As reported here on GamingReport.com (it got a mention on Slashdot, too), DriveThruRPG.com has announced that Wizards of the Coast is going forward with a scheme that will eventually see almost all of the D&D library available in eBook form.
There are several interesting ramifications of a decision like this. The first thing that pops to mind for most folks is one word: ...
Piracy. It's one of the more controversial aspects of the plan to a lot of people, and doubtless part of the argument that was going on behind closed doors at WoTC. The new D&D eBooks will feature some of the same watermarking and protection technology used with the current batch of official D&D PDFs. Of course, anyone who has ever poked their head the least bit into the wild and wonderful world of file sharing knows that all of the titles that DriveThruRPG is going to be adding to its offerings are already available on the Internet through BitTorrent sites and other P2P sharing systems.
That gives consumers an interesting choice. Players and DMs who want to support WoTC's eBook scheme can now pay the same price as buying a hard copy of their books for a PDF that has fewer features than the PDF that they could get for free off of their favorite file sharing service. It's hard to say who is going to bight; while I'm sure that there are a lot of folks who would like to have electronic copies of their books in addition to their hardbacks, I doubt many of those folks want to pony up the full price of a book for the privilege. Meanwhile, the size of the market for electronic-only books seems to vary according to who you ask; some gamers are ready to go laptop-only starting yesterday, while others are pointing at their laden bookshelves and screaming "from my cold dead hands!".
Mixed into all of this is more bad news for the small hobbyist shops of the world. Rest assured, retailers don't like it when their "partners" in the publishing biz decide to cut them out of the equation. WoTC's eBook publishing scheme- which can no longer really be called an experiment- means that the nickel-and-dime counting division at WoTC has decided that the potential gains from online-only eBook sales more than offset the consequences of the bruised relationship with retailers. Wizards has the small hobbyist shop market in the worst possible position: D&D & D20 are much too big for any sane RPG retailer to ignore and kick out of the shop, meaning that retailers have little means at their disposal to show WoTC that they don't like being cut out of the equation.