The freeing of e-books, well sort of

Right now when people talk about e-books most everyone thinks of Amazon and its Kindle e-book reader. It is a market than a growing number of companies are wanting to get a foothold in and hopefully take away some of Amazon’s business in the process. At the same time companies like Sony and Barnes Noble are having to deal with a growing dissatisfaction among consumers over the fact that all these e-books are coming with varying degrees of DRM (Digital Rights Management) wrapped around their purchases.

Consumer upset came to a head recently over Amazon’s deletion of two of George Orwell’s books from people’s Kindles without any notification or warning. It doesn’t help that e-books bought at Amazon can only be read on the Kindle or Amazon’s iPhone app. Now while Amazon doesn’t look to be changing its policy about its DRM restrictions Sony, manufacturer of the Reader e-book device, has decided to move away from its own proprietary DRM restrictions and adopt the open e-book standard called ePub.

“There is going to be a proliferation of different reading devices, with different features and capabilities and prices for a different set of consumer requirements,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading unit. “If people are going to this e-book shopping mall, they are going to want to shop at all the stores, and not just be required to shop at one store.”

Source: New York Times :: Sony Plans to Adopt Common Format for E-Books

Now before we all start jumping up and down yelling hallelujah Sony might be dropping it’s own method DRM but it doesn’t mean that they are going to be giving up on using some method of DRMing their e-books. They have decided that going forward that they will be using the more widely supported Adobe Content Server 4.

As Paul Sweeting at GigaOM pointed out this has nothing to do with the consumer; although it does make for good PR, but more to do with control of a platform

[….] Amazon’s e-book ambitions go beyond simply selling a lot of Kindle devices. Taking a page from Apple’s iTunes playbook, its goal is to establish Kindle as the dominant e-book publishing and distribution platform. And as Apple has amply demonstrated, when you control the platform, you control the value chain, which means you reap a disproportionate share of the value that’s exchanged.

And the best way to maintain control over a platform — again, per Apple — is through the use of proprietary DRM. Like Amazon’s Kindle DRM, the copy protection at the heart of the Content Server platform is proprietary, in that Adobe owns it. Unlike Amazon, however, Adobe’s standard is openly licensable by others. While that still leave Adobe in an enviable position — able to collect licensing fees from both ends of the value chain — it’s clearly a more friendly environment for publishers and consumers than Amazon’s walled-garden approach — and may be publishers’ best bet to avoid getting trapped by Amazon the way the record companies were by Apple.

So while Sony maybe congratulated on its willingness to accept an open standard for the e-books themselves let’s not get to carried away because after all they aren’t doing this out of the goodness of t heir hearts.