Why Adobe? Blame Sony. (Everybod else does.
Sony had the industry lead (and installed base lead) back in 2007.
Most second tier eink devices took their cues from the Sony 500/505. They had a proprietary ebookstore that used their own distinct ebook format and their own DRM.
The main competition came from the multivendor Mobipocket ecosystem which had been purchased by Amazon but still ran their business as usual, licensing their DRM to all comers.
When the Kindle came out, they followed Sony's example: propietary store? Yes. Distinctic format? Yes. Proprietary DRM? Yes.
*After* Kindle came out, the ePub spec came out and all the major publishers announced they would be transitioning their inhouse ebook processes from Open eBook to ePub and Adobe, which provided the software for much of that inhouse work--most notably inDesign among others--announced they would be providing a clear road to the consumer through their ADEPT DRM and authentication servers, ADOBE DIGITAL EDITIONS for PC, and Adobe Digital Editions Mobile software and SDK to let device manufacturers incorporate ADEPT DRM ePub reader software into their readers instead of having to code, from scratch, their own reading application.
The idea was to do in ebook readers what MS had done for the PC; establish a common baseline in firmware that vendors could build upon to create a multivendor ecosystem that would encourage consumers to buy and be assured of compaibility regardless of who sold the hardware or ebooks.
Sony bought into the idea, thinking they would be the "IBM" that sold the premium device that "lesser" vendors would clone to expand the ecosystem.
The first problem was that it took time to get the new firmware out the door. Sony made the anouncement of their switch in January and delivered the first epub software in June 2008. Their store went live in august 2008. They effectively froze their business for a whole year as consumers pondered the promised land of the "open" multivendor ecosystem. Then reality set in. The early software was buggy. The ePub spec was loose and allowed different interpretations so early ePubs would not render the same everywhere. Adobe had more clients so *their* interpretation of the spec, their "flavor" of ePub was the baseline. Calibre adopted Adobe compatibility as its baseline. Regardless of what the spec said, the reality was that ePub was defacto what Adobe said it was.
It wasn't until well into 2009 that the disruption of the ePub transition started to settle down.
Two other facts factored in at that point: First, Mobipocket licensing required Mobi to be the only DRM system to be used by a device. And second, nobody else had a working DRM system for ePub. Nobody even tried because the bandwagon of "universal ebook compatibility!" would lynch anybody that tried. The bandwagon, oddly enough, was biggest and most powerful in the fragmented ebook markets outside North America. Everybody had committed totally to Adobe's vision.
We all know what was really happening while the bandwagon show was running: Amazon had launched Kindle just before the ePub announcements. While Sony and the rest off the ebook device vendors were ramping up for ePub "universal compatibility" Amazon was selling Kindles. While the various ebookstores were transition from Mobi format to Mobi-plus-epub, Amazon was selling ebooks. While the epub world debated epub spec interpretations and rushed to get ADE SDK reading apps out into users hands, users were finding Kindle to "just work". And while epub vendors were building a delivery system that was PC dependent, Amazon had a fully working delivery system that *didn't* need a PC at all.
By the time the epub ecosystem had stabilized to where regular consumers could use it and monthly firmware updates less prevalent, it was spring of 2009.
And Kindle 2 came out. And went global.
Suddenly it was a war: "open" epub vs "closed" Amazon. ePub supporters closed ranks.
It was "Open" ADEPT vs proprietary Amazon lock-in.
Then B&N came out with the first Nook. Yes, it supported ePub. Yes, it supported ADEPT. But it also supported eReader DRM. And it matching ebookstore used the eReader DRM for epub. A lot of debate ensued but since Nook was US-only, the ADEPT bandwagon rolled on elsewhere.
A year or so later, Apple got into ebooks. They too supported epub ebooks. But they too used their own DRM and more, their commercial ebooks were slightly different from the "pure" ePub spec. (A year after that, Apple made it official that iBooks were not epub by changing the extension. iBooks the app will read epub and iBooks are based on epub but are not spec-compliant epub.)
Since then, Kobo has introduced their own epub/drm favor for (so-far) limited use and the DRM-fork was complete.
Why Adobe? They got there first.
They had the hearts and minds (and software account control) of the Big Publishing Houses. They talked Sony into giving up their proprietary ecosystem for a leadership position in the world of generic ADEPT readers, and they held up the holy grail of "universal epub compatibility!" (Oh, and nobody dare suggest that lock-in to ADEPT is not so different as lock-in to Amazon. Or that lock-in applies to *vendors* as well as consumers
Bandwagons are hard to challenge, even after a wheel or two falls off.
Now, the reality is that ADEPT is *not* the only road to "open" commercial ebook DRM. Alternatives exist (besides the epub forks) and one is even in use.
First, there is the Nook eReader DRM that B&N licensed out to Adobe. In theory, anybody who pays for ADEPT can retool to support it. Some software even supports it (Aldiko among other android apps.)
Then there is the "open" Marlin DRM. It is derived from Sony's abandoned LRF ebookstore.
It might form the heart of a "euro" ebook DRM if the french ever stop trying to protect pbookstores and move to protecting ebookstores.
And third, there is up-and-coming BooXtream watermark DRM.
The one used by Pottermore and most Dutch ebooks.
Here's their sales pitch:
With this award winning technology, every publisher can protect its digital content without sacrificing customer satisfaction. BooXtream® offers the perfect solution. With BooXtream®, every digital file sold is unique using advanced watermarking and personalisation features.
The ePub ebook files contains visible personalisation and multiple invisible watermarks in all data files, without sacrificing compatibility. BooXtream®uses multiple realtime protection algorithms that encodes not only information about the publisher, but also about the customer and the web shop. A publication that has been BooXtreamed can be traced back to the shop and even to the individual customer.
A BooXtream® protected file, when found on the internet or on a digital memory device, is linked to the customer that bought and downloaded it. Because customers know the files can contain their name or customer number, the risk of illegal distribution is very low. And because no 'real' DRM is used, the customer can play or read the information on every device he or she owns.
How it works
With every order fulfilment, BooXtream® needs the customer name, customer email address and an order-id (supplied by the shop). BooXtream® encodes this as a series of redundant digital watermarks and also adds visible, personalised information for the end user into the ePub file. All visible and personalised information is optional and can be customised:
- Page 2 contains an Ex Libris (image with customer name), that can be customised per publisher and per customer.
- Every chapter ends with a personalised footer text.
- The last page contains a disclaimer and logo, and has a corresponding entry in the table of contents.
So that is where we stand.
Vendors committed to a vision that didn't materialize are now invested in a set of software and services they must either replace or supplement if they are to switch. And most of the ADEPT-committed are way too small to afford the transition costs. The most likely alternative is they switch to Watermark Social DRM from BooXtreme and relie on tying consumer personal information to each ebook they buy.
And it *would* be from a Dutch company, not a ("gasp"!) American company like most other ebook DRM in use.
Or, the *publishers* might decide to stop insisting on DRM to start with.
Who knows, maybe the horse will sing.