A must-read piece from Cory Doctorow for those interested in the changes in publishing, Why the death of DRM would be good news for readers, writers and publishers. He’s predicting the end of DRM (digital rights management) and looking forward to a day when formats and readers are interchangable:
The cheap-and-cheerful manufacturers at the low end don’t have a secondary market they’re trying to protect, no app store or crucial vendor relationship with a big distributor or publisher. They just want a product that ticks the box for every possible customer. Since multiformat support is just a matter of getting the software right, what tends to happen is that a standard, commodity firmware emerges for these devices that just works for just about everything, and the formats vanish into the background.
Many readers and publishers have been upset at the recent Department of Justice accusations of price-fixing by major publishers. The real bad guy, we’re reminded over and over, is Amazon. The publishers are so scared of Amazon that they developed a pricing scheme (the “agency model”) that often nets them less money than they get from Amazon. But for all it’s market share, most of Amazon’s advantages come from smart salesmanship and a big-picture view that helps it develop an ecosystem that “locks in” customers (e.g., I use Amazon video on demand to watch TV, which means I get free shipping when I purchase from them, I get to “borrow” an electronic book a month, etc., which means when I wanted to buy an e-reader, it was really only a matter of which model of Kindle I would choose). As Doctorow points out, the most ubiqutious e-reader is the cellphone and most of us get a new one every two years–Amazon’s dominance could end relatively quickly with the right competition. Getting rid of DRM content levels the playing field.
I’m not sure I’m as optimistic as Doctorow that DRM is about to simply disappear. But I agree it’s what needs to happen. It would make Amazon just another seller. Publishers could stop focusing on it and start taking taking more responsbility for shaping the future of publishing. (Where might that be going? Five Reasons The Future Will Be Ruled By B.S. is a highly entertaining read and more correct than incorrect.) But gloom is not the forecast. A recent article in The Atlantic (chart right) persuasively argues that we are in a Golden Age of readership:
Our collective memory of past is astoundingly inaccurate. Not only has the number of people reading not declined precipitously, it’s actually gone up since the perceived golden age of American letters. So, then why is there this widespread perception that we are a fallen literary people? I think, as Marshall Kirkpatrick says, that social media acts as a kind of truth serum. Before, only the literary people had platforms. Now, all the people have platforms.
The other thread that’s been running through my head these past few weeks is a G+ post from Tim O’Reilly that pulls a quote from terrific quote from Hemingway (“How did you go bankrupt?” “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”):
I love lines from literature that crystallize a notion, and then become tools in your mental toolbox. This is one of those. Keep it handy, because you’re going to see “gradually, then suddenly” processes happen increasingly in the next few decades, not just in technology and in industries transformed by technology, but in global issues like climate change, and in politics.