Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ebook Pricing and DRM

Much has been made about Digital Rights Management (DRM), particularly in light of TOR Books' decision to go DRM-free in the future. It's a particularly salient conversation, too, because of the ongoing litigation between the DOJ, Apple, and the Big Six (although some have settled and Random House has escaped accusations of collusion all together--for now).

For a definition of DRM, take a look here. Basically, it's intended to prevent piracy. It doesn't. What is does prevent is the exchange of ebook software between the online retailers' proprietary ereader hardware (Amazon's Kindle, B&N's Nook).

From my perspective, DRM has indeed always seemed a little, well, silly because it's so easy to crack--to strip off the coding that makes a Kindle book readable only on a Kindle so that you can read it on, say, a Nook. I'm not posting any links here, but let's just say if you Google the most intuitive keywords you can think of on this topic, you'll find dozens of resources. Honestly, if any set of people is likely to know how to crack DRM, it's the pirates themselves, who tend to be tech savvy and determined.

Publishers invest in DRM, near as I can tell, because it's something of a security blanket ("We're doing what we can about piracy!") and a Cover-Your-Ass measure in case an author ever discovered their books out there on the Interwebz...but if you Google any of your favorite authors and "PDF," you'll find that DRM hasn't slowed piracy in the slightest. 

Where DRM is effective is in complying with the preferences of the big online retailers, one of which in particular (ahem, it starts with an A) has an extremely vested interest in their ebooks being read on only their own hardware. And as this article points out, limiting the ways that an ebook can be read affects its price (enter DOJ litigation).

We'll be seeing the aftermath of TOR's very bold move to strip off DRM shortly and I'm really interested to see what the reaction of the rest of the industry will be--and in particular that one begins-with-an-A behemoth, which has been known to strip publishers' books out of its stores over all sorts of disagreements. 

One thing's for sure: abandoning DRM will mean a big shift in the way retailers obtain market share of ebook buyers and shift the balance of power somewhat away from proprietary hardware (ereading devices) and back to the software (ebooks) that should be at the center of all this anyway.

What do you think about this? Would you want your ebooks DRM-protected? Have you used it if you've self-published?


  1. I'm torn. On one hand, I would hate to think DRMs aren't doing *anything* useful toward preventing piracy.

    That being said, being able to read books across all e-readers would be fantastic. I hate the way companies-that-being-with-an-A keep trying to get the upper hand on the book industry, but it's also discouraging that, sometimes, their prices on e-books are cheaper than what I can get on my Nook.

    (And I wouldn't trade my Nook for a Kindle. Nuh-uh!)

    Lovely article, as always. ;)

  2. It seems to me that DRM is worse than useless; it's counterproductive (unless you're A great big bookseller).

    It's one of the reasons I don't even own an e-reader (yet).

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