Big Bad, Three Years Running, Or How to Solve a Problem Like DRM

February 16th, 2009 · 51 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

I’d like to note that Digital Rights Management has won the “Big Bad” title at the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference for three years in a row! In today’s market and economy, that’s a major accomplishment. Congratulations to DRM for being the most hated aspect of digital publishing in 2009!

You’d think the DRM folks out there would be feeling some shame by now. They’re not, and maybe it’s because there is a lot more fun in playing the DRM Blame Game than in tackling the problem (acknowledging here that players in the Blame Game have legitimate points). Here’s the funny thing: consumers don’t hate DRM as much as they hate what DRM does. In other words, they get that you need to protect your rights. They’re cool with that.

They just wish you wouldn’t do it in a way that turns a mother of two with a full-time non-tech industry job and a rich social life into a hacker just so she can read her legally purchased books. That is all.

I have yet to see solid evidence that DRM prevents piracy. Complex DRM is cracked with relative ease. If someone wants to create a pirated edition of a book, they’re going to put on their eye patches, buy a parrot, and drink a lot of rum. If someone wants an ebook — and there’s no legal alternative — they’re going to get the free, pirated version. Finally, if a reader is bound and determined not to pay for a book, they’re going to find that free copy if it kills them.

DRM, as implemented now, does not deter piracy. It does deter reading. I am going to take as a matter of fact that the last thing the publishing business wants to do is alienate readers. I also have to take as a matter of fact that there is already a mess of DRM and formats in the marketplace. There is a dangerous curve right in front of you.

Okay, so how do we get out of this mess? Education, I say, education. It’s gotten us this far as a society, surely it can help the DRM problem. So let’s think about this…yep, it’s “throw out the smart ideas time”. Below are mine, what are yours?

  • Readers: As noted (and I have hundreds and hundreds of comments to support this), readers get why digital books have DRM, they just hate the fact that these locks come between them and books. And I think — based on careful observation over the years — that there is a real sense on the part of the readers that publishers don’t care about them. Malle Vallik says that publishers care very much, and I believe her. So there’s a disconnect. It’s time to fix that.

    It’s important to remember that readers of ebooks are early adopters of this technology. Many of them survived the decade-long Music Wars, yet leapt into digital books. Some lost music as services folded or changed. They dealt with locks and incompatibility. They, poor souls, suffered hardware malfunctions due to DRM gone awry. They give you money and can’t open files. Overdrive takes all of its toys away from Fictionwise and goes home. They fight their way through compatibility issues.

    Is it any wonder that they don’t trust easily?

    All is not lost. But it’s going to require that publishers do something a little different. It’s going to require talking to readers and addressing their concerns now. Today. Before you turn into the music industry. In print book world, your customers aren’t the end user. In ebook world, the customer understands the difference between the service provider and the publisher. They don’t blame Amazon, they blame you.

    I think a great first step is engaging in activist reader outreach. You know who the real influencers are in the readersphere, and it’s time to engage them to help you talk about the problems of piracy. Call it a type of social DRM. Call it talking to your customers. Give some, take some, learn some. Stop telling us that piracy is bad — we know that stealing is wrong — and talking about what it means.

  • Authors: Authors are scared of this digital world. Think about it. For years, they’ve been hearing about rampant digital piracy and how it’s stealing sales from the mouths of their babes. Is it any wonder that they are asking for more protection from these evil pirates?

    We have all seen that authors don’t win by withholding their digital rights. If there’s a desire to create an electronic edition, it will be done. People are just that crazy. They will stand at a copy machine or scanner and do the work page-by-page if that’s what it takes. See above about using reader outreach as an educational tool. Some authors advocate for more DRM. Some authors think the smart approach is keeping their work in print only. They are understandably nervous and confused.

    The time has come for better author education, and, sorry, publishers, that one is on you, too.

  • Publishers: Angela James of Samhain Publishing summed it up best: let them buy the book, not the format. In those hundreds and hundreds of comments I mentioned above, it was made more than obvious that your customers (again: the ones who give you money) don’t read on one device, on one operating system, in one location. As you move forward with your digital initiatives, think about how real people read books.

    Saying that creating a morass of competing devices and formats is not the best way forward is to understate the problem. There’s a reason the EPUB standard was developed. And a reason why it should be used. Religiously. And why you should demand (stamp your feet, hold your breath) that Amazon add EPUB to its list of supported file formats. If you want to succeed in this market, embracing standards is your best choice. Only choice. If you don’t fight for this one thing on the part of your customers, you run the risk of losing them.

    How many years did the music industry put into fighting MP3? Rather than picking up the banner for the one format that worked everywhere and was commonly used, they tried this, that, and the other to force their customers to change. It’s not about diluting your power or brand, it’s about creating a common platform. As this market grows and evolves — and it will — starting from common ground helps us all navigate growing pains.

    Oh, and it reduces the risk you and your readers being locked into hardware and software choices.

    There were books purchased in the writing of this article. Angela James noted during our ToC panel that her house provides customers who buy directly from the publisher a variety of file formats. I think she’d be one of the first to agree that managing so many choices is a pain for both the publisher and the consumer (especially those who don’t know what they’re supposed to do), but that’s how the market has developed to date. Her company offers lots of choices, but they don’t lock customers in. This allowed me to buy books (up to four so far this weekend, pretty good for someone who hasn’t left the couch!) and get them onto my Kindle.

    It wasn’t an elegant process, though I did find my USB cable (needed for file transfers). But the fact that the publisher made that option available to me, along with other options, saved time and effort. It’s nice to know that I can reacquire my books in other formats, if necessary.

  • Booksellers: DRM keeps booksellers out of the game. Let’s be realistic: the average bookstore cannot compete in terms of online sales and fulfillment. And it shouldn’t have to. I believe that local booksellers should play to their strengths…and those depend upon the store.

    But no bookseller should have to be in a position to let a customer walk out of the store, shopping list in hand, and positioned to buy from someone else (thanks to Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand and Random House for putting this idea in my head and making it stick). Booksellers are curators, and we need curators now more than ever. There is so much information, so much stuff.

    As we talk about devices and services, we need to remember that closed systems shut out the people on the front lines of books. I’m going to get all fuzzy with thoughts here, but booksellers should, at the very least, be in a position to fulfill digital book orders onsite, in some manner (while, yes, taking a cut because business is business). While there are customers who must have a book right then and there — and given the relative ration of retail space to actual books in print, you can see the complexity — delayed gratification is becoming the norm. If booksellers can better participate in other fulfillment channels, more the better, right?

I’m not naively calling for the death of DRM (a girl can hope, though), but I am trying to find ways to lessen its negative impact. People who buy books hate DRM. They may not know what to call it, but they harbor ill will toward the concept. We’re seeing incremental increases in ebook sales each quarter. It’s small potatoes now (which is why the next post will about pricing. Again.), but it’s a growing market.

