Doctorow on DRM

So, I’m a little behind on this: Cory Doctorow‘s Microsoft Research DRM talk that he presented on June 17 and subsequently made available online for free. Very good. Though I do differ from this opinion he gives on ebooks:

Today we hear ebook publishers tell each other and anyone who’ll listen that the barrier to ebooks is screen resolution. It’s bollocks, and so is the whole sermonette about how nice a book looks on your bookcase and how nice it smells and how easy it is to slip into the tub. These are obvious and untrue things….

First, screen resolution is an issue, because I have yet to see a device small enough to be casually portable that has a resolution that I could stand to read for more than a few minutes. (My Clié comes close, it has a decent display, but it’s too small, so you have to scroll a lot more, which breaks the comfortable reading flow.) The resolution on a desktop monitor, or even a laptop? Sure, those are good enough—I stare at one all day and read everything from plain email to colorized snippets of code—but I ain’t lugging my 17-inch CRT to the couch with me to read.

Second, I think the “tactile” argument for real books that he points out here is really about why real books will never go away, not why ebooks will fail. Seems hollow, doesn’t seem to ring true here. Odd.

But then he’s right back on track:

New media don’t succeed because they’re like the old media, only better: they succeed because they’re worse than the old media at the stuff the old media is good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at. Books are good at being paperwhite, high-resolution, low-infrastructure, cheap and disposable. Ebooks are good at being everywhere in the world at the same time for free in a form that is so malleable that you can just pastebomb it into your IM session or turn it into a page-a-day mailing list….


Paper books are the packaging that books come in. Cheap printer-binderies like the Internet Bookmobile that can produce a full bleed, four color, glossy cover, printed spine, perfect-bound book in ten minutes for a dollar are the future of paper books: when you need an instance of a paper book, you generate one, or part of one, and pitch it out when you’re done.

Excellent article. Get on over and read the whole thing.

7 Replies to “Doctorow on DRM”

  1. Well I disagree on the screen resolution part because I love reading books on my iPaq. I have used all the readers with mobipocket being my favorite. I have downloaded tons of ebooks illegally but get so sick of poorly formatted text files with OCR mistakes so last week I paid for ereader pro because they were offering 50% and I bought a few ebooks at I thought it would be the next stage in my digital conversion. I don’t even remember the last time I opened up one of my CDs to listen to music. I only listen to music from a hard drive these days. Well, to tell you the truth, my first experience in buying ebooks was dreadful. Not only was the formatting not there (meaning it was just like a big text file…no cover art, no TOC etc) but it was different among each platform. I was ticked…and quickly wrote a note off to fictionwise telling them that if they (which I have since learned it is the publishers who decide the formatting) don’t provide a better service they won’t be getting my money.

    Now here is someone who could easily just download any book I want (and pretty much have), loves to read on my handheld device (not on my desktop though) and wants to go into the digital world and they give me a text file looking like an ebook.

    Sorry, it’s not the screen resolution that is the problem (although that may be a factor for some).

    The features in the ebooks are there and they are shown to us in demos and free books that come with the readers. Then we pay $7 for a book and it is just a big ole text file. What the heck is this? A ripoff is what I say..then I am told that this $7 is protected by DRM so that I have a license….sorry that doesn’t cut it. not when I can pay almost the same price for a paperback that will be available to me the rest of my life and not being told when and where I can read it. (meaning device activation here).

    These are the problems, not screen resolution!

  2. With Mobipocket, your eBooks are encrypted for your device. and you can change your PID when you switch from a Palm to a Symbian smartphone. Can you do that with eReader ?
    I can’t imaging what happens when you forget your credit card number with their security !!!

  3. Yorri– those are indeed the problems, without a doubt. My point was that screen resolution on a small device *is* an issue that hinders ebook adoption, but not in every case. Personally, a small screen like on my Clie is just not good enough to read on for any length of time. A full size monitor, on the other hand, is.

    Rebecca– sorry, you lost me. Which is eReader? And are you for or against the encryption on Mobipocket? Sorry, being dense today 😉

  4. eReader is the new name of Palm Reader. I am for encryption, but only for a real one, like Mobi.
    eReader system is just a password-like system.

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