A couple of weeks back, Michael Clarke posted "Why eBook Distribution Is Completely and Utterly Broken (and How to Fix It)". His thoughts were featured on the Scholarly Kitchen blog, a site dedicated to discussions of issues affecting scholarly publishing, but his ideas apply broadly to anyone involved with eBook sales and distribution.
Clarke, whose contributions to Scholarly Kitchen inspired a 2010 post, sees four over-arching problems with the prevailing eBook model:
- Limited options for eBook sales and distribution
- The use of DRM
- Proprietary (platform-specific) formats
- Territorial distribution models
Although I'd link the second and third problems – specific retailer platforms use proprietary formats as DRM to lock in customers – Clarke offers a good list that reminds all of us how publishers can affect their fate and potentially grow the market. To get there, they'll need to abandon the comfortable but flawed approaches that Clarke criticizes.
Clarke's post was inspired in part by the story of a Norwegian woman whose Kindle account was cleared of past purchases, initially without explanation by Amazon. At least part of the reason appears to have been territorial: the Kindle in question was bought in the U.K. but used in Norway.
This led Clarke to openly question whether print-based models for negotiating territorial rights make sense when it comes to distribution of digital content. As he indicates, the answer is "no", something Laura Dawson and I outlined during our recent Frankfurt Book Fair workshop, "Metadata goes global".
Earlier this year, Livres Canada Books published "Territorial rights in the digital age", a report they commissioned us to research and write. Although the target audience is Canadian publishers, the analysis and recommendations apply to anyone looking to sell content outside of a core (home) market. A PDF sample is available on the Livres Canada Books web site; the full report sells for C$30.