The advantage of this slow-but-steady growth is that the book industry has a chance to get it right from a customer point of view. There are a lot of interests to balance, a lot of needs to consider, many perspectives to view. You can’t please everyone and you’re going to get some stuff wrong.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

51 responses so far ↓

  • Karen Templer // Feb 16, 2009 at 10:23 am

    I can imagine how frustrating (and potentially costly) it is for publishers to have to create documents in so many different formats, which is why it’s puzzling to me that they haven’t all jumped on the ePub bandwagon. It seems to me they should band together, say they’re producing books in this one format and that anyone (i.e., Amazon, etc.) who wants to convolute the process with a proprietary alternative format will have to shoulder the cost and labor of the conversion.

  • Paul Biba // Feb 16, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Just did an article about this post on Teleread.org

    Very good analysis!

    Paul

  • Another look at DRM | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home // Feb 16, 2009 at 11:48 am

    [...] another article about DRM! Sorry, but I found a good one this time. Kassia Krozser over at Booksquare makes some excellent points. She feels that consumers don’t really care about DRM unless it [...]

  • Jill Myles // Feb 16, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I just bought for the first time today off of a new ebook website because I couldn’t find the books I was looking for (which is a whole other rant).

    I picked Adobe, thinking it was a PDF. Instead, I get this DRM-covered piece of junk that I have to use THEIR clunky software to unlock. Not happy. Not happy at all. I just wanted something simple I could port onto my Sony, and I feel like I’m having to jump through nine million hoops to get my files.

    Grr.

  • Bradley Robb // Feb 16, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    You had me at “DRM, as implemented now, does not deter piracy. It does deter reading.”

    Now if we can just repeat that over and over again…

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 16, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Thank you, Jill, for migrating your comment from Twitter to the post (and so much more with the more-than-140-character limit). I know you to a be a smart, savvy, experienced consumer, so I feel your frustration. The hardest part of this is the fact that we — consumers — have to think so much about this stuff.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 16, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Paul — saw the TeleRead love. Thank you!

    Bradley — If I weren’t certain it would be a grave, ugly mistake, I’d get that phrase tattooed to my forehead. Maybe a t-shirt would be just as effective, less permanent?

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 16, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    What I think is happening, Karen, is that we’re starting a movement. I like to think it began with last week’s panel, but suspect that it’s been a long time coming and fomenting. Finally, readers are getting vocal and demanding. Before we suffered in silence (or less publicly, that might be better). Now we’re seeing voices of influence rising up…

    I will be adding thoughts on this notion in future posts. The brain completely expands at Tools of Change; the hard part is synthesizing all the things seen and heard into something that doesn’t sound like, “Yeah, what he said!”

  • KB // Feb 16, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    As an (about to be) epublished author, this is so frustrating to me. When my friends and family are excited about what I’m doing and ask me how they can read the book, I feel like it will take me an hour long discussion with each and every one of them to figure out what the best format/reader solution for them is. That’s just ridiculous, they only want to click a button and read my book. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce dozens of people to ebooks in general, but I’m not sure I’ll even manage to get them reading mine, even though they want to try. Granted, my dozen is not a lot, but the same must be true a thousand times over.

  • Don Linn // Feb 16, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Ingram Digital’s Frank Daniels disagrees.

    http://www.teleread.org/2009/02/15/teleread-audio-ingrams-frank-daniels-iii-talks-to-karen-holt-on-e-newspapers-vs-e-books-e-prices-drm-and-other-topics/

    Unfortunately, his remarks are all on audio. Hat tip to teleread for summarizing.

  • PADailyLottery // Feb 16, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I agree with you!!

  • Harmon // Feb 16, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    I got in line for a Kindle 2, but while I was waiting I had a little fling with a couple of Sony Readers. Now, I’m a Mac guy, and I know that the Sony bookstore doesn’t have a door for Mac customers to use.

    After trying out a

  • Harmon // Feb 16, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    …whoops…sorry, hit the return key accidentally…

    As I was saying, after trying out a 700, which I liked a lot, I put it aside for a 505, the reason being that the screen is clearer. Something about the 700 touchscreen fuzzes up the print. After playing with the 505 for a while, I bought it.

    Now, I bought it KNOWING that I’m either going to have to put Windows on my Mac, or borrow access to a Windows machine from some friend, if only to keep my software updated.

    And I KNOW I’ve got that problem on top of the DRM thing.

    But…I don’t care. I’m getting out of the Kindle line because this little 505 fits in my jacket pocket, while the Kindle won’t. It’s the form factor, mainly, plus the fact that I just don’t need to be connected to the bookstore direct from my reader, and I don’t care to pay 10 cents to have Amazon do something I can do with Firefox or the Stanza Desktop (i.e., convert files from one format to another.)

    But here’s the main thing – I don’t really care about DRM because I’m not going to be buying DRMed books. There’s tons of good reading around that’s not DRMed, and eventually the publishers will figure out that electronic books do not cannibalize paper sales any more than paperbacks cannibalize hardback sales. Rather, electronic sales augment those others. In fact, if I were a publisher, I’d offer a free ePub version of the book with every hardback purchase.

    In other words, I think that eReaders grow the market, overall, and that DRM retards that growth.

    Meanwhile, I’m loading up my 505 with public domain books, and articles from the internet, which the Firefox browser will print to file as pdfs right onto the connected 505. All I need now is to figure out how to get newpapers & magazines on, and I’m good to go.

    As for the books that I just absolutely need to have, well, I’ll get them used, just like I usually do, until Amazon & Borders & Sony wise up, and let me buy a reasonably priced electronic version.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 16, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Hmm, considering how many people I know who refuse to buy DRM’d books, that’s an interesting statement by Frank Daniels. It might not stop the first purchase (call it the naive purchase), but if the DRM creates a conflict between reader and reading material, you can bet it won’t happen again.

  • David Nygren // Feb 16, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    “We’ve not seen DRM to be any kind of barrier to a sale.” That statement by Daniels doesn’t really surprise me. The naivete that may be at the root of it is probably based upon the very reasonable expectation by readers that the publishing world would have figured this crap out by now. They naturally don’t even consider that they’ll have to worry about competing formats, etc. People are accustomed to paying for things that, for example, are password protected. They can deal with some minor restrictions. They just don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, think about all of these “issues” that we all spend so much time on these days.

    Rather than super-high-tech-but-always-crackable-DRM vs. no-not-ever-DRM, might there be some compromise position where:

    1. There was a universally accepted standard like EPUB, but…
    2. Every ebook sold required a user name and password to be transferred onto a device (but with no restrictions re: the number of transfers/devices). Think of it as DRM-lite. Even an amateur could crack it…if she wanted to, but…
    3. Purchasers were gently reminded that copying the ebook by someone who was not the rightful owner was illegal

    This would be DRM that didn’t try to rule with an iron fist but rather just tried to impose a little order on the world. The law abiding majority would not object to paying a reasonable fee for their ebooks, knowing that the file would be transferable for a lifetime. It would not be worth their time and effort to get involved with file sharing or code cracking. Some others would crack, copy and share, as they currently do, but I bet they’d be in the minority.

    I’m not sure I know what I’m talking about here but I can envision something like that. Each ebook is almost DRM-free, but there’s a kind of psychological restriction on illegal copying since DRM-free does not have to mean copyright-free.

    Good summary of the state of world, Kassia. I just wonder, if we look back at this post a year from now, how different will things be?

