DRM Is Not the Answer

Google eBooks

Google_2Here's an interesting story on a not-so-secret ebook initiative that may or may not be happening at Google.  (Are there enough disclaimers in that statement?...)

Does it make sense for Google to consider creating an ebook distribution platform?  Absolutely, assuming they work out the rights, revenue split, etc., issues with all the IP owners.  But what's missing in all of this?  How about a truly useful device?  After all, Amazon and others have been selling ebooks for years and it hasn't moved the needle.  I don't think Google will make a big difference just because they offer a service...unless they add one or more new, compelling features (more in a moment).

The article mentions how you'd be able to read your ebooks on a portable device, such as a Blackberry.  I don't know about you, but I can't imagine reading too many books on my Blackberry.  On the other hand, I do see a way for Google to make a difference by approaching this from a more granular level.

What if you could buy pieces of books, just those chapters or elements that you really feel you need?  They mention a travel guide in the article. OK, you've made your flight and hotel reservations for your upcoming vacation and now you just want a lot of information on dining options in the area.  Would you be  likely to purchase just the restaurant section of a travel guide and use it on a portable device?  Yes, I could see using that on my Blackberry, but I wouldn't need the whole travel guide on it.

This is just one content example but I'm sure there are plenty of others.  It will be interesting to see if Google will invest the resources necessary to create a service that could change the playing field.



As a publisher, I am familiar with Google's new program, and I can clarify that it's an online access program, not an ebook program per se. Readers will be able to rent access to an online version of a whole book for set time periods, but not download them to their hard drives. It's an extension of their Book Search program.

Joe Wikert

Thanks for the additional information, Andrew. It's somewhat disappointing though as this sounds like more of the same. I hope they try to improve upon what's already available and not simply look to make a few bucks off their enormous traffic levels.

Michael A. Banks

Interesting how slowly these ideas move along the Web. Quoting from my piece in the Sep/Oct, 2006, issue of ONLINE Magazine:

"Amazon announced its Upgrade initiative last November [2005] as a two-part program that would allow users to purchase online access to any page, chapter, or section of a given book. You must buy the hardcopy book before you can access the online digital version."

I believe that's being modified to allow access to the entire book to anyone who owns the title in question.

As Google isn't a direct bookseller, they can't require you to buy the book. Which is streamlined compared with Amazon's plans. It's also what I expected Amazon to be doing when I first heard of the Upgrade program.

The Google talk makes me wonder whether Amazon will feel obligated to offer chapters to people who haven't bought the book.

If this catches on, we writers will have to work harder than ever to make sure that each and every chapter has irresistible appeal.

Joe Wikert

Mike, you're right about the prospects if Amazon's program starts to enable access by the chapter. It then starts looking more and more like the iTunes model, and everyone knows that almost nobody buys entire CDs that way -- they just pick and choose the best songs, which clearly results in a smaller overall revenue pie for the artists/labels.

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