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Should DRM be the way forward?

Talk of eBooks surrounds us constantly. Following the 2010 Christmas season, Amazon.com announced that it sold more eBooks than paperbacks. Just last week, the topic of eBooks came up a dozen times in my Google Reader (here are two interesting posts: bit.ly/pVu7bs, bit.ly/nNwooi). And the Wall Street Journal announced it would be adding eBooks to its bestseller lists.

It’s no wonder public libraries across North America have jumped on the eBook bandwagon and started offering eBooks  to their users.

Of course, in order to follow copyright laws, limit piracy, and convince eBook publisher’s to sell to them, public libraries have to offer chronodegradable (files that are only valid for a defined period of time), DRM protected eBooks. They also have to limit use of eBooks to one person per copy at a time. This is why libraries use OverDrive (find out more about OverDrive here).

Content managers such as OverDrive have made eBook loans possible for libraries, but they certainly haven’t made things easier for users.

Here’s how one public library user depicted his experience:

Image by Brad Colbow (http://bit.ly/d5r2Dg)

Of course, this isn’t exactly the typical user experience – most people don’t use Linux (and therefore don’t need to boot up Windows) and downloading torrents isn’t so straightforward. But the spirit of the comic is true – downloading an eBook (or an audiobook) from your library is a complex process, and it involves way too many steps.

The DRM systems libraries use today create a negative user experience:

– Too many steps are involved;
– Users are required to download proprietary software;
– Too many errors can occur;
– And the initial success rate is low.

If it’s too much work to download an eBook from the library, then most people will get eBooks elsewhere (Amazon, Chapters, iTunes, the Sony Reader store… or they might pirate eBooks instead).

So what can libraries do to improve user experience? Here is what some libraries are doing:

1) Lending eReaders to their users, with the content already loaded on the device (bit.ly/vb9ZOP, bit.ly/s0yCt2).

Of course this involves all sorts of copyright and DRM considerations. When a person (or a library) purchses an eBook, there are usually conditions that state how many devices and how many people can use the eBook. In order to get around this, some libraries have opted to lend eReaders preloaded with books in the public domain. But is this what users really want? For this option to really be interesting, libraries and publishers would need to reach some sort of fair use agreement.

2) Allowing users to read eBooks online, in real time, from their library’s website, much like current online database models such as ebrary, Tumblebooks and Publie.net.

The challenge with this model is that it requires an Internet connection – which makes it more difficult to read an eBook on the plane. However, more and more people have access to wireless Internet 24/7 on their phones, their tablets and in some cases their eReaders.

For the time being, neither of these solutions is ideal – though they are interesting alternatives to OverDrive.

Hopefully, we will come up with a completely new concept – one that develops out of a digital model, rather than a physical book model.

Who knows, in a few years libraries might subscribe (annually) to eBooks (without DRM protection) and lend them out as often as they like, to as many users as are interested – following a sort of eJournal model. (The eBooks could even be watermarked with the borrower’s name in order to reduce file sharing and piracy.)

Or someone might come up with an entirely new concept. Here’s hoping!


About Kayleigh Felice

I am a 20-something public librarian trying to find my footing as I start my career, take on new challenges, and enter adulthood (whatever that means). I live in Ontario, and I work for the Gatineau Municipal Library in Québec. Disclosure: The views expressed in this blog are solely my own, not those of my employer.


2 thoughts on “Should DRM be the way forward?

  1. At least the libraries are trying. It’s a hard learning curve but perhaps a necessary evil..??

    Posted by Deb Merf | November 7, 2011, 1:06 am
  2. Agreed Deb! And DRM may be the best solution for right now. But here’s hoping that as technology – and copyright laws… – change, we can find a solution that benefits content creators and readers! It is a hard learning curve, and a totally new environment for libraries!

    Posted by Kayleigh Felice | November 8, 2011, 2:44 am

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