DRM is so 2011

Digital rights management for ebooks is dead.

Readers knew it couldn’t last. It was simply a matter of when publishers and retailers would realise it was unsustainable.

Cutting edge Australian publishers like Pan Macmillan digital offshoot Momentum Books are leading the way by announcing they will remove DRM from their titles within months.

It won’t be long before their competitors realise they risk looking like dinosaurs, and mean ones at that, unless they join the push.

Though none of the other major publishers have announced they’re ditching it yet, I have heard the excuse, “Well, it’s the retailers who impose it on the publishers in any case.”

It’s an excuse that they can file away for good. The retailers are telling me they are either already selling books without DRM upon request, or soon will be.

Booku.com is among those who are keen to support publishers who make the shift.

Booku.com’s supplier, Overdrive, already offers DRM-free books in ePub and PDF format, and they’re coming soon to Booku (so are browser-based books a la Book.ish following Overdrive’s purchase of Booki.sh recently, incidentally).

ReadCloud, which is the ebook provider for many Australian independent booksellers, “can work without DRM, not a problem,” according to its CEO Jeremy Le Bard.

Kobo is already working with DRM-free titles for publishers, says Malcolm Neil, its Director Vendor Relations Asia-Pacific.

Even Google has come to the party. Mark Tanner, Strategic Partner Development Manager at Google, told uBookish that Google allows publishers to sell their ebooks without DRM today.

We won’t hold our breath on the Amazon or Apple front. That said, Apple did remove its proprietary DRM from all music in the iTunes store back in 2009, so perhaps I should have a little more faith in the Cupertino crowd.

Momentum publisher Joel Naoum says they are working through the issues with selling ebooks without DRM through retailers.

“Unfortunately it’s not a straightforward matter, though it does appear at this relatively early stage that most (if not all) retailers will be able to sell our books without it,” he says.

Hooray for Joel (who was my predecessor as Booku blogger, by the way) for leading the way on this front as in so many others.

Perhaps he has been inspired by innovative publishers like O’Reilly in the US who have long ensured their titles were available without the restrictive encryption software.

O’Reilly’s General Manager & Publisher Joe Wikert says his company believes that “digital rights management (DRM) is a bad idea”.

“We have a very simple theory: Trust your customers to do the right thing and you’ll earn their business.”

Hear, hear.

(See today’s earlier post for an outline of what DRM is all about.)

Allen & Unwin gets Short-y

While I have been cocooned away in chilly Canberra studying, Allen & Unwin has been busily launching two new digital lists, mirroring recent developments at fellow digital pioneer Pan Macmillan where Momentum’s titles are already making waves on bestseller lists.

First up, early this month, Allen & Unwin shorts arrived. The Australian publisher has just published five short fiction ebooks: Charlotte Wood’s Nanoparticles (which I had already read in last year’s Get Reading anthology), Tom Keneally’s Blackberries, Alex Miller’s Manuka, Peter Temple’s Ithaca in my Mind and Christos Tsiolkas’s Sticks, Stones.

“Some of Australia’s best-loved novelists also write great short stories,” the publisher writes on its website.

“They can be hard to find, but now digital publishing offers new opportunities for short form writing.”

So true. How wonderful for authors that they can finally make money from short forms, and how equally brilliant for us that we can buy them individually rather than having to buy a whole collection.

The A&U publicity material says “For less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can download a story on the train to read on the way to work.”

This I can vouch for too. I read two Kindle Singles this week, and knocked them over in less than an hour each. A&U has prices its shorts at $1.99 each (although Booku.com is offering them for $1.81 here).

Did I mention I’ve been locked away with my MacBook and a bunch of journal articles for the past couple of weeks? It’s end of semester crunch-time at university, and the research proposal for my Social reading, long form journalism and the connected ebook project was due in last week, with a presentation on it coming up this Wednesday. I mention this because it’s all about short form non-fiction ebooks. You can take a look at my slides on Prezi (a very clever zoomable presentation software program I find much more fun than PowerPoint) here.

Back at Allen & Unwin, the publicity department had just finished their teaser campaign for the shorts, when it was time to move on to promoting the next phase of their digital strategy: reviving works by classic Australian authors like my cousin Miles Franklin (OK, first cousin twice removed, but still!).

Both My Brilliant Career and My Career Goes Bung are on the list.

A&U’s House of Books also includes classic titles by Thea Astley, Alan Marshall, Eleanor Dark, Dymphna Cusack, Katharine Susannah Pritchard, Xavier Herbert, Kylie Tennant, Marcus Clarke and Henry Handel Richardson.

The PR tagline for the list is “Good books never die in the digital age”. I’m hoping that more childhood favourites, many of which are out of print, will come back to life in this ebook era.

More recent works by Blanche d’Alpuget, Nick Earls, Andrew Riemer, Judith Armstrong and Rodney Hall are also being revived.

The first 30 titles will become available in June 2012. Additional titles will be added to the list each month thereafter. Print lovers will be able to buy physical copies via print on demand technology. The books will be listed at between $12.99 and $19.99.

Apologies for the appalling headline pun. Couldn’t resist.

New Direction, New Momentum

Plenty of things have been happening in the world of ebooks over the past few weeks, but for the first time I’ve been too busy working on an exciting project of my own to post about them. That project is Momentum, a new digital-only imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, which was announced today. As a publisher for Momentum, I’ll be looking for books to publish globally, from writers who are digitally savvy, switched on to the possibilities of electronic publishing and, perhaps most importantly, know how to tell a good story.

Momentum will be launching in February 2012 with a truly amazing stable of frontlist authors. I am honoured to get the chance to work with each of these writers, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with new and established authors alike in the future.

We also want to hear from authors who have older titles that are out of print or yet to be digitised who want to inject new life into their old books. There are potentially thousands of books out there that can no longer be accessed online or off and no longer provide an income for the authors who wrote them. Momentum will give these writers the opportunity to breathe new life into previously published work and make them accessible for a new audience of digital readers.

Accessibility is going to be the name of the game for Momentum. Momentum ebooks will be available globally and at an affordable price. The Smell of Books has provided me with a wonderful excuse to listen to digital readers, and I think there is a lot I can do to make the relationship between readers and publishers as open as possible. This is going to be a tremendously exciting time, so I hope you’ll spread the word and contribute your thoughts, ideas and hopefully your books!

As part of this new direction, I’ll be shifting the Smell of Books to a new independent location. I’ll still be blogging on all things bookish, digital and tech, but as the demands of Momentum will be a bigger drain on my time, I’d like to make room for new voices here at Booku. If you’d like to keep up with the Smell of Books, please head over to www.thesmellofbooks.com where I’ll continue to post rants, analysis and news about the digital publishing world. You can also follow me on Twitter @joelnaoum. It’s been a blast, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the people here at Booku and Boomerang Books, especially Clayton Wehner and my fellow bloggers over at Boomerang.

To find out more about Momentum, visit the website at www.momentumbooks.com.au and follow Momentum on Twitter @momentumbooks.