Torn between two e-books? Go for the one without Digital Rights Management, if forced to choose. DRM is the ‘Scandal’ of e-publishing.

imageIn character, one of Rob Pegoraro’s last “Faster Forward” columns for the Washington Post is on Digital Rights Management, aka “copy protection,” the scourge of e-book lovers for many reasons.

DRMed books in the ePub format for iBooks—the Apple-created reading app for the iPad and related gizmos—are not readable on the Nook or on Sony e-book readers, even with the shared core format. And the reverse. That’s just one of many examples of sadism against shoppers who want to own e-books for real. What a loathsome, anti-consumer technology. You can get more DRM details from Rob via Faster Forward  and also from  the savvy Chris Meadows with the TeleRead site, which I founded but left to focus on other projects like the Scandals blog.

No, the e-book edition of The Solomon Scandals is not DRMed except when online bookstores insist on it. Twilight Times Books and I went out of our way to make certain Amazon offered a nonDRMed version and withdrew the one that the company had “protected” despite our wishes to the controversy. But how to spot books free of DRM, at least on the Amazon site? Look for phrases like “Simultaneous device usage unlimited,” the words you’ll find on the Scandals page.

Where I’d disagree with Rob: While I dislike Amazon’s use of DRM and its failure to use the ePub standard so far, I’m a big Kindle fan now that the screen contrast has improved. A $139 Kindle is lighter, more compact, and far less scary to lug around than an iPad costing several times as much, and E Ink technology is going to get better and better, while prices sink even more. The Kindle’s ergonomics help balance out the DRM blight. Besides, you can use the Kindle to enjoy nonDRMed books like Scandals, including many thousands of free classics from Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive and elsewhere. Yes, I own an iPad, too, and can’t imagine life without either.

Memo to Washington Post Management: My brother-in-law today was baffled to learn of Rob’s departure or forthcoming departure. He called the Faster Forward column one of the most useful in the entire paper. Last week I’d suggested that the Post simply reposition Rob rather than laying him off; perhaps a better move would be to keep him on Faster Forward. The smartest newspapers create and nurture communities, geo-based and other kinds. Rob had one among his readers, and the apparently forthcoming hyperlocal editions could exploit this—through Rob’s appearances at computer-related events in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia and his other interactions with local computer buffs. Washington used to be a town of clerks and filing cabinets. Now it’s one of computers and “end users” like my brother-in-law. It is crazy to let Rob go, even with the Post’s changing priorities.

Correction, made April 11: That’s "Faster" rather than "Fast" in the column title. I’ve fixed the glitch in the previous post, too.

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David Rothman

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