Kent also cited other challenges to the e-book industry, primarily piracy from peer-to-peer file-sharing sites (torrents). “I think the real concern is that we don’t want to go down the same road the music industry went,” he said.
The solution, he said, is digital rights management (DRM) that works. The primary e-book format today is PDF, which is very easy to create; however, it’s also an “open system,” designed to be shared, and now it’s trying to protect books with a “wrapping.” Solutions need to provide more than that, he stressed, “where the book inside is also scrambled.”
Kent also mentioned the current complexity of e-book purchase and activation. He described the typical process: finding the book, selecting it/putting it in a shopping cart, checkout, then receiving an activation code via e-mail, etc. The potential problems include: the e-mails often go into junk filters or are not received, the activation fails, the book download fails, and/or browser compatibility issues arise.
Prior to his presentation, Kent conducted an experiment. “Out of three e-books [I tried to purchase], I had problems with two of them,” said Kent. “That’s a 33-percent success rate. What kind of a way is that to sell e-books?”
These problems contribute to what Kent calls “unfulfilled e-book potential.” “Currently, we have consumer-unfriendly e-book formats, DRM problems, a clunky sales process, a 500-year-old model for digital goods,” he said. The book industry, he suggested, must learn from the software industry’s “try before you buy” model; for example, “unlocking” the first three chapters, but requiring purchase to read the rest. Purchasing should be able to be done right there from within the book, he added.
Kent showed several examples of e-books with embedded videos, including a children’s book where an illustrated animal moved on the page and made noise. He asked the audience to recall from a “Harry Potter” movie, the scene when the paper moves, as if alive. “That isn’t actually that special,” he said. “That’s the future of e-books. You can run videos so these books start to become alive.”