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 16, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Where you’re going, David (name and face now totally put together in my mind), is a type of Social DRM. There are other ideas along this line, some more techy than others. One woman at our panel even suggested it in the form of personalized covers, of a (digital) sort. Basically making it clear that a particular version of a book was associated with a specific person. There are some people who, for reasons that make no sense to me, derive pleasure from pirating. Most of us are fine with paying reasonable prices for goods and services. We get that’s how the world works. But as we see from Jill’s experience, even those who know how the world works get caught up in a logjam (following her Twitter stream today suggested to me that she was still mired in frustration hours later…and All She Wanted to do Was Read!).

  • bowerbird // Feb 16, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    kassia said:
    > There’s a reason the EPUB standard was developed.
    > And a reason why it should be used.

    i don’t think either of those “reasons” hold up to scrutiny.

    > This allowed me to buy books (up to four so far
    > this weekend, pretty good for someone who hasn’t
    > left the couch!) and get them onto my Kindle.

    buy any .epub books? did you get them onto your kindle?
    complete with all of their formatting? how did you do it?

    ***

    karen said:
    > I can imagine how frustrating (and potentially costly)
    > it is for publishers to have to create documents
    > in so many different formats

    for most formats, it’s nothing more than clicking a button,
    given the right underlying format. (which is usually .html.)

    so it’s neither “frustrating” nor “costly”.

    at most, it’s inconvenient having a product line that is
    fractured across a number of formats.

    but even that is an _easy_ problem to solve — you merely
    sell the underlying format — again, today it’s .html — and
    give the consumer a tool to convert it to what they want…

    > which is why it’s puzzling to me that they haven’t
    > all jumped on the ePub bandwagon. It seems to me
    > they should band together, say they’re producing books
    > in this one format

    they did just that, through their organization, the i.p.d.f.

    and then several member-publishers turned right around
    and ignored their own edict, turning to other “solutions”,
    like “scrollmotion” and “shortcovers”.

    why did they do that? i dunno. you’ll have to ask them…

    > and that anyone (i.e., Amazon, etc.) who wants to
    > convolute the process with a proprietary alternative format
    > will have to shoulder the cost and labor of the conversion.

    there is this widespread misimpression that amazon just
    came up with its d.r.m., against the wishes of all partners.

    that’s a very strange notion — quite laughable, in fact.

    amazon is doing d.r.m. because _publishers_ asked for it,
    and amazon couldn’t talk them out of it. fact. deal with it.

    oh yeah, and amazon _is_ “shouldering the cost and labor”
    of converting books to its kindle format. just so you know…

    > What I think is happening, Karen, is that
    > we’re starting a movement.

    yeah, right. you’re way ahead of the curve.

    good luck with your movement.

    -bowerbird

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 16, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    bowerbird — I’d love to say we missed you, but, well, not so much.

    I get that you have an agenda, I do. As one with an agenda, I can appreciate that fact. But you are not *quite* as savvy about these concepts as you pretend. For example, where in the world did you get the notion that the most common underlying format for book-related documents is HTML? Are you honestly suggesting that the HTML output from Word is something to aspire to? Because, man, it’s about the worst stuff I’ve ever encountered.

    And it’s not “inconvenient” to have a product that’s fractured across formats. It’s costly. While we like to pretend that books are all about the art, publishing is a business. People and vendors like to get paid. Helps buy food. Despite the recent adoption of a standard, these publishers must both look at the future (it’s still a fairly recent thing, in terms of standards development; I know of another standard that has been in “final” stages for about five years with no sign of taking those final steps) and support the past.

    Sure, it would have been lovely if all ebooks had been released in pure text format, or somehow converted from their native format to perfectly formed HTML. When you look at the reality of the business, you see a lot more complexity than you do when you look at some fantasy notion of how it all works. Heck, the legacy of format of most ebooks is most likely PDF. How do you support those customers?

    (Do we want to have a quick discussion about the fact that 99.999% of people use Word wrong, thus making the PDF markup a disaster?)

    (And I think we both know that HTML has its own limitations.)

    And while, sure, I believe that publishers have asked for DRM, they have their customers (often called authors) to answer to. It’s not a pretty black and white world, and everyone gets a say in their business. Amazon’s DRM is their solution, their way of locking content to device. Heck, it worked for Apple. The fact that it’s *different* DRM from other DRM — the real source of consumer anger is not DRM, per se, but the fact that it’s impossible to manage because of the different flavors — is all on Amazon. There were other choices.

    If this is so logical, so easy, so fundamentally simple, why haven’t you shown us the way? To date, I have not seen you put forth a single, constructive solution to a complex problem. Why haven’t you been able to bring together all the players in this game in a way that makes everyone, if not happy, able to live with the solution? You seem to be under the impression that the commenters here do not understand the business. They do. And they’re out there, in meetings, at conferences, writing articles, having discussions, and working hard.

    Personally, I think it’s terrific that the readers are finally taking their place in this discussion. That’s our movement. We’re taking positive steps. What are you doing?

    PS – Cutting and pasting to make two statements seem related, thereby allowing you ask the stupid question is cheating. I expect better of you.

  • bowerbird // Feb 17, 2009 at 2:31 am

    kassia said:
    > bowerbird — I’d love to say we missed you,
    > but, well, not so much.

    that’s ok. i can live without your love. :+)

    > But you are not *quite* as savvy about
    > these concepts as you pretend.

    “pretend” is such a cute word…

    i love to learn. teach me something.

    > For example, where in the world did you
    > get the notion that the most common
    > underlying format for book-related documents
    > is HTML?

    well, the topic was _conversions_.
    and .html is the rosetta-stone today.

    moreover, since we’re talking about _publishing_
    – i.e., making something public — then we need
    to acknowledge that the whole blogging thing has
    lead to more people than ever being “published”,
    and that’s happening in .html, thanks to the web.

    compared to that explosion, commercial e-books
    are a fuzzy little sparkler that keeps dying out…

    and hey, .html is as clunky as .epub, in its own way
    – it was only when blogging software freed people
    from the hassle of dealing with .html that online
    mass publishing took off — but .html is the reality
    for the most trouble-free format-conversions today.

    (well, amazon doing all the conversion grunt-work
    has to be the most trouble-free way these days, but
    my observations date way back to the rocketbook…)

    > Are you honestly suggesting that the HTML
    > output from Word is something to aspire to?

    word? that word-processor from microsoft, you mean?
    i never used it. i’m kind of allergic to microsoft stuff.
    do you use word? how do you like it? :+)

    > And it’s not “inconvenient” to have a product
    > that’s fractured across formats. It’s costly.

    since i gave you the simple solution, it doesn’t matter
    whether it’s “inconvenient” or “costly” or “causes gas”.
    there’s a simple solution.

    > While we like to pretend that books are all about the art,
    > publishing is a business.

    there you go with that “pretend” word again. is that a habit?

    > People and vendors like to get paid. Helps buy food.

    food is good. i like food. especially seafood. salmon!

