Saturday, April 23, 2011

To DRM or Not?

—posted by L.J. Sellers (a guest blog from Alexis Bonari)

Several writers have asked me lately whether they should protect their e-books against piracy with DRM. Most big publishers take that step, but many self-published authors don’t. My choice is to publish without it, thinking, why should I anger a whole bunch of potential readers by locking up books I sell for $.99 and $2.99?

This subject concerns readers too, because once you’ve purchased an e-book, you might want to read it on various devices, and DRM can prevent that. Other bloggers know more about this subject than I do, so I’m presenting a thoughtful guest post by Alexis Bonari, a blogger at College Scholarships.

Why Not to DRM: Lessons from the Music Industry
Writers and publishers of e-books today wrestle with the predicament that has plagued the music industry almost since the dawn of the internet: piracy. Enter DRM—digital rights management—and you have a topic that raises voices and tempers to comparably high levels.

Alexis Bonari
To some writers, the option of applying DRM to one’s work is a bit like choosing between locking the front door and letting it swing open for neighbors and passersby to see the newly installed HDTV. Still others cite the obvious: J.K. Rowling refuses to e-publish, but this doesn’t stop fans and opportunists from pirating each of her books online, just hours within each release.

In his article “The Seven Secrets to eBook Publishing Success,” Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, advocates trusting readers to do the right thing and buy your e-book. Easier said than done, but he makes a solid case. Quoting Rodrigo Paranhos Velloso, the director of business development for Google Latin America, Coker says that “when you apply DRM, you encourage piracy. DRM-free e-books give your reader greater freedom to enjoy your book across multiple devices and platforms.”

DRM: An Exercise in Futility: Book publishers and broke writers are hardly the first to face this jam. Long, long ago (as in, 2007), Down With Tyrrany posted “How to Destroy a Profitable Industry in Just a Few Easy Steps,” a commentary on all the things the music industry was doing wrong in the face of illegal music downloading. The problem had originally derived from the rise in demand for web-delivered music as well as the rise in illegal file sharing.

The author proposed to higher-ups to sell unprotected MP3 singles at $1.00 or $1.50 because CDs were unprotected and they still managed to profit. The higher-ups advocated the following:
  • the lock and key method of DRM
  • the development of a secure cross-platform solution
Because one didn’t yet exist, they tried to stall. Instead of giving consumers an alternative to piracy, the higher-ups chose to aggressively sue music lovers while stalling for their own profitable solution.
Seeing as the music industry remains afloat but has been able to do almost nothing about illegal downloading, publishers and authors should take note: DRM doesn’t work.

“Handling a lot of technology companies in my early PR days, I can tell you that adding DRM to any kind of file is a study in futility,” says Mario Almonte in response to Coker’s post. “There are simply too many tech-savvy people out there who will always figure out a way to disable the feature or work around it.”

DRM: An Affront to Consumers: Not only is DRM ineffective, some readers take the very notion of it as an insult. Brenna Lyons commented on Coker’s post: “Back in 2004, Scott Pendergrast of Fictionwise reported that DRM books cause ten times the number of customer service calls than those without and that someone who gets one problematic DRM e-book is ten times less likely to purchase another secured format."

By locking up your work with DRM, you increase the space between you and your reader. It’s therefore no surprise that some readers are so vehemently against DRM that they will not consider purchasing anything infected with it. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that unlocking your work will ensure the proper sale of it.

“I can also tell you,” continues Mario Almonte in the same post, “to forget about ‘trusting’ people to do the right thing. The new generation of consumers hasn’t the slightest sense of guilt when they illegally download music, videos, and movies from the internet. They grew up in a world where everybody does it.”

“The solution?” he adds, “Authors and publishers have to start thinking outside the box. There are plenty of ancillary ways to ride a book’s popularity to financial success.”

Readers: How do you feel about books with DRM?
Writers: Do you take measures to protect your e-books? Why or why not?

Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching both grants for business school as well as general grants for college.Whenever she gets some free time, she enjoys watching a funny movie or curling up with a good book.


  1. When I'm ready to e-pub, I think I'll put the standard copyright verbage in the book, but I won't muddle it with DRM toys.

    I listened to an interview recently that was posted on Digital Book World. They interviewed Bob LiVolsi, Founder and CEO of BooksonBoard. He said this relating to piracy and DRM:

    We find that fraud among readers is very light; our fraud rates are less than half a percent. The person that buys a book, that is in a demographic that we see in any event, is generally honest and isn't going to try to steal, borrow, and move.

    And, there are all sorts of stories about how giving way books actually helps stimulate more reading that people pay for.

    And those that can't pay for books, and don't pay for books, and steal them because they can't afford them? They're not going to buy books anyway, so why not feed a reading habit for when they can afford to buy them?

  2. I don't put DRM on the books I publish myself, for all the reasons mentioned in your post. I do have the polite, "please respect the author's work" at the beginning of my books. Pirates will unlock the files anyway.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.