In June of 2011, my friend Emily Gould came up with an idea for a new kind of online bookstore: one that would sell only e-books, but would strive to offer the personalized customer service and curation of a local independent bookshop. I thought it was a great idea and signed on to be the chief operating officer of Emily Books right away. [Here's more on paidContent about Emily Books and the rise of the independent e-bookseller.]
We both had some well-founded fears about problems we might face. We worried about the dim future of the publishing industry. We worried about money and the logistics of launching a business while keeping our day jobs to make rent. We worried about running a company as best friends and how that would affect our relationship. And we worried that, even if we overcame problems one through three, our taste in books was too esoteric and idiosyncratic — too AWESOME!! — to have the general appeal necessary to sustain our business.
Maybe the only thing we didn’t worry about was major publishers telling us we could not sell their books. But that’s exactly what happened.
Publishers told us that if we did not have digital rights management (DRM) technology, they weren’t interested in letting us promote and sell their products. DRM is the set of technologies that encrypt and prevent the reproduction of e-book files. A new bricks and mortar bookstore, even the tiniest one, could have easily opened accounts with all the major distributors. But to sell electronic versions of those exact same books, publishers told us that you have to be a mega corporation. We were confused, and set about finding out why this counterintuitive business practice has taken root.
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