Moving Beyond Catch Phrases

October 19th, 2009 · 16 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Like so many others, I am bemused by some of the coverage of the Tools of Change Frankfurt conference (bemused=not sure people interviewed were at same conference I attended)*. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but when your industry is undergoing what can generously be described as upheaval, it is imperative that you listen to other viewpoints. You do not have to agree, but if you’re not hearing what the other side is saying, you are making a huge mistake.

DRM — Digital Rights Management — has effective and useful applications.

I heard representatives from major European publishers say (and I’m barely paraphrasing), “Piracy is bad. Stop piracy.” Um, okay. What’s the plan? I mean, we’re talking about putting an end to a practice that’s as old as humanity; most of our species gets that piracy bad, most don’t do it. Given the history of eradication when it comes to piracy, given the fact that legal markets generally win, and given the nuanced issues of digital piracy, doesn’t it make sense for publishing industry to move beyond the catch phrase?

Likewise with DRM. The Bookseller article linked above also noted concern from UK publishers about a DRM-free agenda. Well, yeah, what did you think Cory Doctorow was going to address in his keynote? The weather? No seriously, what did you expect, and did you really think he’d be anything less than provocative? It was supposed to make you think. Did you?

(And where were you, publishers, on this issue? You had 350-odd souls ready to hear your perspective. Talk about missed opportunities. You were on the agenda too. It would have been a perfect opportunity to engage in the dialogue.)

DRM — Digital Rights Management — has effective and useful applications, and I believe we’ll see smart DRM use in the near future. The problem, of course, is that the good of DRM is lost due to the very legitimate concerns about the bad of DRM. Doctorow — though an author and publisher (Boing Boing is a massive publishing effort) — speaks for readers when he expresses frustration about DRM. I’ll be blunt: the way most of you are implementing DRM is anti-reader.

I know people who, as a matter of course, crack DRM on their legally purchased books. Not because they wish to engage in piracy. Not because they have nothing better to do. No, it’s because they want the flexibility read in the manner that suits them best. The problem is that DRM stymies legitimate purchasers of books. So maybe what you perceive as an anti-DRM agenda is actually a pro-reader agenda. You can get behind that, right?

I mention these topics because I think they point to the elephant in the publishing house: accessibility. While this word is generally applied to the disabled community — a topic of another post — I am broadening it to include the bigger issue of growing the reading market. In his wrap-up of the event, Kirk Biglione called out two sessions that focused on connecting books and readers in underserved markets: sessions lead by Ramy Habeeb and Arthur Atwell.

When the international Kindle was announced, it brought the territorial rights issue back into the discussion (we missed you, territorial rights!), and, as I’ve, ahem, been saying for some time, rethinking how rights are granted can have a big impact on worldwide book sales. Consider this: you, dear publishers, are on the threshold of opening up new markets for your books. All you have to do is Get It Right.

(I am not downplaying the inevitable pain that will come from changing approaches to territorial rights; there will be shifts on the publishing side — so do you sit back and wait or do you seize opportunity?)

If you provide legal access to books in regions where none exists, you take away one impetus for piracy (piracy cannot be eliminated, it must be managed, don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise). If you use Digital Rights Management to effectively manage user (reader!) rights to content — instead of as an ineffective tool to stave off piracy — you can offer access in ways that confront the realities of reader budgets. Think short-term rentals, subscriptions, chunked content.

You’ll notice I used the word books instead of ebooks throughout this article. That is because I’m thinking about readers. I am a privileged reader: I have so much choice when it comes to format and selection. I have access to all the books I want, far more than I’ll ever read (heck, Penguin sent me duplicates of free books while I was I gone; sometimes I’ll get the same title two or three times — if they sent me digi-arcs, I’d probably read some of them).

Of course, I am already a book buying and book reading customer. You aren’t going to Save Publishing through me. I’m contributing at my maximum already. But those new readers, those new markets, those new possibilities? Ah, kind of makes your heart flutter, doesn’t it?

* – Yeah, I know, it looks like I’m pointing you to the article simply because one of the comments mentions my session. You get what you pay for around here.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

16 responses so far ↓

  • Mark Barrett // Oct 19, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    The more I read, the more I keep thinking that publishing is like a collapsing star. We can talk about what’s going to happen and how it can be anticipated and what’s to be done about it, but nothing is really going to change. Gravity (technology) is going to have its effect (on pricing) and at some point you’ve got yourself a black hole. At least at the publishing level.

    At the single-writer/author level I think all of the issues you’re talking about are front and center. For anyone trying to use the web as a marketing and sales platform, DRM and piracy are critical. (It only takes a few lost sales to piracy — or DRM — to undercut one individual author’s ability to survive.)

