Originally posted July 14, 2009.
Few in the book world can see an end to DRM on book content even as glimmers of a new dawn in the music world seem to indicate there may be a different future on the horizon from the one that book publishers are trying so desperately to avoid. Rampant file sharing and ineffectual (even legal) efforts to halt copyright infringement represents the atomic winter that consumer book publishers fear and thus they believe the only way to preclude that future is to do impose severe restrictions on a consumers ability to use the electronic content they have purchased.
It's not news to anyone paying attention that the 'rights' a buyer has when they buy a physical book are proactively eliminated in the eBook world. For example, in the eBook world it becomes difficult to lend my book to someone else to read (friend or family member) or to sell the book on the second hand market. I really don't own it in the traditional sense. Things can become even trickier if I buy from multiple eBook providers or change 'platforms' or even, (strangely) if I loose my credit card since some vendors attribute your purchases to a specific credit card.
In an environment where DRM places limits on interoperability moving from one platform and keeping your library of books becomes difficult. If you liked the SONY but something better comes along you may have to keep the SONY ready to go for years even though you and the technology has moved on. It would be a far better experience for users if the book was the constant not the technology. As long as booksellers and publishers maintain this cabal over DRM there are no easy solutions for buyers who find themselves tethered to the technology and not the content.
Perhaps an unlikely solution would be to provide a type of digital insurance. Some (new) third party would offer this service to content buyers as a type of insurance or escrow policy. On purchasing content, I would register the purchase as part of my profile. Obviously, I would have to provide some proof that I had made the purchase but the transaction would sit in this profile as long as I paid my monthly premiums. The amount paid by the consumer wouldn't have to be a lot because only a small amount of the 'members' would ever make use of the insurance. (It becomes an actuary exercise).
Circumstances arising whereby a user would make use of the insurance could be anything from 'passing your library on to a family member' to simply moving over to a new platform. Depending on how the insurance company was set up (as a pseudo-retailer possibly) they wouldn't host this content but they would allow the consumer to 're-purchase' the content and then submit a 'claim' for the purchase. For each 're-purchase' they would get a refund just like a traditional insurance company. (And maybe the following year your premiums go up also). There maybe other benefits to this solution including the return of the right of first sale: As registered owners maybe we build a secondary market for e-Books.
Yes, even I think this is a pretty wacky idea but with e-Book content still less than 10% of total revenues, with publishers exhibiting apparent limited interest in pushing growth faster and the likelihood of formats and technology remaining fluid for a long time, consumers will increasingly become dissatisfied and disgruntled over the limitations (mistrust as well) that publishers and retailers are imposing on their purchases. There could be a better solution.