    > Despite the recent adoption of a standard,
    > these publishers must both look at the future
    > (it’s still a fairly recent thing, in terms of
    > standards development;

    ah, it must be nice not to be encumbered by history.

    the thing you call “.epub” is just the latest wrinkle on
    something formerly known as “oeb”, which was _the_
    “standard” that was adopted by the publishing industry
    some 10 years ago. in much the same way that adobe
    is doing today, microsoft (who had helped adopt .oeb)
    then proceeded to try to hijack it (in their classic mode,
    which is known as “embrace/extend/extinguish”) by
    wrapping this “open standard” in a proprietary package
    – known as .lit — which is still floating around today…

    the publishing industry didn’t like microsoft’s power-play,
    just as they dislike adobe’s current attempt at monopoly,
    and essentially walked away from .oeb as a “standard”…

    but, you know, if you want to think this is all “brand new”,
    go ahead…

    > Sure, it would have been lovely if all ebooks
    > had been released in pure text format, or
    > somehow converted from their native format
    > to perfectly formed HTML. When you look at
    > the reality of the business, you see a lot more
    > complexity than you do when you look at some
    > fantasy notion of how it all works.

    now we’ve shifted from “pretend” into “fantasy”…
    i think this _is_ a habit…

    at any rate, perhaps you don’t understand or believe
    that format-conversion is a one-button-click operation.

    so i would suggest you look at david moynihan’s site,
    or manybooks.com, where they routinely convert the
    output from project gutenberg into a variety of formats.
    i think that manybooks.com even supports .epub output.

    but you’re impugning _me_, and _my_ experience, right?

    so let me tell you where i am coming from.

    i created a simple system of e-book markup called “z.m.l.”
    (it’s 2 steps past x.m.l.), short for “zen markup language”.

    i’ve demonstrated z.m.l. on lots of books. this weekend,
    i ported over the o’reilly book — “the best of toc” — and
    will be demonstrating the conversions i’ve made from it.
    i’ll be discussing my work over on the o’reilly blog…

    i can output both valid .html output, and a very nice .pdf,
    and i will make available a program that does exactly that,
    so you can click the button to do the conversions yourself.

    i can assure you that, once it comes down to writing code,
    notions like “pretend” and “fantasy” lose all of their charm.
    it either works, or it doesn’t work. and my programs work.

    but i welcome any feedback from you on the .html output,
    or the .pdf. they both “work”, but they are not “perfect”.
    and hey, might make you feel better to criticize my work.
    i have a thick skin. i can take the heat, or i wouldn’t be
    out here in the kitchen, slaving over the stove… :+)

    > Heck, the legacy of format of most ebooks is most
    > likely PDF. How do you support those customers?

    i’m not sure what you’re saying, or what you’re asking.

    but i wouldn’t suggest that you sell anybody a .pdf-book.

    give ‘em a z.m.l. file, and let ‘em make their own .pdf, so
    they can use their preferred font, font-size, font-colors,
    leading and margins, and page-size and page-color, and
    footnote style, and specify full-justification if they want it,
    or ragged-right if they want that, or a half-ragged-right…

    > (Do we want to have a quick discussion about
    > the fact that 99.999% of people use Word wrong,
    > thus making the PDF markup a disaster?)

    word? again? is that a habit with you too?

    ditch the microsoft stuff. you’ll be less crabby.

    > (And I think we both know that HTML
    > has its own limitations.)

    oh, .html has huge limitations. that’s why i programmed
    a z.m.l. viewer-application, so we have powerful e-books…
    reading books in a browser sucks.

    > And while, sure, I believe that publishers have asked
    > for DRM, they have their customers (often called
    > authors) to answer to.

    d.r.m. is stupid. sooner or later, everyone will learn that.
    in the meantime, i don’t see that much need to discuss it.
    even the discussions are just a waste of time.

    my z.m.l. format delivers people the text, clear and open.
    that’s the kind of “standard format” that e-books _need._

    > It’s not a pretty black and white world,
    > and everyone gets a say in their business.
    > Amazon’s DRM is their solution, their way
    > of locking content to device. Heck, it worked
    > for Apple. The fact that it’s *different* DRM
    > from other DRM — the real source of
    > consumer anger is not DRM, per se, but
    > the fact that it’s impossible to manage
    > because of the different flavors —
    > is all on Amazon. There were other choices.

    i’m not clear on what you’re saying here
    – it sounds like you… — oh, never mind,
    like i said, it’s a waste of time to discuss it,
    especially since we agree it’s stupid. (right?)

    everyone will eventually give up on d.r.m.,
    it’s just a matter of time. yes, it might take
    a _long_ time, but it’s just a matter of time.

    > If this is so logical, so easy, so fundamentally
    > simple, why haven’t you shown us the way?

    i would be quite happy to “show you the way”,
    as you put it. but you are not willing to _learn,_
    not from me, anyway. are you? am i mistaken?

    > To date, I have not seen you put forth
    > a single, constructive solution to a complex problem.

    where have you been looking? i comment all over.

    furthermore, i have lots of “constructive solutions”
    to “problems” that other people think are “complex”.
    (usually it’s not really complex, they just think it is,
    because they want to cling to some outdated notions.)

    which one, in particular, do you want me to focus on?

    > Why haven’t you been able to bring together
    > all the players in this game in a way that makes
    > everyone, if not happy, able to live with the solution?

    there are many “players” in this “game” who will _not_
    be “able to live with the solution”, let alone be “happy”.

    and further, i have no desire to “bring them together”.

    the corporate publisher dinosaurs are gonna go extinct.
    they’re gonna stop making money, so their corporate
    owners are going to fold up the tents, and walk away.
    (as that’s what corporate owners do to money-losers.)

    that’s what’s gonna happen, whether you like it or not.

    moreover, that’s what i _want_ to have happen. yes!

    if i could, i would speed up the process. unfortunately,
    i don’t have (and will not seek) enough power to make
    that happen. but i look forward to when it will happen.
    because corporate publishers have made books _vapid,_
    brought ‘em down to the level of “entertainment weekly”.

    > You seem to be under the impression that the
    > commenters here do not understand the business.

    most of your “commenters” are speaking as readers,
    and as book-buyers. and i think they understand the
    “business” just fine, as in “the customer’s always right”.

    so let’s talk about the people writing the blog _entries._
    i think you “understand the business” just fine as well.

    the thing that i think you do _not_ understand is that
    “the business” is facing something that will destroy it.

    or, to be more precise, i think you do not understand
    this “destruction” is inevitable. it _cannot_ be stopped.

    you’re trying to figure how to save it. it can’t be saved.

    and i’m not just saying that because i hope that it dies.
    even if i wanted the corporate publishers to live happily,
    i would still say that their demise is fully unpreventable.

    for instance, out of all the content cartel corporations,
    if i could save just one, it would likely be newspapers…
    i think newspapers serve a valuable purpose in society.

    but my appreciation for them doesn’t matter one whit.
    newspapers are going to go down, like everything else.
    and there’s nothing they can do about it, except adapt.
    and a corporate newspaper cannot adapt fast enough.

