Digital Rights Management (DRM) is technology used to control the use of digital content on devices after purchase. Although the intention is to prevent unauthorized redistribution, this technology creates certain restrictions and device boundaries that can impact usability and hinder user research.

Today’s researchers are mobile-based and connected to more than one platform. They need a flexible, forward-thinking solution to improve e-book access. By using DRM-free digital e-books, users can download files that are portable and are transferable between devices and operating systems, encouraging uninterrupted research.

We talked to Emma Waecker Director of Product Management, who explained the advantages DRM-Free e-books provide to librarians and researchers.

What makes DRM-free content so important to libraries and end users?

DRM-protections impose limits on the number of pages that can be saved from an e-book and require special software to enforce protections on full e-book downloads. These limitations create barriers for efficient research. For example, if a chapter is longer than the page allotment, the user can’t quickly save it, which it creates tremendous frustration that doesn’t apply to articles or e-books from other sources. When e-books present barriers to research, users will give up and move on to other resources. With DRM-Free e-books libraries can minimize those barriers, so users come away with a positive (and efficient) experience.

What sort of market feedback does EBSCO obtain about DRM-free e-books?

Our product development team, which includes many librarians, relies heavily on speaking directly with librarians and end-users, and we combine several research methods to inform new initiatives and ongoing enhancements. For DRM-free specifically, we probe users on their actions when they encounter DRM-limits, their response to those limits, and how they feel about e-books generally. We understand that e-books are preferred over print for research because of their convenience, but when we impose restrictions and force the user into circuitous pathways to get to the e-book content they need, we undermine that convenience. We also understand that it’s important for users to have autonomy and flexibility in how they consume content for research — sometimes they want a chapter, sometimes they want the whole book, and they always want to obtain that content quickly, without multiple logins and additional software.

When an e-book model is unsustainable for libraries and/or publishers, we see pricing instability and publishers reduce their participation. So that’s why we offer unlimited user terms for DRM-free EBSCO eBooks, while also offering the single user option for libraries that don’t need the expanded permissions.

Libraries currently have DRM-free titles available from other sources. What makes choosing EBSCO eBooks DRM-free options different and appealing for libraries?

DRM-free content on other platforms can be limited. The content is either limited to a single publisher, or it’s limited to specific scholarly and backlist titles that publishers are comfortable providing to certain platforms. That means libraries may need to go to multiple places to get their DRM-free and non-DRM-free e-books, even from the same publisher. Since EBSCO can offer both DRM-protected and DRM-free content, publishers can choose which content is suitable for which models, and EBSCO is able to load 100% of the scholarly books that publishers make available in e-book format to our platform. That choice also means that many of our DRM-free titles are frontlist titles. By acquiring DRM-free titles via EBSCO eBooks, libraries have the convenience of purchasing and managing both DRM-free and non-DRM-free titles through one aggregator.

What are some of the workflow advantages that DRM-free e-books provide researchers?

The primary advantage of the DRM-free e-book experience is that it grants full autonomy to users. If they need a chapter, they can download the entire chapter, no matter how long it is. If they want to read the whole book, or multiple chapters, they can download the book in two clicks. Downloaded DRM-free e-books never expire so the user has access to it for as long as they need. If they want EPUB format, because they’re reading on a device, they can select the EPUB version. And they can do all of this with software and apps native to whatever device they’re using.

How do DRM-Free e-books support accessibility throughout the user experience?

The lack of technical restrictions on DRM-free content benefits all users, regardless of whether they have a disability. But one of the biggest benefits of DRM-Free e-books is that they meet a wide variety of accessibility needs because the content can be used with any software, including assistive technologies like text to speech tools and immersive readers. Additional benefits of DRM-free e-books downloaded in EPUB format include enabling text magnification, changing background colors and fonts, adjusting line and word spacing, and other features provided by assistive technologies.

Does EBSCO offer curated collections of DRM-Free e-books?

At this time in August of 2023, we offer more than 435,000 titles DRM-Free through EBSCO eBooks. To help librarians streamline their collection development efforts we have dozens of curated collections of DRM-Free e-books. Here's a list of some popular DRM-Free collections:

Libraries can purchase these as complete collections or purchase individual e-books within the collections using EBSCOhost Collection Manager (ECM). ECM is the fastest and easiest way to manage a library’s digital collections. Some collections are also available as Spotlight Lists in GOBI.

Learn more about EBSCO eBooks collection by viewing our guide.