In this article in the Guardian, Jefferson Pooley, associate professor in media and communication at Muhlenberg College, Pennsylvania makes the outlandish claim that “we need book formats we can annotate, search, print and share.” In short, scholars need ebooks they can use. Sadly, he argues this is currently impossible. He is unhappy about monographs using epub and being restricted by DRM making them painful to read and use. Interestingly, open access is not his main beef. He points out that “most academic journals and books have a price, and yet journal articles – once they’re bought directly or through institutional subscriptions – arrive as encumbrance-free PDF files.” However, he complains that monographs are a far different story. Publishers are still locking “books down, and then distribute them in proprietary and incompatible formats.” His issue seems to be flexibility of use, not cost.
After enumerating the multiple ways in which DRM restricts use and access, he points to a “refreshing contrast to existing models.” He notes that with “JSTOR’s new books initiative … libraries can opt to purchase ‘multi-user’ book licenses that permit its readers to download DRM-free PDF chapters as often as they want. In other words, “a multi-user book “behaves just like journal content on JSTOR”. Mr Pooley also points to other signs of progress as “Project MUSE, …, hosts a similar initiative, as does Oxford University Press.”
Of course, Mr. Pooley makes a number of other interesting observations about DRM and what he perceives as its negative impact on ebook use. Obviously, to get the full story you’ll need to read his article. But don’t worry, it’s worth it.