Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Is the death of DRM the indicator of real change in the publishing business?

I have been thinking about the future of publishing. It seems to me that above all else DRM represents the old, traditional mindset of publishing. In this mindset it is all about the content. And if content is the asset, it makes perfect sense to protect it with DRM. Let's turn this around, if content is not the asset but something else is instead, then it makes no sense to protect the content with DRM right? By DRM here I mean everything from a simple license enforcing copyright to multi-layered encryption. Rights protection in its broadest sense.

The new mindset is that it is all about what the content does or what it allows you to do. It is about delivering the content in multiple ways, at different times to all sorts of people. It is about embedding content in devices that do something. In other words, the asset is in the use of the content. No DRM needed here.

My theory would indicate that as publishers move from the old to the new mindset, DRM should disappear. At the very least we should see a struggle around DRM as the old guard and the new wave fight it out.

There is perhaps some evidence for this theory. Apple will remove DRM on iTunes on April 7th. There was a huge row recently over the Kindle text-to-voice capability .

Does anyone have more evidence? Examples of publishers moving away from DRM, easing the rights protection, choosing creative commons over copyright? Please let me know.

So what is holding back publishers you might ask? Well I suspect most of them have simply been unable to build products that would allow them to release control over their content. Workflow solutions is the buzzword I hear most often and everyone claims to be doing it. I have seen very few examples from any publisher though.

My gut feeling is that Apple are showing us the way. They have shown us how important the device is. As Chris Arkenberg noted today: "Apple has fundamentally rewritten this paradigm by dematerializing the content - music & movies - and connected it directly with the player".

My top tip for today is to watch any publisher that is partnering with device providers or any publisher that is experimenting with i-apps. I think this is the future.


  1. ....and what about the content itself.....do we have identified what content is? Do we think on user generated content being added every minute to a platform? Is every comment creating a new content or modifying it?
    I participated in a roundtable where an interesting discussion was taking place: contents are being commented, corrected, updated, linked, resend, etc. every minute....so, what exactly is the content? a word, a sentence, an article or a book?

  2. A great point Carlos. So the concept of content as a separate entity is going away. In this event the asset becomes the process by which the content is updated and kept alive and up-to-date, rather than the content itself.

    One of my dreams is on-demand learned publishing. As a user you would request knowledge from the system - for instance, I would like to learn about weight loss in middle-aged working men, or I would like radiological images of a thyroid with a particular disorder and an explanation of what I am looking at.

    The system would create on demand the most up-to-date, peer reviewed content and deliver it back to you in a matter of hours. Normally the publishing process takes years from the book concept to the published volume.

    The system would be a network of experts who would edit and review, and if necessary write in real time.

    Of course there would be all the usual information available for you to take away immediately, if that was sufficient for you. In many cases this will be true but I'm betting that in some cases it is not.

    The peer reviewed piece is important. When lives and livelihoods depend on information, there is value in the accreditation of that information. Not to mention the audit trail in case you have to explain yourself to a judge and jury!

  3. ..like your dream.....a first prototype could be some kind of Collaborative eBook....where a real specialist manages the sources and allows the eBook to live and grow.....he must be his father....taking care of it so the best content (all formats) is making the eBook the best of the best