    Thanks for the report. (And mmmmmmm….I do love those German trains…..)

  • Mark Evans // Oct 19, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful recap. I wasn’t there, but I engaged in an online (and impromptu) debate with Mr. Doctrow about DRM. You have a much better grasp of what actually happened there, but I wasn’t at all surprised at the reports I read.

    When I attempted to have a dialog with Mr. Doctrow, I was belittled and insulted. I tried to have a completely open mind and conceded that DRM-free might be the right model for many publishers. Every point I conceded, he gladly took. Every legitimate point I made, he breezily ignored.

    I found his online persona not to be “challenging”, but dogmatic and obnoxious. Perhaps it was just a bad day for him.

    Regardless, the reports back just fed into my sense that anyone short of an anti-DRM fanatic is treated shabbily by many on that side of the debate.

    Thanks again for adding perspective.


  • Kassia Krozser // Oct 19, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Mark (by the way, quite enthusiastic about Edelweiss, despite fact I am not target customer, thus getting all information third-hand, but still…) — I have only met Cory Doctorow very casually, and cannot speak for his overall thoughts. Though knowing that he’s a smart person, I like to think a serious discussion would reveal a more nuanced position. Of course, I believe that’s the problem with all discussion about DRM. We are dealing with the extremes on both sides, and until we clear some of the ugly out of the conversation, we cannot have a serious discussion about how to, well, manage digital rights. I think that aspect of of DRM has been lost in the execution of the technology.

    I have heard many presentations by Doctorow, and he always pushes the envelope. The sad thing is he’s not saying anything radical, at least not in the real world. He simply refuses to hold back with the publishing professionals who attend these conferences. It’s a message they don’t want to hear (though many agree with it), but it’s a message coming from people they should listen to.

    So bad DRM keeps people from their legally purchased books. I bought books, friends books, from a major retailer who used Adobe Digital Editions. After installing the software (sigh), it turned out the authentication server was down. I bought the !@@$$ books, but could not read them. I put over an hour into the process. I only access ADE under duress, because I know that the experience will be accompanied by updates to the software. If I choose to update, chances are I’ll forget what I was doing in the first place.

    On the other hand, I have accepted Amazon’s DRM for the Kindle. I acknowledge all that is wrong with this. I realize I’ve made a sort of pact with the devil. But Amazon has made it absolutely seamless for me to buy books. I was making purchases fifteen minutes before I left for Frankfurt. I don’t need to tell you how seductive that is. And if you talk to real readers (outside the publishing biz), you’ll soon discover that they are not so much anti-DRM as they are frustrated by the various implementations. People who buy ebooks have to work too hard to read them. If I were a publishing executive, I’d be shame-faced; early adopters of ebooks, particularly, are also big purchasers of books in general. Why alienate your best customers?

    (Full-esque disclosure: my husband is very much in the anti-DRM camp, yet was the one who introduced me to the more nuanced, practical thinking on this.)

  • Kassia Krozser // Oct 19, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    @ditchwalk (Mark) — this gets back to the argument that [fill in the blank] is killing music. No, the [fill in the blank] is killing the recording (publishing) industry. Musicians (writers/authors) will continue to find audience and commercial avenues. It’s the infrastructure built around the art that will fail, if it’s not careful.

    As for your second point, I’m going to disagree slightly. I know authors who have achieved the kind of success that movies suggest all authors have. Most of the authors I know work day jobs. Very few authors get rich off their work; there’s a cobbled-together aspect to their finances. I find it very sad, but I have to be realistic about the finances of the average author. But I get back to strong belief that *most* people do not pirate, and, if the author/publisher has made a legal purchase the most attractive option to the reader, then it is only the person who would not buy anyway who walks the illegal path. We could argue (forever) whether or not these truly represent “lost” sales, especially if no purchase was ever intended. However, that is a separate discussion.

    And, yeah, the trains were great. I wish my city had more transportation like that.

  • Mark Evans // Oct 20, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Thanks, Kassia! I do try to avoid extremes on almost any position, including DRM. I will say that the anti-DRM camp seems more fanatical and entrenched that the pro-DRM camp.

    I’ve yet to see anyone say that people should not be allowed to sell DRM-free content, but have heard the opposite view expressed.

    Perhaps Cory’s problem is just ego ( Last time I was listed as a top 50 visionary by a major publication, you couldn’t shut me up.

    Regardless, having worked at Tower Records and at Borders, I feel that I have a valid perspective on DRM and the forces at work in shaping the future market for digital content.

    I certainly agree that frustrating customers (or potential customers) is not a good thing for any business.

