Let’s get this straight. We’re totally anti-DRM. That’s our position. It’s not the position of all of our partners, but many of them. Anyway, for now, that’s our position. In fact for ever, that’s our position.
At the same time, anything sold via the App Store is automatically bundled with Apple’s Fair Play DRM system. This is not optional, and so all of our Apps sold via the app store, are in some way, DRM’d. Nothing we can do about that, and really, not that much of an issue for most app developers. Some people go a bit nutty about it, but seeing as the App store and the Apps within it are totally restricted to the Apple platform anyway, it’s a bit of an odd thing to get obsessed about.
Given the audio and video we embed in the apps (on which more later) some publishers also asked us to protect these files above and beyond the protection of Fair Play, in case people crack open the apps and upload them to file sharing sites. We looked at encrypting the text, audio and video, and de-encrypting it in the app. But this did such mental things to performance and development time, and user experience, as to make it a non-starter. So we dropped that idea. We also looked at streaming the content into the app, but this had other drawbacks: lack of offline support, violation of (at the time) the Apple SDK, big bandwidth costs for us, and the fact that (if memory serves) the file path of the content could be hacked anyway and downloaded onto a desktop and then uploaded to file-sharing sites.
In publishing however, DRM is most closely tied up for consumers – as in music – in interoperability. That’s the ability to buy a file that works on any device. So you can buy a book, and read it on your phone, iPhone, laptop, Sony Reader, Kindle, and so on. If a file is DRM’d, it tends to only be playable on one kind of device, which means it’s not-interoperable, and that therefore you don’t really “own” it, just rent it. And before you ask, there is no such thing as interoperable DRM in music or books. For the record, we’re all for inter-operability.
Unlike music (where MP3 and AAC are on the whole interoperable, and where the industry has reluctantly, slowly, and after years of damaging and expensive prevarication, opted to DRM-free, interoperable file formats), publishing does not yet have an interoperable standard. It does however have the next best thing, which is ePub. ePub is an open format, without DRM, which is fast being adopted by publishers and some retailers (with the notable exception of Amazon and Kindle).
We’re all for ePub.
So, Enhanced Editions are built around ePub. It makes a lot of sense for us to do this – ePubs are readily available from the publisher, and more importantly they are basically a special kind of HTML. Given that the iPhone rendering engine loves HTML, this made our decision about how to develop the underlying App for Enhanced Editions really simple.
What we really want to do, is to make the ePub exportable http://www.teleread.org/2009/07/29/e-book-apps-which-are-your-faves-which-do-you-hate-and-which-publishers-allow-epub-extraction/ from our app; so you can email the ePub to yourself, and read it in other devices.
And that’s the plan. We haven’t got there yet, and there are a load of other features we have to do first, but that’s the plan.
Still, we don’t know if it will work or not. We do magic things to the ePub, where we add in the Enhancements. All of this is done in line with the standards of the format, but we aren’t going to be able to export the Enhancements from the Enhanced Edition. We’re talking text only (and possibly videos). That kind of file can be emailed, for example, but the full ePub of Bunny Munro is in the region of 850MB, which can’t be emailed.
So, we don’t know how other platforms will cope with an ePub that has lots of references to files that aren’t there, but in the spirit of interoperability and owning what you buy, this is what we’d like to do. We’ll keep you informed on how we get on.