    > They do. And they’re out there, in meetings,
    > at conferences, writing articles, having discussions,
    > and working hard.

    you’re in an echo chamber. and you truly believe that
    you’re “doing something”, that you’re “working hard”…

    well, um, gee, ok, if it makes you feel better, fine.

    i’m telling you that you get some of it wrong
    – not all of it, not even most, but _some_ –
    and i tell you _why_ i say you get some of it
    wrong, and you can ignore me if you want to.

    > Personally, I think it’s terrific that the readers
    > are finally taking their place in this discussion.

    i was on the side of “the readers” a long time back,
    and i’ve been on that side of the fence all along, so
    i’m not sure what line you’re drawing, or where…

    > That’s our movement.

    like i said, good luck to your movement.

    > We’re taking positive steps. What are you doing?

    i’m writing code, making free apps that let writers
    put their work in front of readers as e-books that
    are powerful and highly-functional, and all without
    doing a lot of unnecessary bracket-crazy coding…

    i’m creating tools to foster an explosion of creativity.

    i also drink lots of beer and perform poetry regularly.
    oh, and i went to gladstones-4-fish on valentine’s day
    with my sweetheart, as it’s kind of a tradition with us.

    > Cutting and pasting to make two statements seem related,
    > thereby allowing you ask the stupid question is cheating.
    > I expect better of you.

    cheating? you expect _better_ of me? i’m confused.

    i distinctly separated the two statements, and i also
    clearly labeled them as coming from different people.

    -bowerbird

  • Maria // Feb 17, 2009 at 6:47 am

    I’m an author and I’m not afraid of ebooks. I’m embracing the technology. I love the idea of being able to put a few books on my laptop to take with me when I travel. I like having reference material at my fingertips.

    Unfortunately, my publishers seem to think that DRM is required on all of their books AND that an ebook should be sold at the same price as a paper book.

    WTF?

    I’m trapped by this idiocy because my publisher won’t budge and won’t see the light. So my books go out in print and as DRM-protected PDFs of book pages. My ebook readers get frustrated when they can’t read my work on their chosen PDF-reader because of the DRM. Meanwhile, every single title is out there as an unlocked, pirated book. How can I blame honest people for tracking down a pirated copy of my work when the DRM on legally purchased copies drives them crazy?

    Yet when I tried to introduce DRM-free publishing in a contract to revise an existing book, I failed. My publisher refused to include the language that would take DRM away from my title and publish it in a format more suitable for onscreen reading. It was a deal breaker — my co-author and I actually walked away from the book.

    If anyone is interested, I discussed my thoughts (as an author and ebook reader) in detail on my blog: http://www.marialanger.com/2008/02/27/thinking-outside-the-book/

    Anyway, I appreciate you sharing your views about this topic. I just hope my publishers wake up. My take is that they do care, but not necessarily about the readers. They care about lost sales.

    And since this is how I make my living, I care, too.

  • penas // Feb 17, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Why is so you book people write so much better about DRM? I liked very much the article and wicked comments. I loved the notion of The Music Wars, but seems publishers ignored it, and will get lost in this old world x new world culture shock. Education is the key, I agree, but for the new world and new ways. Education to let it get loose and so we will sell more*books* in whatever format. Education to learn how to make it simple AND working, so it´s something people will adopt later. Education to send lawyers out of the room when we talk about how to serve the consumer.

    I hate why it´s so difficult to understand change happened.

  • Angela James // Feb 17, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Harmon: I hope you come back and see this. You don’t need anything to sync your Sony with your Mac except the open source program Calibre. It’s free, it’s fabulous and it will do everything except write the books for you :P

  • Chris Meadows // Feb 17, 2009 at 9:21 am

    One interesting point to note is that, of the 700 comments the FTC received concerning DRM for its upcoming town-hall meeting on the subject and posted to its website, only 9 are in favor of DRM in any way at all. That’s about a 99% majority against it.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 17, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Okay, I have a lot to do today, so just one response to one point. Maybe two. bowerbird said:

    word? that word-processor from microsoft, you mean?
    i never used it. i’m kind of allergic to microsoft stuff.
    do you use word? how do you like it? :+)

    While I personally don’t use Word unless forced — it’s too heavy for large documents — other writers (the ones who create the books that need to be ported to other formats) frequently do. Thus, most conversions start from a Word file. Or WordPerfect. Or the Apple word processor. Or Scrivener. Or plain text. Some people still use typewriters, but I’m giving them a pass here. All of this talk, fantasy, hope, of a magical conversion process needs to acknowledge the effort and the cost.

    (By the way, I knew you were coming back with the online document argument, but that’s a false starting point for this discussion. Very few authors are writing that way).

    But you, as acknowledged, don’t really care about that. You want to sell a product that is apparently a solution to problems people have been trying to resolve for a long time. Go sell it. I hope people listen. And once you get into the trenches, you will have the joy of working with all of the players you disdain here. Of dealing with the problems you reject so blithely.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 17, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Chris — I assure you that at least one member of the BS team responded to the FTC in great detail about the problems created by DRM. We’re thinking of sending said outspoken individual to Seattle to watch the fun. Yeah, we’re that kind of joint.

  • bowerbird // Feb 17, 2009 at 10:31 am

    kassia said:
    > most conversions start from a Word file.

    select-all. copy. paste into a better program.
    surely that can’t be difficult for a _publisher_.

    > talk, fantasy, hope, of a magical conversion process
    > needs to acknowledge the effort and the cost.

    it’s a button-click. surely that can’t be difficult either.

    but i do fully “acknowledge the effort and the cost” of
    clicking a button. so let the record show i do so fully.

    and all the independent authors — the ones who will
    be flooding the market with their freely-offered books
    – will soon be using such keep-it-simple methodology.

    one reason the dinosaurs are dinosaurs is that they
    will remain attached to their cumbersome workflows.

    > (By the way, I knew you were coming back
    > with the online document argument, but
    > that’s a false starting point for this discussion.
    > Very few authors are writing that way).

    my authoring-tool is an offline app.

    i’ve got an online version as well,
    but you’re right, offline is better…

    > But you, as acknowledged, don’t really care about that.
    > You want to sell a product

    um, no. your “business” mentality might have assumed that,
    but my programs will be available at no cost, as in free beer.
    which makes my “artist” mentality quite happy, yes it does…

    > You want to sell a product that is apparently a solution to
    > problems people have been trying to resolve for a long time.

    well, if you say so. i don’t really believe that the corporations
    think that an expensive workflow is necessarily a bad thing…

    to the extent that it raises the cost of entry for competitors,
    they probably feel that it’s a _good_thing_. especially since
    it means that most books have a “net loss” which then serves
    as a “tax shield” for the occasional book that becomes a “hit”.
    (the accountants can explain it to you much better than i can.)

    also, when their books “fail to turn a profit”, it’s a lot easier to
    keep authors in line, continuing to beg for the next contract…

    so — as least back when the economy was relatively healthy –
    a costly workflow actually _benefitted_ the corporate clowns.

    that’s why publishers have tried to impose a complex format
    – .epub — onto writers at large, to try and prevent ‘em from
    being able to go directly to their audience with their books…

    raising the cost of entry for competitors is a known strategy
    that businesspeople use. it’s even taught in business school.

    fortunately for writers, it won’t work. simple is now an option.

