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Old 10-03-2006, 09:50 AM   #1
Bob Russell
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Is DRM necessary? Should publishers be concerned about piracy?

We've had a lot of discussions about the evils of DRM and how selling ebooks without DRM may actually increase e-book sales. Some people feel that DRM is good because it provides enough comfort to publishers that we get copyrighted works in e-book form. Others feel that DRM is so limiting that there's never a circumstance when it's worth buying DRM'd content, and even if you do, it's more like a short term rental because as the technology changes, the content can become useless on new platforms.

But we haven't really talked a lot about the publishers' side... if you were a publisher, would you be concerned about piracy if you released your content in non-DRM'd form?

If free copies of non-DRM'd ebooks end up being circulated, and people choose to read the free copies instead of purchasing it, you've basically lost the whole basis of your business. So if you think people will avoid paying money for something they can get for free, you would believe that DRM is completely necessary.

On the other hand, if you provide non-DRM'd e-books to customers at a reasonable price, the market might grow so fast that a small percentage of free copies might be a small price to pay for the explosion of legitimate sales. After all, free pirated versions are already available if you really want them bad enough to locate them. And some people are so anxious to buy non-DRM'd e-books that they will buy a paper book and scan it, or get a pirated copy but buy a DRM'd e-book or a paper book just because they prefer to pay for the book!

So what do you think? Is it in a publisher's best interest to go DRM-free, or would they just be giving away the shop and losing all their profits?
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Old 10-03-2006, 10:30 AM   #2
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From a marketing perspective there is already a basis for a pilot study.

Use Fictionwise for the pilot.

They offer both multiformat (non DRM) and secure (DRM) formats. While you can't compare authors directly, you should be able to 'normalize' sales curves. If the shape of the non DRM curve for any author (or most authors) is approximately the same as the shape of the curve for a DRMed author, then it would be hard to argue they are losing sales with a more open format. I doubt if popularity of an author has anything to do with honesty of the reader.

So - any marketers in our midst ready to contact Fictionwise and provide a scientific reason for the industry big boys (and girls) to change their practice?
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Old 10-03-2006, 11:48 AM   #3
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Good tip there Village Reader!

I think the DRM issue is not that easy. For me, personally, it looks like this:

If I can get my ebooks faster, easier and more comfortably via legal sources, be they with DRM or without then I'll go that way.
It it's eaiser and more convenient to just download them for free, then that's the obvious choice.

I noticed a big change when I discovered iTunes. Ever since the day I found out about that nice little program, I haven't pirated any music. The reason is, that it's dead easy, comfortable and they have just about everything at reasonable prices. The DRM isn#t an issue for me in that case, because I don't use any PAP (Portable Audio Player) regularly and thus don't have to worry about incompatibility.

At the moment, the problem with ebook is, that they are a major hassle. I had to install Microsoft Reader, register a Microsoft Passport (whatever that is...) to be able to activate it, activate the reader and only then could I actually load the book I paid for. The I had to remove the DRM, do a "convert-lit", put the resulting HTML files in OpenOffice to reformat them and then convert them to PDf. Does that sound easy? Nope...I guess it doesn't.
So, at the moment i'm not happy with ebook DRM. I have suggested injecting user-data into ebooks to discourage casual sharing. There are surely other options as well, but anything that is going to be used on various mobile devices needs to be fairly generic and very compatible, like mp3 for audio...and it's really hard to implement any sort of DRM or Copy-Protection there...
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Old 10-03-2006, 01:53 PM   #4
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I don't disagree with your personal hassle.

The point of my message is targeted strictly to publishers.

There should be one (or more) 'typical' curves for book sales (intro, promo, word of mouth sales, discount, maturity...) which fall into some type of a curve that probably looks like an asymmetrical bell curve.

If DRM really 'protect's content, then the 'protection' should show up as a difference in the shape of the bell curve after introduction. After all, if copies are pirated, sales go down faster. Conceptually, if DRM provides 'real' protection (rather than imaginary protection) then the further you go from the initial selling date, the more the curve should maintain a higher level (meaning no pirating).

If, as we all suspect, honest people just want to buy books, then the curves should be essentially identical for the same 'class' of books (sci fi, fiction, mystery...) regardless of DRM protection.

The "ease of use" issue is a different one - and a different study.

Will you (and others) buy more books if there isn't a DRM hassle, increasing volume?

For that, you would probably need to take a reasonably successful author (ie, one with some sales volume), release one book with DRM, and the next one without, and see if the variation in sales exceeds what has been done previously.

One added note - publishers may have a perceived higher value, and be able to charge more, for a book with DRM than one without.

And this is just some superficial pecking on the keyboard to come up with these three variants. I'm sure there are many others.

