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.