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Why eBook DRM Has To Go 299

Sci-Fi author Charlie Stross was recently put in the position of offering his thoughts to book publisher Macmillan on why eBook DRM is a terrible thing — not just for consumers, but for publishers, too. He makes a strong case that the removal of DRM, while not an immediate financial boon, will strongly benefit publishers in years to come through increased goodwill from users, greater leverage against Amazon's near-monopoly on distribution, and better platform interoperability. "Within 5 years we will be seeing a radically different electronic landscape. Unlocking the readers' book collections will force Amazon and B&N and their future competitors to support migration (if they want to compete for each others' customers). So hopefully it will promote the transition from the near-monopoly we had before the agency model, via the oligopoly we have today, to a truly competitive retail market that also supports midlist sales." Users have been railing against DRM for years, but it appears the publishers are finally starting to listen.
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Why eBook DRM Has To Go

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  • by Tastecicles ( 1153671 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:19AM (#39793241)

    ...Project Gutenberg has had more money from me (a few hundred Pounds in donations by now, easily, plus time spent volunteering as a proofreader and space and bandwidth given over for distribution which has got to be worth something) than Amazon, B&N or any other major online publisher/distributor ever has. Why? Because their ebooks aren't locked down to fuckery.

    Call me cynical, or a pirate, or whatever you want to call me, but I'm not about to buy something I can't use. IF DRM PREVENTS ME FROM TRANSFERRING FILES FROM AN OLD DEVICE TO A NEW ONE WITH NO FURTHER OUTLAY REQUIREMENT THEN I AM NOT INTERESTED.

  • In the 90's, the distinction was popularly called Knowledge in the World vs. Knowledge in the Head []. As our communication and recording systems improve, we externalize more of our knowledge. First we recorded knowledge in books rather than memorize poetry. Now we rely on Google instead of memorizing facts.

    Every book we read, therefore, constitutes a portion of our externalized knowledge. Some of what we read might get memorized, but most of it gets absorbed as an awareness where we know we can look it up again in the future (moves knowledge from DK-DK to K-DK []). By agreeing to DRM, eBook users place control of part of their knowledge -- part of their mind, if you will -- in the hands of corporations. The corporations are practicing mind control with DRM.

  • by BitterAndDrunk ( 799378 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:32AM (#39793305) Homepage Journal
    Butcher prices his Dresden files books at over $10 a pop. I read the first four or five but the pricing is too stupid and the quality's simply not that good. Not for significantly greater than pulp paperback.

    If he priced his stuff at $6 a pop I would have read the catalog. But $12? Now you're taking advantage.

  • by wasabiboy ( 537118 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:38AM (#39793357)
    I sense a mix-up between DRM and open/standardization of format. DRM alone doesn't create the kinds of problems outlined in this post. Perhaps we should be more uncomfortable about the lack of inter-operability or portability between purchased eBooks and apps that can display them. I think that DRM would be fine if it was implemented in an open/universal system.
  • Sure Why Not? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:42AM (#39793383) Journal

    You can't be serious.

    Well, to be fair he doesn't say how much it increases.

    Let's look at examples where this has already worked for me: Bandcamp. From the start they offered music with no DRM at various qualities of lossy and lossless downloads. As a result, for a while I was trying to make it a point to only purchase my music through bandcamp or directly from the little guys. Because the option was there with a large enough volume I could actually do this.

    Oddly enough I can stream all the music on Bandcamp when I'm connected to the internet through my computer and phone and I constantly send out links to friends via e-mail and social media sites (free advertising, more goodwill). So you might ask why I would ever pay anything for the music on Bandcamp but I do because sometimes the music is so good that I want something physical as well or I just want this unknown band from Sweden to have enough gas to make it to their next gig.

    Am I a typical consumer? Probably not but Bandcamp posts their numbers so I know other people are using it:

    To date, artists have made $16,858,713 using Bandcamp, and $1,188,800 in the past 30 days alone.
    Albums outsell tracks 5 to 1 (in the rest of the music buying world, tracks outsell albums 16 to 1).
    On name-your-price albums, fans pay an average of 50% more than the minimum.
    We've driven 2,570,177 paid transactions and served 30,232,263 downloads to happy fans.

