Thursday, January 23, 2014
Adobe Accept ACS4 Broken?
Adobe have long been associated with publishing and the development tools associated with the development of content and although they have successfully seen off the likes of Quark and established InDesign as the tool of choice to many, they have long floundered in the area of DRM.
Today we read of their latest step change to introduce ACS5, which is aimed at tightening the security and replacing the easily broken and much maligned ACS4. There is a question as to whether it will be widely adopted and also of whether how quickly it will be broken by those who wish to break it. There is also the question that if they accept that they are doing it to primarily address ACS4, what of the ACS4 licences being issues and charged for in the market today?
Some 8 years ago they dropped the then much broken ACS3 offer and with the backing of Sony and Overdrive delivered ACS4. The objective was to establish a cross platform ‘open’ service that could be used by all, on any device and at a small transaction licence fee to Adobe, which was centrally controlled with real time licence authentication. The problems started early. Much of the original specification was done with the help of a single party who mainly operated in a single market and whose input made it unfriendly and cumbersome in other sectors. The original restrictions on devices and the interface with Digital Editions was restrictive and confusing to users and although these have been greatly relaxed the basic process and controls remain. Eight years on it remains cumbersome and unfriendly.
A few years later they found that they were not geared to dealing with small accounts and collecting micropayments. So they outsourced this activity to a couple of partners who were more incentivised to dealing with customers. Prior to this move and after the departure of the main driver and movement of his successor within Adobe, it was almost impossible to find the person in Adobe who could make any commercial decisions or even knew much about it.
ACS4 had other problems. The model was based on a server licence plus transaction fee on each purchase download of some 25 cents and a reduced fee of 8 cents for each library loan up to 60 days. As the demand grew for ebooks and the prices dropped the transaction cost often became a thorn in the side of many. It is in effect a fixed sales tax that is imposed irrespective of the cost of the sale and is not include in the publication price. Today Amazon and Apple each have their own DRM which obviously are incompatible and others such as Kobo and Nook have understandably quietly started to go their own way. Sony remains an also ran and probably still has two DRM solutions one of which is ACS4. More importantly some 85% of all sales in all markets are driven by proprietorial DRM solutions and although ACS4 is still seen by some as ‘open’, to many ACS4 is in reality the same. However ACS4 is only one DRM service that directly charges the retailer and lives off their sales.
Perhaps Adobe should have adopted a more long term and integrated approach by embedding both encrypted and later watermarked solutions within InDesign and collected the money in the upstream development. They could have still offered the downstream licence operation but would have probably achieved greater control of the market. Files could have been automatically exported in multiple formats all offering the publisher multiple channels and retailers an incentive to do what they do best – price and sell. Also it should be noted that as Adobe move towards the subscription based licencing of all their tools, this simpler approach could have been bundled in as a value added incentive to publishers.
We have seen the emergence of streamed cloud based ebook services. Whether these are app or browser driven they do not need ACS4 or 5 and can effectively be far more secure in their offer and more transparent in how they achieve it. Maybe ACSx was built for a downloaded file world that may not be so relevant in the near future.
There remains questions about the cost of ACS5 migration and its associated family of change. There remain questions on how Adobe are going to stimulate the transition and whether, like in the ACS3 to 4 move, they will effectively force it to happen even though their hand is considerably weaker this time round. There remains questions on the backward compatibility of ACS5 and ACS4 licences. However, to many today there is still a bigger question over encrypted DRM and whether we should not migrate to a watermarking soft DRM with authentication of ownership , or be factored into an epub format and service, or whether we should just go no DRM?