Selecting a DRM Vendor
Those companies were fortunate to find a DRM vendor specializing in the type of content they distribute. For other companies, the search for an appropriate vendor can be an ordeal. Oscar Vaz says TechSearch International's search "was a very long process, much more tedious than I ever expected it to be."
One problem, he says, "was finding a company offering a solution for a small- to mid-size business like ours. There are people who want you to put up $50,000 bucks to start using their system, and we weren't willing to do that." Another problem was that a lot of DRM companies focus "on solutions for the music industry, but very few are targeting companies like ours that sell technical reports."
Aaron Press, a director and lead analyst for Outsell Inc., agreed that not many DRM providers are targeting niches in the text market. "It wouldn't make sense," he said. "There's more money in other types of media than there is in text-based content."
Besides SealedMedia and Rovia, another company that helps protect text is the Copyright Clearance Center. (For information on several other DRM providers, see "Digital Rights Management: Can the Technology Provide Long-Term Solutions?" in the May issue of EContent.)
The Copyright Clearance Center offers the Rightslink technology, which puts transaction engines on publishers' sites so users who want to reuse material can instantly buy additional rights. The technology also fulfills reprint requests automatically by routing them for printing and delivery to the user. Organizations that have signed up for CCC's service include the New York Times Online, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal Online, and several titles published by Cahners Business Information.
Aaron Press notes that although new players are entering the DRM space (for an example, see the sidebar "RealNetworks Joins the DRM Market"), content providers soon might have even fewer choices when they look for a vendor. "I definitely believe there will be some consolidation in the market," he says. One company that could affect it, he added, is Microsoft, which might be looking into developing or acquiring additional DRM technologies.
"They've already demonstrated an interest in DRM for their Media Player," he says, "and I can see where they would want to either extend that into text or come up with another solution that would be appropriate for text."
Design and Implementation Issues
If you are considering a DRM solution, there are several key issues you need to keep in mind as you search for a provider. One is that the end-user experience should be relatively hassle-free. "Early solutions very much looked at protecting the publisher's interest," says Kumik, "but it was horrible technology to use from the consumer's perspective. So it's a balancing act. The publishers have to be able to trust the technology, but it has to be easy to use for the consumer. You've got to get both right to be successful."
Another issue is support for your business model, notes Outsell's Press. "It's important for whatever system you choose to be able to handle your transactions or contain a system for the management of those transactions," he says. "That type of ecommerce support is absolutely critical. Controlling the distribution in and of itself is only half the battle. You have to be able to collect money, too."
According to Ranjit Singh, CEO of ContentGuard, which recently restructured its business to focus on DRM standards work, technology licensing, and intellectual property, DRM interoperability is another important issue. "The whole econtent marketplace will basically remain at the launching pad until there is interoperability between the DRM solutions," he says. "In other words, the way we express the business rules and the rights has to be interoperable."
To promote interoperability, ContentGuard supports the use of XrML (eXtensible rights Markup Language). Licensed royalty-free to the digital publishing industry, XrML is an open language that maps the usage conditions to content. It's supported by such companies as Adobe Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Preview Systems, Time Warner, and Xerox.
Another issue is end-to-end security, notes Jeff Albertson, product manager for the RealSystem Media Commerce Suite at RealNetworks: "End-to-end security is important because you need to ensure that content is secure during all the steps it goes through, whether it's packaging or distribution. Content must be secured throughout the entire life cycle."
Yet another issue, notes Vaz at TechSearch International, is the amount of IT work and customer support you will need to provide. "What happens when your client installs a new version of an operating system or a new version of Acrobat?" he says. "Is the DRM solution going to continue to work or is the client going to be forced to replace certain files or do a complete reinstall?
"Sometimes clients' problems with DRM technology can take a great deal of time to resolve. That's not only frustrating and time-consuming on our part, but it's frustrating for the client, who is thinking, 'Why can't this company just give me a PDF file.'
"So it's important to understand how likely it is that your content is going to be distributed illegally and whether you really need a DRM solution. If the answer is yes, then you need to understand what your requirements are going to be in terms of technical support. The DRM licensing fees can be insignificant compared to the number of hours spent providing backroom support, and that's something a lot of people don't factor in up front."