This article from The Christian Science Monitor by librarian and professor Emily Walshe asks that question, and her answer is a resounding YES. When you use a Kindle, you don’t buy ebooks – or, rather, you don’t actually own what you’ve paid for.
When you buy a book in a store, you aren’t required to buy a pair of secret decoder glasses to read the text. This, in essence, is what the Kindle requires you to do. You cannot read Kindle books without a Kindle (or Kindle app on your iPhone). You can’t read it on a Sony Reader, or BeBook, or your color Fujitsu reader, or even your computer. You cannot share your Kindle book with anyone who does not share your Amazon account (and even then, you’re limited as to the number of people who can connect to the account). If Amazon ceases to exist and your Kindle dies, you have no way of re-downloading the books.
This isn’t good business. Artists’ rights need to be protected, yes. We don’t want anyone to lose money. We’re agents – we only make money when our clients make money. But, if the music industry taught us anything, it’s that consumers will get media in whatever way they please. They don’t seem to care if the way they get it is legal or illegal, they want what’s easy. Being able to read your book on only a proprietary device is not easy. How can those of us in the publishing industry make it easier for consumers to get what they want while also giving them the ownership they deserve?
What I think we need is one agreed-upon, platform-agnostic, DRM-free ebook format. A format that can be used on any computer, on any reader, on any phone, etc. It would certainly save publishers and ebooksellers the headache of converting files from one format to the other in order to preserve the correct formatting of the text. And, despite what many other believe, I don’t think this will lead to more pirating. If someone wants to steal something, they’ll steal it. And you can already find plenty of supposedly DRM-locked books available for free online. For the consumer, getting rid of DRM will mean full ownership and less hassle – a scenario that will make them more likely to actually purchase the book.
The digital revolution is happening all around us, and authors, agents, publishers and booksellers all need to wake up to it. Instead of burying our heads in the sand, let’s follow the lead of publishers like Nelson, whose NelsonFree program provides a free ebook (and audio) download with a hardcover purchase (selling content, not format!). Let’s pay attention to forward-thinkers like Kassia Krozser at Booksquare and Michael Cairns at PersonaNonData. Let’s not get caught up in issues like text-to-speech, the prevention of which actually requires DRM on the Kindle titles. And, most importantly, let’s keep this conversation going.