    > And once you get into the trenches, you will have the
    > joy of working with all of the players you disdain here.

    i don’t “disdain” writers, and i don’t “disdain” readers either.
    and they are all the “players” that i will be “working with”…

    and honestly, i don’t even need to “work with” them either…

    i will offer my tools, and writers will accept them if they want,
    or reject them if they want. it’s no skin off my nose either way.

    > Of dealing with the problems you reject so blithely.

    i believe you mean the _pseudo_ problems i reject so blithely.

    -bowerbird

  • Chris Meadows // Feb 17, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Kassia: Great! Be sure and let us at TeleRead know if you write coverage of it. We’ll want to link to as many different accounts as we can. :)

  • Dave Robinson // Feb 17, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    The “name and password” DRM has already been implemented by eReader (formerly Palm Reader and now owned by Fictionwise) where you enter your name and CC number to unlock the book and it works on any device that supports the software. Many people find it the least annoying form of DRM currently available.

    As to DRM-free multiformat books, Baen has been publishing that way since 1999 and making a steady profit doing so. I know I’ve spent almost $700 on ebooks from Baen, and I’m not the only one.

    DRM’s just a bad idea: period.

  • Heather S. Ingemar // Feb 17, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Bowerbird: You are obviously a programmer of some kind, and that’s cool. I think programming is nifty. :) But how many people do you think will actually use a converter tool? How would you offer such a thing? In my experience, consumers want it easy; they want to click once, and have it be done. They don’t want to fool with converting files unless it’s something they *really, REALLY* want.

    Many people I know who think ebooks are cool — potential customers, I might add — struggle to even get past the idea of creating an account at an online store. And you’d expect them to use a converter?

    Maybe it would depend on how easy it could be made to work, but at this time, I just don’t see that as being a viable option for the buyer. It clutters up the process too much.

    Also, while your authoring tool is probably a fine piece of programming, how does it help me, the writer, get my stories in the hands of readers? Blogging is not Publishing (though it’s easy-peasy lemon-squeezy :) ). Creating your own ebooks is not Publishing. It is pasting words onto the internet in some form or another that someone may or may not read. It’s my experience that there’s a helluva lot of chaff in the blogosphere, a helluva lot of crap, and a few jewels in the rough. How do authors rise above that inundation to meet their audience? (This is where a publishing house has clout over the self-published. The publishing house has a marketing budget, they have PR professionals on staff, etc.)

    I’d like to hear your response. :)

    Best,
    Heather S. Ingemar

  • Heather S. Ingemar // Feb 17, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Huh. My emoticons didn’t end up where I put them….

  • bowerbird // Feb 18, 2009 at 12:50 am

    heather said:
    > how many people do you think
    > will actually use a converter tool?

    eventually everyone will realize that
    they don’t _need_ a converter tool…

    in the meantime, it’s there for those
    people who _do_ think they need it.

    and believe me, the people out on the
    leading-edge of e-books have needed
    to do lots of conversions in the past…

    check the library over at mobileread,
    where they have stockpiled thousands
    of these conversions, for convenience.

    ***

    plus, presently, _everyone_ who is a
    _writer_ needs a conversion tool too.

    because you have to put your stuff up
    on the web, meaning you need .html…

    so you need a converter that does .html.

    .html is also what you need for your
    users to be able to convert to _other_
    formats that they might want to have,
    such as .mobipocket, .rocketbook, .lit,
    .rtf, or .txt; their rosetta-stone is .html.

    (the typical reason to do a conversion
    is preference for a certain reader-app.)

    the only other format in high demand
    is .pdf, but .html is rotten at making it.

    so you need a converter that does .pdf…

    so you need a converter that makes both
    .html and .pdf, from some “master” file…

    > How would you offer such a thing?

    my converver app? that’s easy…

    it’s a 2-meg program, cross-platform to
    mac, mac classic, windows, even linux
    (providing i locate linux alpha testers).

    so i’ll put the various versions on a site;
    then people download for their platform.

    download and double-click to execute…

    load in your text — in z.m.l. format –
    and click a button to get .html and .pdf.

    kassia is right that a lot of people want this.
    and it’s not really a capability that’s typical.
    wordprocessors can do it, but not very well.

    > And you’d expect them to use a converter?

    no. i offer a z.m.l.-viewer, which combines
    the separate advantages of .html and .pdf,
    and adds some of its own, for good measure.

    superior e-book functionality, and
    no converting necessary. win-win.

    so eventually, z.m.l. will become
    what people use, and little else…

    that’s for _readers_ anyway.

    _writers_ will still need to make .html,
    to put their stuff on the web, so they will
    continue to need a conversion capability.

    and writers will still need to make .pdf too,
    because some users do want it, for starters.

    but more importantly, it’s crucial that you,
    as the writer and the creator of the e-book,
    set a “canonical pagination” for your book.

    your “default” .pdf sets canonical pagination.
    (it’s also what you’ll send to the printer _if_
    you decide to do a big press-run of the book.
    it represents what _you_, the writer, believe
    the book “should” look like. it is your baby!
    yes, each reader can choose their own look,
    with their own fonts and margins and even
    pagination… but yours is the “official” one.)

    further, the “canonical pagination” _designs_
    your reader-interaction website for the book.

    every page in your book has its own webpage,
    where your readers will interact with that page.
    you have to provide this “gathering place” for
    each page so your readers know where to go…
    they are your bread-and-butter — focus them!

    so i weave a tight pattern between the .pdf and
    the .html creating your reader-interaction site;
    thus, every page in the .pdf has a link at the top
    which jumps right to the webpage for that page.
    (that is, it opens that webpage in your browser.)

    > Maybe it would depend on
    > how easy it could be made to work

    it will be very easy. you’ll see.

    > Creating your own ebooks is not Publishing.

    yes it is. :+)

    > It is pasting words onto the internet
    > in some form or another
    > that someone may or may not read.

    that’s what “publishing” is
    – making something public.

    you can look it up… :+)

    > How do authors rise above that
    > inundation to meet their audience?

    make your content available
    and see if anyone shows up…

    and keep working until you succeed
    or you give up, whichever comes first.

    the writers who are meant to be writers
    will never give up. the other writers will.

    it’s not a crime to be in either group.

    -bowerbird

    p.s. collaborative filtering will deliver to you
    more fans than a marketing budget ever could.
    every single one of the fans you _might_ have,
    if they were only to be exposed to your content,
    will be _able_ to find you, _get_ that exposure,
    and _become_ your fan, so don’t worry about it!
    just create your art, and put it out for discovery…
    trust me, that’s all you have to do. fans will find you.

  • Heather S. Ingemar // Feb 18, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Bowerbird: “just create your art, and put it out for discovery…
    trust me, that’s all you have to do. fans will find you.”

    That sounds suspiciously like the “if you build it, they will come” mantra that was the downfall of so many dot com businesses a few years back.

    It also sounds suspiciously like the idea that if you create a webpage, you’re putting up a billboard on a giant superhighway, and *everyone* will notice *you*…. when in fact, it’s not that way at all.

