An article at Ars Technica asks an interesting question: why is DRM still tolerated on e-books when it’s been killed in regards to music?
The reasons given boil down to two things: with the ubiquity of cross-platform apps like Amazon’s Kindle app, folks can already read their DRM-locked books on multiple devices, whereas for music there was a real consumer demand for this kind of freedom. Also, there’s no remix culture to speak of with books like there is with music.
The remaining sticking point, really, is the lack of an ability to borrow and lend books (this is technically somewhat possible on the Kindle and Nook platforms, but just barely). In a world in which e-books are the dominant reading medium, I have to wonder if that’s not something we just wind up letting go of.
Really, I bet a lot of what we think of as part of “books” will fade away, specifically the very idea of owning a book. Without books as physical objects, it’s no longer possible to have them as home decor, as trophies. The book-as-object is gone, so actually owning the electronic file that is an e-book becomes a less compelling idea. The only reason you’d want to “own” it, then, would be to have the freedom to reread or reference it at any time in the future. (This is assuming DRM remains and lending it out is not possible, or mostly pointless.)
That points to a kind of Netflix or Spotify model, in which you’re paying a regular fee for access to e-book content, without ever owning any of it. The hangup would be how one could retain things like notes and marginalia if one discontinues a subscription to a given e-book service. Perhaps, then, one can always retain those personal notes and whatever they immediately reference without having access to the entire work. But I don’t know.
Anyway, it’s an interesting gray area in electronic media. I find it fascinating how we seem, as a culture, to have settled on models for music and video that we’re all more or less happy with (save for cable, which is essentially the Anti-christ), but books seem to remain in a muddle. No doubt, this is in large part due to the fact that a book is really just text, like any part of the web, but just a lot of it. It’s so simple: many words — not musical notes, not sounds, not images, not bits — packaged together. Take them off of paper and put them on a screen, and suddenly we don’t know how the hell we’re supposed to sell or possess them.