ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. The biggest music retailer in the U.S. does not sell CDs. The iTunes store has been moving more music than Borders or Wal-Mart for about a year now, and that has the book industry on notice.
Publishers and booksellers are trying to make the move from hardbacks to downloads. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, they want to prevent the rampant piracy that still plagues the music business.
LAURA SYDELL: Naomi Novik has run head-first into the book business' attempt to stop piracy. She paid for and downloaded an eBook of an Isaac Asimov novel. Then she tried to transfer the file to her laptop.
Ms. NAOMI NOVIK (Author): And this started, literally a two-hour process on three computers trying to get this file to open on my computer, and I gave up in the end.
SYDELL: She gave up because of DRM. That's digital rights management. DRM is put in eBook files to keep customers from making multiple copies. DRM is the technology that publishers are using to keep people from pirating eBooks the way they pirate music.
Author Naomi Novik thinks it's making her fans unhappy.
Ms. NOVIK: You don't have to make it hard.
SYDELL: Novik has written a five-book fantasy series called "Temeraire." She wants her fans to able to use parts of it on her fan site.
Ms. NOVIK: It's incredibly useful for them to be able to search an electronic version of the files, to be able to copy and paste excerpts from it. When you have a DRM version that prevents people from doing that, it's really quite frustrating for a fan who has bought all the books.
Mr. EVAN SCHNITTMAN (Oxford University Press): If the first copy that goes out can be sent around the world instantly, how are the publishers, who put their investment, going to recoup that investment and do the advertising and all those things that get this content out there?
SYDELL: Evan Schnittman of Oxford University Press says if there is no DRM, how are authors going to make money? He says the music business went wrong because they didn't put DRM on CDs, and people went nuts on Napster sharing MP3s for free.
Mr. SCHNITTMAN: They'd be in a very different position today if you could buy a CD and know of course that's a locked version, and those songs can't go anywhere.
SYDELL: Now, publishers are making sure that eBooks have DRM right out of the gate. The Amazon Kindle is the first eBook reader that has really started to catch on with the public. When Amazon sells you eBooks for the Kindle, it's hard to find any without DRM. Ian Fried, VP of Amazon Kindle, says they aren't hearing many customer complaints.
Mr. IAN FRIED (Vice President, Amazon Kindle): We've had very few, if any, customer responses that the choice we made with DRM was a problem.
SYDELL: But it could become a problem if the Kindle goes bust. Then all those people who bought Kindle eBooks with DRM have no way to read them because no other device can open the files. And not everyone agrees that DRM is a good business strategy.
Mr. MICHAEL SHATZKIN (Publishing Consultant): It would be very, very hard to make the case that file sharing reduces sales.
SYDELL: Michael Shatzkin is a publishing consultant.
Mr. SHATZKIN: There's an author called Cory Doctorow who writes, I think, basically, science fiction or thrillers. I'm not actually sure. I don't read her stuff, but Cory is a campaigner for the elimination of DRM, and Cory does the best he can to give away as much of his content as possible.
SYDELL: And by giving it away, Shatzkin says Doctorow's sales have skyrocketed. Author Naomi Novik fears that in the long run, locking up her books will diminish her fan base.
Ms. NOVIK: The biggest danger to most authors, to most storytellers, is not that somebody is going to steal your work and pass it along, it is that nobody is ever going to see your work.
SYDELL: That is a lesson that the music industry is beginning to learn, that if fans can pass around music, they make more fans who will buy more music and support artists. The basics of the publishing industry are really different, and eBooks are in their infancy. They only make up one percent of sales. Most readers are still pretty attached to the physical book with its cover art and crisp bound paper pages.
So publishers and authors have a little more time to work this out. However, in the long run, the industry knows that the adoption of eBooks is inevitable. Laura Sydell, NPR News.