  • deb smith // Feb 18, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Hi
    What’s the problem? My press sells via Fictionwise.com, which converts our file to multiple formats including Kindle. Done. Quick. No biggie. We upload separately to Amazon and they sloooooowly convert our file to Kindle, but still, no big problem. So I’m not sure where all this confusion and stonewalling re: formats is affecting that many readers. I don’t think DRM is the answer but, unlike some of you, I don’t trust readers to play nice and pay for books, either. Look up any pop discussion of copyright issues and you’ll find a festering majority of the citizenry who fully believe that any content they can see with their own two eyeballs is thus “free” and they should be able to use it anyhow they please. With used book sales already undermining the profits of pubs and authors, and piracy of ebooks on a mass scale just around the corner, add in the “but ebooks should be priced cheap” gallery and you’ve got a recipe for disaster in the book business. Pubs and authors have to make a living. They have to at least recoup their investment for production and marketing. Using the logic of “it’s not a real book if I can’t hold it in my hand, so it should be cheap,” let’s all go to the local cineplex and demand that tickets to first-run films go for, say, a buck-fifty. Cause we can’t hold the film in our hand if we’re only viewing it at the theater, right? I don’t doubt there’s a need for a new system. Readers are going to steal and share our books. Right and left, up and down, and they’ll consider it their right, no matter what we do to “educate” them. I’m guessing that publishers will have to come up with wily ways to scrape more nickels out of the process via innovations like selling a book in short installments, offering subscriptions, including advertising, etc. None of which will make anyone happy, but might keep bread on the table for the book industry in a world that believes content belongs to the eye of the beholder, not the pocket of its creator. hear

  • "’DRM a drag on e-book growth,’ say critics" quoted in Computerworld—and I’m one of ‘em | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home // Feb 18, 2009 at 11:31 am

    [...] one of her own comments, Kassia sensibly writes that DRM "might not stop the first purchase (call it the naive [...]

  • Stan Scott // Feb 18, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Good article. Publishers and authors should look at the sales figures for the online Apple Store. Apple makes millions of dollars each year, selling music that is almost certainly available in a pirated edition. Then, they should ask themselves, why?

    I’ll give them my answer. Most people are more than willing to pay a fair price to buy music online. Much as the industry would like to think so, people who pirate the music are NOT likely to buy it instead. These illegal copies just don’t represent lost sales.

    Which makes your point all the more valid — DRM doesn’t stop or really inhibit piracy; instead, it REDUCES an item’s value by making it more difficult to use it in legitimate ways.

    Sigh. It seems as though the lessons that could be learned from the music industry are ignored for any other field (movies is another).

  • bowerbird // Feb 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    heather said:
    > That sounds suspiciously like the
    > “if you build it, they will come”
    > mantra that was the downfall of
    > so many dot com businesses
    > a few years back.

    i should have been more clear.

    “collaborative filtering” is a technology
    which isn’t here, at least not in full glory.

    you’re probably familiar with the version
    that’s offered at amazon.com, where it says
    “people who bought this book also bought…”
    and then it recommends some books to you.

    netflix has a different version of it, where
    they recommend movies to you based on
    the ratings users gave to various movies…

    these are clunky versions of the technology.
    (and amazon’s version is misguided as well,
    since it focuses on books people _bought_,
    and not how much they _liked_ each one.)

    so it’s going to take a little time before
    collaborative filtering is done correctly.

    and it will take more time to grow huge…

    how much time? could be several years.
    or it could happen soon, within months.

    but once the system is firmly in place,
    people will find the content they like…

    doesn’t mean anyone will _necessarily_
    like _your_ content. you might not be
    making content that anyone will likes…

    (which, by the way, won’t concern you
    if you are truly dedicated to your art.
    it just means you have to get a day job to
    support yourself as an artist. or starve,
    of course, which is the route that many
    noble artists have chosen over the years.
    it’s not a crime to go in either direction.)

    but don’t wait for collaborative filtering to
    arrive before you start finding your fans…
    the more fans you have once it gets here,
    the quicker your fan-snowball will build.

    the one thing that is _certainly_ true,
    however, is that if your work isn’t public
    – and easily accessible up on the web –
    nobody will find you, or become your fan.

    -bowerbird

  • Dave Robinson // Feb 18, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for your input Deb Smith.

    I think there’s a difference between people wanting “cheap” ebooks and people revolting against overpriced ebooks. Many people, myself included, have a problem with paying $20+ for an ebook when they can get the hardcover for $16 or so. If I was to use the movie analogy I’d say that would be akin to charging more for a single ticket than the boxed set DVD with all the extras (which isn’t how prices normally go). My personal opinion is that an ebook should be slightly (15-25%) cheaper than a mass-market paperback. That puts a reasonable ebook price in the $4-6 range or so– with $7-8 being more than I’d like to pay but not totally unreasonable.

    If you’re curious, I’m basing this price on the following factors:

    1) Mass-market paperbacks are profitable at the $6-8 price-point so it’s a reasonable place to start.
    2) Baen ebooks are profitable at the $4-6 price point.
    3) DRM-free ebooks at least are going to be cheaper to produce because it’s all fixed costs – the cost of making another identical file copy for download is negligible.
    4) No need to absorb cost of returns.

    The last two factors are telling for me. I used to manage a bookstore, and I remember getting a memo saying that strip-returns were at 70% for one publisher. Admittedly those were extremely high numbers, but returns add an unknown additional cost to each copy sold.

    DRM ebooks don’t get the full benefit of ebook production because each file has to be generated individually in order for the DRM to work.

    As to people not being willing to pay for things – I can only speak for myself, but I know I can get a copy of the Watchmen graphic novel online for nothing, but I still went out and bought the $75 Absolute hardcover edition because that’s the one I wanted.

    Make it easy for people to buy your products in the formats they want and your sales will go up. You won’t eliminate piracy, but you will maximize sales.

  • bowerbird // Feb 18, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    deb said:
    > None of which will make anyone happy,
    > but might keep bread on the table
    > for the book industry

    and how long can an industry survive
    when it doesn’t make its customers happy?

    -bowerbird

  • C. A. Bridges // Feb 18, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    deb: Not all readers will steal your books. And the ones that will; would they have paid for a copy in the first place? Have you lost a sale? More to the point, have you lost more than you’d make up from new readers who might be more open to buying a cheaper version in their preferred format?

    There are plenty of examples of authors profiting from free copies of their books being made available. Can anyone present an example of someone who’s sales went down when a cheap e-book version went on sale? Any example?

    bowerbird: Honestly, I’d be more open to your one-button conversion software if your comments here weren’t so hard to read. Let the width flow, dude.

  • Xenophon // Feb 19, 2009 at 9:23 am

    The folks at ToC had a panel on ePublishing/eBooks and didn’t have anyone from Baen there??? Say What????

    If I understand this correctly, the folks who’ve been (1) ePublishing their entire output since 1999 (2) with no DRM (3) profitably! (4) in multiple formats (5) at reasonable prices (6) while growing their business substantially, and (7) having no significant problem with piracy… weren’t invited to be on the panel?

    Somebody **really** dropped the ball there.

