August 27, 2004

*This* Is Learning From Others’ Mistakes? [8:22 am]

Have e-books turned a page?

Hardware issues have become less prominent since publishers have been more willing to format e-books for the devices people already have with them–PCs, laptops and handheld computers. Instead, concern about illegal copying of material is emerging as one of the biggest roadblocks to e-book adoption. Publishers have tried a bewildering variety of digital rights management (DRM) schemes, ranging from books that expire in 60 days to hands-off approaches that rely on customer honesty.

Bad experiences with heavy-handed DRM have soured many potential customers on e-books, said Mike Violano, vice president and general manager of eReader, which equips its titles with a security key based on the credit card number used to purchase it. The approach give wide latitude to the original buyer while effectively thwarting illegal copying, he said.

“There are far too many standards and ways of doing things now, and that’s a source of frustration for customers,” Violano said. “If they have a bad e-book experience the first time, where they have trouble reading something they’ve paid for, it’s hard to get them back.”

Analyst Bedford said nervous publishers have emphasized security over opening new markets.

“There’s no good DRM, period,” she said. “Publishers all want heavy-duty DRM, but the problem is that anything you do gets in the way of buying and using e-books. My bias is to use a lot of psychological DRM. You put a price on it; you have statements…making it very clear you can use this as you would a print book, and you rely on the fact that by and large, most people aren’t out to break the law.”

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