    Now, does this goodwill offset someone sharing all of Bandcamp's MP3s? Apparently you don't think the goodwill is worth anything compared to that piracy. Maybe you're right but I would be thrilled if there was a Bandcamp site for ebooks where I could read most if not all of the book before purchasing it. Apparently Stross agrees that something less encumbering than the current model will be a better situation than what they have. Unfortunately, there's no sure way to measure this or to speculate if it will work for small time authors but not for big authors nor can you tell if it will be similar to the music anecdote I listed.

    So, he actually is serious, it's just the magnitude and trade offs that are unknown and scare publishing executives.

  • by Korvin20111803 ( 2019784 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:43AM (#39793391)
    In contrary, Paulo Coelho says in his blog: "... the physical sales of my books are growing since my readers post them in P2P sites. Welcome to download my books for free and, if you enjoy them, buy a hard copy..." []
  • by crafty.munchkin ( 1220528 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:47AM (#39793431)
    Charles Stross also has an explanation of why reducing ebook costs to that level is impractical... it's a part of his series of essays regarding common misconceptions about the publishing industry []. Very much worth a read.
  • by Mike Mentalist ( 544984 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:51AM (#39793457) Homepage

    As an indie author I can sympathise with his annoyance at people pirating his work. However he is making the classic mistake of assuming that if those people couldn't get his work for free, they would have gone to Amazon and paid for it.

    As my sig suggests I decided to upload all my own books to ISOHunt, Demonoid, Pirate Bay and Retroshare. I even posted about it in their forums, on 4Chan and include links to the torrents on my blog.

    The torrent page and the forum posts all contained an image of the front cover of my latest book. I got some nice feedback and potentially reached a large audience that normally wouldn't even know who I was.

  • by smpoole7 ( 1467717 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:51AM (#39793463) Homepage

    > Butcher prices his Dresden files books at over $10 a pop

    I don't know if it's at the link that I posted, or somewhere else in his forums (search through the "WOJ" -- "Words of Jim" -- I believe it's in his Amazon comments) ... but Butcher actually has an emphatic reply when someone says that to him. HE doesn't set the prices, the publisher does, and he rails at Amazon's pricing on EBooks all the time. :)

    By the way, I should also point out a different view, namely from Eric Flint (, who successfully lobbied for the Baen Free Library. Flint is a leader AGAINST DRM and insists that free distribution actually *increases* sales.

    Also, to be fair to Butcher, if you read all of his comments, he's not particularly enamored of DRM. He was just commenting on how the *publishers* view it.

  • by crafty.munchkin ( 1220528 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:54AM (#39793479)
    I spend around 10hrs a week on public transport going to and from work - it's the price I pay for living in a forest outside of the city - which consequently allows me around 10hrs a week of reading time. I could be playing games on my phone, or my tablet - but most of the time, I'm reading.

    On the rare occasions I look up from my book, it seems I'm not alone. At least a half of the passengers on the train are reading something.
  • by slashbart ( 316113 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:56AM (#39793495) Homepage
    I like the Rockfax solution for downloadable rockclimbing guides. You buy one for a few euros, and they generate the pdf on the fly, with 'registered to Bart van Deenen' in the footer of every page. Works for me.
  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @09:05AM (#39793543)

    e-books will not seriously take off until they are suitably cheap. Once they're like iOS "games", selling for $1-2, people will start to buy them when selling portals are integrated into the various ereaders.

    That won't happen for a very long time, book publishers are terrified of losing control of the entire distribution and "scarcity" control.

    That won't happen soon because of Amazon's pricing model. If you price a book for under $2.99, you only get 30% royalties (as opposed to 70% for $2.99 and greater if you organize your account right). If it were 70% all the way down, more authoris might be willing to price lower, but who wants to write a book just to give Amazon 70%?

    You might as well go with the old guard publishers in that case (well, not really, they pay even less, but still, at leat they'll give you an advance, and some distribution muscle.)