    Anyway, w.r.t. #s 3 and 5 in my list: Their e-Sales run ahead of all international sales combined (including Canada!), and are nicely profitable even after covering their pro-rata share of fixed costs. And this is with very reasonable prices: single copies run $5 or $6 each. After the effect of bundles my cost per volume has averaged around $3.40. And I’ve bought many hundreds of books from them in the past decade — at least 500 different titles.

    Xenophon

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 19, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I’m not sure why Baen people weren’t on the panel for epublishing, but I assure you that Baen was in the room (the larger room, the conference). There were, ahem, many, many panels on this subject. Before assuming that someone dropped the ball, perhaps consider that the Baen folks either couldn’t make it or that the topic was veering in a different direction. Baen’s approach and success have been a model for the industry — I’ve certainly handed money over quite cheerfully, despite the free stuff!

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 19, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Hi backatcha Deb. The problem, in a nutshell (two actually), is that readers of ebooks read on a wide range of devices. I knew this going in, but once I saw the actual responses from those readers regarding *how* they read ebooks, even I was taken aback. Long story short, any and every possible device is used. Old technology, new technology, hacked technology, readers are finding ways to make books work with what they have because they want to read these books.

    On the other side of the equation, we have a mess of DRM. One of the technologies used by Fictionwise (sorry, at client’s this week and brain is mush) only authenticates on a set number of devices. This seems, on the surface, to be a no big deal sort of thing…until you get a new computer because you’ve been sharing machines with other household members. Suddenly, you can’t access the books you’ve purchased without undergoing days of frustration with customer service (if you can get it resolved at all). Or, hey!, Overdrive decides to take all their toys and go home. Customers who knew about this had to figure out how to “save” their books. Some publishers stepped up, some didn’t. And it’s not pretty going backward from Kindle format to, oh, something I can read on my iPhone or laptop.

    Like I said, readers are not so much opposed to DRM — they really do get it — but they’re opposed to the hoops and barriers caused by DRM. One reader put it best, “Why can’t they just settle on one thing and be done with it?”

    I’m working on a pricing post. It’s not a pretty, simple solution when it comes to deciding the price of books. While there are cost savings, there are also costs that don’t just magically disappear.

    However, I don’t think it follows that all readers believe that content has to be free. One commenter mentioned the iTunes store as a model. Certainly, everything they offer for sale is readily obtainable for free elsewhere, but people are paying (I do not subscribe to the notion that every pirated song represents a lost sale, and there was some evidence that in the heyday of Napster, sales were increasing). So a lot of education can help — I was told a story over dinner last week of a person who scans books and shares them because she believes she’s doing her fellow readers a favor. If the community of readers expresses disapproval, she might change her mind.

    These readers are, basically, asking for some respect from publishers. They’re being treated like criminals, whether or not that’s the intent. They’re losing their books because the industry cannot get its collective act together. They honestly see what you’re “selling” as a rental because, well, history has shown that what you purchase, someone will probably take away. It’s a balancing act, and readers, if the industry is not careful, will give up on you. Right now, they believe in books and publishers and the future.

  • Brian O'Leary // Feb 20, 2009 at 6:54 am

    Back to Kassia’s initial post, DRM may be solving a problem (loss of book sales due to piracy) that does not exist, or exists at a level today that is comparable to a marketing expense. Why make paying readers’ lives more complicated to protect a file that is unlikely to be pirated?

    @C A Bridges: The length of the lines in bowerbird posts are a DRM-free form of Haiku. Having read many on another blog, I have come to kind of like it.

  • Dave Robinson // Feb 20, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I’ve been reading ebooks for a while – and I’ve bought in MSLit, eReader and Mobi format and run up against DRM issues repeatedly.

    I can’t read my MSLit books on my Palm – only on my iPaq – and I’ve used up all my MSReader activations, so there’s that pain there. (Six activations sounds great at first, but it’s been eight or nine years since I started with the program so now I need to beg MS for a new activation whenever I change systems and can’t change the laptop and desktop at the same time.)

    This is the kind of thing that annoys me.

    Sometime soon I’m going to be getting an E-Ink device – either a Kindle 2 or a Sony Reader. That means I’m either going to have to rebuy any DRM’d books I haven’t read yet (and I have a lot of books I’ve already bought two or more times since I buy e-versions of some of my dead-tree collection) or do something about the DRM because neither device will read any of my existing DRM ebook collection.

    It’s ridiculous. And Amazon refuses to support eReader, which is the only DRM format that does allow for easy device shifting.

    I don’t need a new pair of glasses every time I get a book from a differnt publisher. Books I buy from Borders sit on the same shelf as ones from Barnes and Noble without any difficulty.

    Why do so many publishers have a problem with the idea that I just might want to read the books I’ve already bought on my new device?

    Why can’t they be like Baen and understand that I don’t want to buy formats, I want to buy books and read them when where and how I like.

  • Bright Meadow » Blog Archive » Sunday Roast: rejoice! // Feb 22, 2009 at 5:24 am

    [...] has a thought provoking piece on DRM and ebooks. I’m going to keep sitting on the fence a bit longer; as someone who works in rights, I [...]

  • Ann Kingman // Feb 22, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Great article,Kassia, and love (most of) the discussion in the comments. I confess to skipping over any commenters that are allergic to capital letters.

    And that sounds like a snarky comment, but truly, it’s relevant. Because I really think that all of this comes down to EASE OF USE.

    The proliferation of illegal music downloads in the age of Napster stemmed from the fact that the record industry did not make music available digitally. The consumers wanted it in digital form. If they couldn’t buy it, they would get it for free. And then a whole generation of people learned how to pirate music.

    The success of the iTunes store shows that if it is easier for a consumer to buy music (at a reasonable price) than it is to steal, they will fork over their credit card.

    Right now, it is anything but easy for the customer.

  • Kassia Krozser on Digital Rights Management « FiledBy Blog // Feb 23, 2009 at 6:33 am

    [...] “Big Bad, Three Years Running, Or How to Solve a Problem Like DRM,” 02/16/09; photo by pandemia, used under its Creative Commons license [...]

  • David Thayer // Feb 23, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Kassia, As you know I’m against piracy and its kissing cousin barratry. If you’re a pirate why steal a book when you can hijack a freighter full of Ukrainian tanks? Tanks get great mileage and don’t come with DRM.

  • bowerbird // Feb 24, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    > If you’re a pirate
    > why steal a book
    > when you can
    > hijack a freighter
    > full of Ukrainian tanks?

    makes you wonder whether
    all the _talk_ of “piracy”
    didn’t create the reality of
    _actual_pirates_in_2009_…

    our neuroses create our future.

    the things we obsess about
    often manifest in our world.

    -bowerbird

  • Brad’s Reader » Blog Archive » Friday Link Love 2/20 // May 18, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    [...] Big bad, three years running, how to solve a problem like DRM [...]

  • DRM Represents the Ugly Side of Digital Publishing // Jun 26, 2009 at 4:04 am

    [...] but annoy con­sumers and at the same time, indus­try insid­ers or others have said that DRM does noth­ing to inhibit piracy. DRM is akin to the pub­lisher giving the con­sumer the middle finger and remind­ing us that we [...]