Books Without Borders

Today’s Guardian blog has a piece by a high level Eurocrat. Neelie Kroes is responsible for Europe’s “Digital Agenda”. I understand from the Daily Malice that that’s an initiative to force all British families to watch gay porn over the Internet, but as far as everyone else is concerned it is basically about how Europe views the digital economy, and that includes ebooks.

So what does Ms. Kroes have to say? Well, she’s had a meeting with CEOs from the publishing industry, and they have come up with a declaration. It is called “Books Without Borders”, and the main objective is to make it easier to sell books throughout Europe. One of their main targets is the absurd situation regarding VAT whereby Amazon can get away with charging a very low rate (3.5% from memory) because it is “based” in Luxembourg, but UK-based publishers are forced to charge 20% on the same books. Of course they generally can’t get away with charging more to customers than Amazon does, so they have to take the extra government money out of what they pay themselves and their authors.

There’s more to the declaration, however. The key statement of principle in it is as follows:

Signatories of this declaration endorse the principle that there should be no barriers for consumers to acquire ebooks across territorial borders, platforms and devices.

If you are not sure that means what it sounds like it means, here’s some preamble:

Once they have paid for and downloaded their files, readers may face further obstacles arising from restrictions imposed by Digital Rights Management systems. These are intended to limit copying, but have the effect of preventing files from being moved freely between devices. Easing such restrictions will be important for the widespread acceptance of eBook.

So yeah, that’s an EU committee, and a whole bunch of European publishing industry CEOs, coming out against DRM.

7 thoughts on “Books Without Borders

    1. @Martha. You might try Holland 😉
      We’re not Nordic and we’re certainly not known for being very sensible 🙂

  1. It would be more accurate to say that they are against DRM *as it is currently implemented*. There is no reason why you couldn’t have a single type of DRM that is cross-platform compatible so that portability wouldn’t be an issue. The problem with DRM as it is now is that there is no benefit to the user and several drawbacks. It could be implemented to allow users to lend or re-sell e-books which is something that a lot of people want. If it was actually useful, and I believe it can be useful, then DRM would be a feature not a drawback.

    1. Possibly, but as far as the likes of Amazon and Apple are concerned the primary purpose of DRM is to lock consumers into their platform.

  2. I don’t know about Amazon, but I’m pretty sure Apple aren’t relying on DRM to keep people buying iPads and iPhones. They dumped DRM on music as soon as they had enough clout to get all of the labels to agree and that was a success so I doubt that they are too wedded to DRM for ebooks. Convenience and gadget-lust are what keeps people coming back to Apple.

    1. It’s a complex business. You are right that Apple has other means of ensuring loyalty. So does Amazon. But every hardware vendor wants lock-in, and while they may have better means of ensuring that, the main reason for wanting DRM is to add to that drive to capture customers.

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