“Why I Break DRM On E-Books”: A Publishing Exec Speaks Out

This post, by Laura Hazard Owen, originally appeared on PaidContent.org on 4/24/12.

Calls for big-six publishers to drop DRM have increased in recent weeks, coinciding with the DOJ price-fixing lawsuit. Many observers fear that the lawsuit will actually reduce competition in the e-book marketplace by cementing Amazon’s role as the dominant player — and they wonder whether DRM is simply another weapon in Amazon’s arsenal, keeping customers locked to the Kindle Store.

Here at paidContent, independent e-bookstore Emily Books‘ Emily Gould and Ruth Curry have argued that DRM is crushing indie booksellers online. And Hachette VP, digital Maja Thomas recently described DRM as “a speedbump” that “doesn’t stop anyone from pirating.”

Still, it may be a long way from this discussion to the first big-six publisher’s actual removal of DRM from its e-books. For now, many readers know they can download free tools to let them read a Barnes & Noble Nook book on a Kindle, or an Apple iBookstore book on a Nook, or a Google book on a Kobo. I’ve used these tools. I recently bought a Google e-book from an independent bookstore, broke the DRM and converted it to read on my Kindle.

Recently, I began chatting with a publishing industry executive about this. This person — who I’ll call Exec — was interested in learning how to break DRM on e-books. About a month later, Exec is a convert and was ready to talk about the experience, albeit anonymously. I don’t think Exec is the only person in the publishing industry breaking DRM on e-books they buy…and those who aren’t doing so already might want to give it a try, if only to see what readers go through. Here is Exec’s story.

I was coming to the conclusion that I wanted to start breaking DRM on e-books I bought so that I could read them on any e-reader, but what pushed me over the top was a terrific post from science-fiction author Charlie Stross, “Cutting their own throats.” He argues that DRM is a way for the Amazons of the world to create lock-in to their platforms.


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