(And you guys thought this was an easy question).
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Old 10-03-2006, 02:03 PM   #5
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You also might be able to get some data from BAEN (if they feel like sharing), since they've released DRM free, first-run books electronically, they probably have some notion of what it does to overall sales of the same title, both "e" and "p." I'm guessing that it must not have too great a negative impact, since they keep doing it, but without an actual statement to that effect, it's just speculation.
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Old 10-03-2006, 03:00 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NatCh
You also might be able to get some data from BAEN ...
The question a publisher would ask is probably: is the experience of Baen Books true for all publishers, or is it relevant only to the class that this particular publisher belongs to? Or is there even something special about those titles that are available for free -- after all, why aren't all their titles of Poul Anderson, or Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle, and Pohl (just to take a few names) also free? (Niven's, Pournelle's and Flynn's Fallen Angels is on the free list -- and that is precisely what prompts the question: why that particular one? )

In the absence of evidence deemed trustworthy, a publisher will answer that question his own way.
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Old 10-03-2006, 03:18 PM   #7
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I meant the ones they sell, not just the ones they give away. The sold ones are also DRM free, and usually run ~$6.
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Old 10-03-2006, 03:36 PM   #8
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Yeah, but Baen is, I think, and anomally. There books are both nonDRM and free so any 'study' might give mixed results. I have downloaded most of what is available, and will probably pay for them when I read them, not just because I downloaded them.

In the case of Fictionwise, they are DRM and nonDRM, but neither (with a handful of exceptions) is free. In fact, at Fictionwise you can pay for what you get at manybooks for no charge. So I can't really do the same thing at Fictionwise as I can at Baen. Similary, if I try and author at Baen and determine 20% in the author isn't for me, I won't feel bad about not paying.
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Old 10-03-2006, 04:00 PM   #9
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If a book is protected by DRM, you can only read that book as long as you have hardware that can read it and only on that hardware. If (when!) I buy an eInk reader, I will undoubtedly hate to go back and read the DRMed books on a PPC.

So, a reasonable price for DRMed books would seem to be less than one US$.
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Old 10-03-2006, 04:17 PM   #10
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Reasonable pricing is in the eye of the beholder. I would agree that bits n bytes should be cheaper than paper & shipping.

My bigger concern is access. If I don't have easy access, I can't purchase at any price. And I'm not interested in whatever hoops I need to jump through (for non native English speakers replace "hoops I need to jump through" with "difficulties") to find and risk pirated copies.
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Old 10-03-2006, 05:03 PM   #11
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Publishers are worried about search engines and dubious libraries easily distributing "free" versions of their unprotected content easily. Ease of access is what most consumers want - they will take the "free" version if it appears free without much checking, many will take the pirated ( and easily accessable version) if paying for the thing is to time consuming/problematic/confusing.

My opinion is that good simple DRM will offer publishers the comfortblanket they need to populate the market. It will take a brave publisher to risk their hit content without DRM.

It would be really interesting to see fictionwises experience, of both their hits and also items in the long tail to see if there is any difference between DRM/nonDRM popular/less popular.

Publishers are conservative; until the model is proven (and probably proven to be repeatable) there will be little content in the market.
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Old 10-03-2006, 05:18 PM   #12
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I would say, the average user, who doesn't think or want to know of problem that come with DRM simply wouldn't care. But those who care and think of what will happen to the content they bought in the future if the DRM supplier goes bankrupt or other mischief happens, will see that you would only rent the content and not own it.

Especially with electronic devices you tend to exchange them every some years. No problem with non-DRMed content, but with it you can only hope that your DRM system is supported on the new hardware/software.

So if you buy "read and throw away" content with DRM I would have no problem, but if I want to keep it for longer time I would not dump my money for DRMed content of any kind.
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Old 10-03-2006, 07:39 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by b_k
I would say, the average user, who doesn't think or want to know of problem that come with DRM simply wouldn't care.
I disagree. Ask the average user which is a better value: $30 for a DVD player that will only play Sony DVDs, or $30 for a DVD player that will play all manufacturer DVDs.

Their answer is obvious.

The issue with the average user is that they simply don't know about the DRM issue and what it means to them. Once you put it in terms they understand, they don't want DRM.
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Old 10-03-2006, 10:23 PM   #14
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I don't tend to read physical books anymore. If a book that I want is available to purchase as an ebook I will, as long as its price is about $8US or less. I generally don't buy physical books.

I often buy books from Baen. Their prices are reasonable and their content not DRM'ed.

When I buy a book that is DRM'ed, I purchase a format that I can convert to a non-DRM'ed form. This is because I use uBook, which won't read DRM'ed content.

So - is DRM necessary? I don't believe so. I have a basic belief in people's honesty and desire to encourage their favourite authors to write more. Most people won't priate books if they are available at a reasonable price in the format that they want.

My two cents.


p.s. a case in point - the latest Harry Potter book to come out. Not available as an ebook. Available for illegal download on the same day it was released. How many of those who downloaded it illegally would have been happy to pay a reasonable price for it? I would think a great percentage of them. As far as I can see the publisher gained nothing from not releasing it as an ebook, and in fact lost income from this choice. Silly.

Last edited by bruceathome; 10-03-2006 at 11:05 PM.
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Old 10-04-2006, 04:39 AM   #15
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I agree with rlauzon (at least on this point :-) - the average user doesn't understand issues around DRM - again take the ipod - your average owner probably doesn't know their songs have a form of DRM on them ...? (btw pirated downloads of music far exceed legal versions even today with highly usable services such as rhapsody and iTunes - so it is easy to understand the publishers concerns).

DRM is AN issue - but without readily available content that people want in volume, it's an academic argument amongst gadget people ... the availability of content in volume will be the only thing that drives adoption of eReaders, if the use of DRM gets stuff onto virtual shelves then it is evil worth tollerating for now to allow eReaders to gain general acceptance.
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