Until recently the UK eBook market was dominated by a few brands of readers which all supported Adobe’s DRM system, but today the biggest selling eBook capable device is the iPad which – so far – doesn’t.
The result of this, as we’ve looked at before, is that DRM-protected books people have bought for their Sony or COOL-ER reader won’t work on the iPad, though non-DRM books can be loaded into Apple’s iBooks app.
(there is an iPhone app called txtr which allows existing books to be added to the iPad but, as with all iPhone apps on the iPad, this appears on screen at the same size as the iPhone screen making it unreadable as does stretching the app to fill the iPad screen)
A number of people I know who, as they see it, have upgraded from a dedicated reader to an iPad are hoping a firm like Waterstones or even Adobe themselves will fill this gap so existing purchases can be read on Apple’s device.
If not, it seems a virtual forest of existing digital book purchases could become exiled on an otherwise replaced dedicated reader while consumers make future eBook purchases from one of the companies with an iPad app – here in the UK that’s Amazon’s Kindle, Apple or kobo.
The obvious name missing here is Waterstones who, while I was looking for books exclusively for my Sony reader, were my preferred retailer. Their ongoing lack of an iPad app (one is reportedly coming later this year) means they’re not currently an option so kobo gets my new business while my existing books remain on my reader.
Fair enough, I knew of the incompatibility issues when I got my iPad and if I ultimately end up having to re-buy books to get them on the iPad that’s possibly my own fault.
Except, of course, not everyone is going to be happy paying for a second copy of the same book. Already it’s fairly easy to find forums and blogs with details of how to strip various forms of DRM.
A very unscientific Google session suggests that the number of such requests has increased since the iPad went on sale – presumably as people discovered their existing back catalogue of books were incompatible with the iPad and looked for ways to get iBooks to work with them.
Personally I’m not in favour of piracy and it’s not something I engage in but I can see why people might resort to it to address an issue the market apparently has no interest in.
However, the absence of an app which allows Adobe DRM ePub files to work on the iPad isn’t just going to inconvenience customers, it’s going to damage the eBook industry itself.
As the music industry learnt the hard way, once the piracy genie is out of the bottle and copied files are out in the wild it’s almost impossible to regain control of the distribution of your product.
The same risk now faces eBook publishers and sellers: once previously happy to pay customers get used to swapping hacked books with their mates, their willingness to pay for any book will be diminished.
The very reason for wrapping books in DRM is to prevent piracy yet, in not ensuring the availability of an Adobe-DRM app, the industry is creating the very market in pirated eBooks they seek to avoid and, by default, damaging their own future profitability.