v31#1 No Limitations on the Use of eBooks: A Bold Move by Springer Nature

by | Apr 12, 2019 | 0 comments

by Wouter van der Velde  (Senior eProduct Manager eBooks, Springer Nature)  

In 2006, it launched an eBook program with the end users’ best interests in mind — a program that stands apart in publishing, even today.

When Springer, now part of the Springer Nature company, launched its eBook program back in 2006, a lot of research and consultation had gone into the big question:  How do we protect intellectual property and at the same time make research content easily accessible for librarians, researchers and students?

Our library advisory board members strongly advised us to not wrap the books in Digital Rights Management (DRM), which was perceived as one of the biggest annoyances by their patrons.  The second largest inconvenience with eBook offerings was that not every book would be available as an eBook, leaving still a lot of administrative work and additional cost to the library, students and researchers.

Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s the music industry invested billions in protecting the most popular music carrier so that Compact Discs could not be copied.  However, after each release of new security algorithms, it was a matter of days before the “code was broken,” and music was distributed illegally anyway. Apple actually understood the user’s problems:  Many people don’t necessarily want to buy a full album of music, CD-singles were too expensive and the convenience of just downloading the MP3 anywhere is evident.  At the time of the launch of iTunes in 2001, one could finally purchase a single song at a reasonable price, it would work, the quality was guaranteed and it saved the consumer time by not having to download and try five different versions of the same song, where four out of five were recorded in bad quality.

So, taking a cue from Apple, Springer made a bold decision in publishing:  It made all its books available as an eBook and bundled them into subject collections.  Basically, not a single book was excluded from the collections, so all textbooks, monographs, and major reference works would have to be included as eBooks in the subject collections, and without any DRM protection or limitation on the usage of the content.  

This strategy of “no limitations to the use of eBooks” indeed imposes a risk of piracy, illegal downloading and distribution of illegal copies.  But, bearing in mind the music industry’s failure, the decision was made to include all book types, and not protect them with DRM and invest a lot of money in such a mechanism that would only irritate users.  Also, such protection would be counter-productive and would even encourage piracy — and that would not take the rights of our authors seriously.

Regardless of the existence or lack of DRM, there are always risks of illegally distributed copies of copyrighted content.  When this happens, it’s not only an embarrassment towards our authors, who are remunerated for their work by legally sold copies, but also for our (library) customers, who invest in the content to serve their patrons.  Therefore, Springer Nature has a global anti-piracy team, dedicated to fight piracy actively by scanning the Internet for illegally distributed copies.  As soon as piracy is detected, (legal) action is taken ensuring the continued success of our authors and Springer Nature eBooks’ DRM-free policy.

Our philosophy has always been to think from a user perspective:  If a teacher wants to use a textbook in their curriculum, all students in that particular class should be able to access the textbook at the same time.  Students should be able to download it to their device or print it out to use it for their study, wherever, whenever. A researcher should be able to print out the exact pages he needs in the laboratory or on her/his tablet while on the road to a conference, and/or easily share it with his colleague.  Also, the librarian should be able to count on the fact that the Springer-eBook (or other of the imprints belonging to the Springer Nature publishing group) is available for their patrons.  When we prioritize the needs and experiences of those that are interacting with — and depending upon — our eBook content, the end result outlasts whatever trends might be present in publishing.  


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