  • Re:Pottermore... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @09:12AM (#39793593)
    I wanted to clarify (as an author who works with amazon) Amazon does not require DRM.
    Want to publish your book DRM free with amazon? That is a CHECKBOX on their interface.

    All of my novels are published DRM free in the kindle store. I insisted on it because DRM is annoying to ME as a paying customer, because I like to decide which readers I read my books on personally, and I would like to afford my customers and fans (even the ones that pirate) the same courtesy.

    The first time a fan comes up to you sheepishly and says "I saw your book on TPB and started reading it, and well... can you sign this hardback for me, I bought all your other books too." You really get it.

    I push (and sometimes pay personally) to have my books in libraries, I made sure they are available for free in the kindle lending library, I make sure they are DRM free, I have to respect my customers, or they will never respect me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @09:18AM (#39793637)

    As someone else pointed out, all DRM is meant to do is to preserve the same security that physical limitations provided before digital editions, i.e. you can only read a book if you're physically holding it, which limits you to one copy.

    It's a completely arbitrary restriction since they're not physical items. Not only that, but their DRM often only harms paying customers, because it sure as hell won't harm the pirates who can just crack it.

    As a writer, I want to get paid for the work I put into writing something, and DRM is one way of ensuring that no one is reading something of mine without my permission.

    As a non-pirate, I do not want to be punished for the actions of others (pirates). Take your collective punishment schemes elsewhere. I pay for things because I want to support people who make those things, but when you treat me as a criminal, I'm going to ignore your product entirely and tell everyone else to do the same. I feel for you, but the ends do not justify the means even if DRM worked.

    You're seriously wasting your time by using DRM. The pirates will crack it, and the paying customers will suffer.

  • by value ( 2182292 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @09:36AM (#39793799) Journal
    Watermarks can be destroyed by averaging multiple watermarked copies into a single copy.
  • by Gilmoure ( 18428 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @10:43AM (#39794669) Journal

    Does this mean it’s easier for someone to violate my copyright? It does. But most people don’t want to violate my copyright. Most people just want to own their damn books. Now they will. I support that. And I believe that most readers who like my work will support me. They get that if I don’t get paid, they won’t get books — and more than that I really do believe most people who can support the artists whose work they like will support them. So personally I don’t think ditching DRM will mean people will stop buying what I and Tor have to sell.

    --John Scalzi,
    Tor/Forge To Go DRM Free by July []

    When Tor first got their site going a few years ago, they put all these eBooks for free. I downloaded a bunch of them, got introduced to some cool authors and got back into buying books, both e and hardcopy.

    Same goes for movies and films. Sure, I can easily find any film or song out there but I purchase my stuff from Amazon and iTunes. All my friends (40-60 year olds) are the same way. Maybe I'm too old to be cool and scrape the web?

  • by fiordhraoi ( 1097731 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @11:00AM (#39794905)
    I am one of the people who has downloaded pretty much every Dresden and Codex Alera book from some sort of pirating website. Why? Because I bought every single one of those books as a physical book. Most of them in hardcover, too. To me, I've already paid my dues, so to speak - the pirating is simply the easiest way for me to convert the format of something I already own. If publishers offered a code in the physical book to get the ebook for free, or cheap, or something similar, then I would likely have done that. I may be the minority in this, but knowing my friends and those who have done the same thing, I'd guess from anecdotal evidence that we're at least a substantial plurality.
  • by RivenAleem ( 1590553 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @11:42AM (#39795535)

    If someone can get a message to him I'd like for him to try the following:

    On his next book, ensure that it is sold with the most Draconian DRM possible and then check the sales stats vs the piracy stats after a similar timeframe.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @12:20PM (#39796093) Journal

    I stopped buying PC games when DRM started to become irritating. Steam was the final thing for me - a bloated buggy piece of crap that insisted on downloading 1.4GB on my 1Mb/s connection just so that I could play a game I already owned. Apparently it's fixed some of the major bugs now, but when it was introduced it was shockingly bad.

    Over the last year, I've spend more on that I did on games in the preceding 10 years. I have bought some games and not even played them - they're just sitting waiting for me to have some time to waste. I know that they'll still be working by the time I get around to playing them...

Variables don't; constants aren't.