Oct 10 worldwide availability, we already have gained ACS4 customers worldwide, including regions like Scandinavia and the Middle East as well as the US and Europe.
Content Server 4 represents a tremendous achievement by our engineering team. Despite the “4″ suffix it is not in any direct way a successor to the previous Content Server 3. The underlying DRM protocol and cryptographic technology was modernized and extended to support new features and a more seamless consumer experience, and both the client and server implementations were all new. The server code is now portable Java which can run across platforms and integrate with a variety of back-end databases and content repositories.
Now, Adobe is not advocating that DRM is an essential element of a digital publishing strategy. There are a lot of situations where online consumption may be a good alternative, or where a publisher has a trust relationship with users or a marketing angle that makes non-copy-protected downloads suitable. But I do think that those who suggest the book publishing industry should learn from the music industry and “Think Beyond DRM” are making false analogies and suggesting a path that could be highly deleterious to publisher revenue and, ultimately, availability of quality commercial content to consumers. Authors and publishers are what make great books, and they ultimately need to get paid or they won’t create. A certain level of copy protection is common to most forms of digital content, be it electronic games, DVDs, or general software. The music business set itself on a path to a poor outcome by making their pure-digital physical product (audio CDs) completely DRM-free, and thus able to be easily copied by legitimate software and hardware devices. Books of course can be duplicated or even re-keyed without too much trouble, so there’s no point in insisting on draconian hard-core DRM, but they are not “snap your fingers” copiable. So as publishers start to make their books available digitally, especially in a world where paper books remain the lion’s-share of the revenue and cannibalization is an important concern, supporting a reasonable level of “copy resistance” in the digital product, essentially to help honest people stay honest, seems like common sense for the baseline case. I think of it like DVDs: almost every DVD uses a basic level of DRM (“CSS”). Those who really really want to copy such DVDs can easily find illegitimate SW to do so; but that basic DRM protects billions of dollars of business, and by staying lightweight and reasonable, doesn’t get too much in consumers’ faces. Many of those who rant about how “evil” DRM is probably are consuming DRM-protected DVDs every day, content they simply wouldn’t have (legitimate) access to without basic anti-piracy support.
How this will all evolve over the real long haul is anybody’s guess. Perhaps in the ultimate fully-connected world we won’t need downloadable content at all, and the issue will shift to access control over online consumption. Perhaps we will find ad-based and other business models displacing paid content. But in the forseeable near-term future I think DRM is going to remain a “necessary evil”. Adobe is committed to giving publishers, online retailers, and libraries the tools they need to create and distribute content, and they certainly are asking for DRM. A couple of years ago we even thought we should phase out the Content Server product line: the ultimate test of customer demand is to stop selling something and see how beat up you get. In this case it wasn’t just “black and blue” – more like “torches and pitchforks”. So I’m extremely happy about our shipping Content Server 4. As a reader, I’m confident that the experience is going to be great, and that I will have access to a lot more digital content, fairly-priced: a decent tradeoff IMO for accepting reasonable limitations on my ability to make and distribute copies of the content I purchase.