    Balancing customer wants, needs, and rights with those of the content creators’ is complicated. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

  • Brian O'Leary // Oct 20, 2009 at 7:21 am

    To Mark Evans’ observations, I’d offer that a debate about DRM isn’t a debate about Cory. He is a leading critic of DRM, but many others share his concerns that it doesn’t work for many or even most published products.

    I hosted a webinar that will air October 29 as part of a Book Business virtual conference. One of the participants runs FileOpen, a DRM company. If you can, listen to the session. Suffice it to say here that the DRM vendor placed as many restrictions as Cory Doctorow would on the effective use of DRM in publishing.

  • David Smith // Oct 20, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Hello what’s going on here – nuanced debate about DRM? (that can’t last).

    I thought I’d share my experiences with DRM.

    First up, I work in Publishing and the organisation where I work has had to deal with folks pirating our stuff. Not nice.

    Biggest problem with DRM is you cannot use the word “Purchase” with it. Rental – not an issue.
    “Purchase” simply does not apply to DRM’d material whatever it is. There are too many cases of the servers being turned off, or the Operating systems being upgraded and causing trouble and so on and so forth. This upsets folks like Cory. From his writings, I believe he has also sat in on too many lobbying sessions with hollywood types to have anything other than an utterly cynical view on what some people would do if they could.

    I thought he was a bit over top on occasion, until the day I sat down to watch a DVD of a movie featuring a well known fictional british spy. The movie company had put something on the DVD that meant it would not play in my DVD drive on my PC. Worse than that, they flashed up a message to indicate that the reason it wouldn’t play was that I was trying to use it on a PC and therefore was going to be a nasty lawbreaking criminal who ate babies whilst funding other criminal acts and not being nice to my mother (I exaggerate – but only slightly).
    I bought the DVD with my money. I bought the PC with my money, I bought all the other DVD players in the house with my money and here was a company trying to restrict the wholly legitimate use of a device and a piece of content. In My House.
    That was when I decided that DRM was a bad thing.

    And that’s the problem. The solution as you say Kassia is to take away as many of the legitimising elements that enable casual piracy. Go hard after the commercial pirates, and understand that the kids, don’t have enough money, but do have enough time to share the music/films/books and will do it, until they are earning the money to be able to have a late night Amazon buying frenzy and not worry about the consequences too much.

    The other thing about DRM is it is too closely associated with things like the UK governments desire to ban households from using the internet after “3 strikes of filesharing” without going through that tricky business of having to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

    It would be great to take out “the ugly”, but my experience is the that “the ugly” is usually keeping a real close eye on things, just out of sight.

  • Toke Riis Ebbesen // Oct 20, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Hey Kassia
    I attended the TOC Frankfurt and just want to thank you for a great presentation, and your inspiring and nuanced blog posts here. 🙂

  • Kassia Krozser // Oct 20, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    @Toke — Thank you. Next time, come up and say hello. The big rooms are intimidating because it’s hard to see the people in the audience, and it’s always lovely to speak with people on a more personal level.

  • Kassia Krozser // Oct 20, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    @David — I’d love to say your example was atypical or unusual, but we both know it’s typical and the source of frustration for so many people who just want to be entertained. I don’t need to be protected, and I’d say that was true for most people I know.

    I sincerely hope this conversation moves beyond “It’s bad”, and focuses on the reality of file sharing. I worry that polarization — especially between content producers and content producers — will lead to bad places.

  • Kassia Krozser // Oct 20, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    @Brian — I am looking forward to this webinar. I like to hear all sides of a conversation. It’s not about one way is right and one way is wrong. It’s about finding a system that works for all of us.

  • links for 2009-10-20 : // Oct 20, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    […] Moving Beyond Catch Phrases | Booksquare DRM — Digital Rights Management — has effective and useful applications, and I believe we’ll see smart DRM use in the near future. The problem, of course, is that the good of DRM is lost due to the very legitimate concerns about the bad of DRM. (tags: digital_rights_management drm zukunft verlagswesen 2009 10/2009 pro-drm) […]

  • Theresa M. Moore // Oct 21, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Of course one solution I found to deal with the issue of piracy is to set up my buy buttons so I have to download the file to the buyer. I don’t use DRM, and I have found that DRM servers are not a selling point for my books. At one point I was using a document hosting site (name omitted) which offered DRM, and I did a test of their selling power. The sampling rates were tolerable, but I noticed that the number of buys fell off drastically after I allowed for DRM. Obviously, many people want something for nothing, and DRM makes it impossible for them to see what they are getting. That DRM deters piracy is a good thing, but it also deters readers from sampling before they buy. I got a lot of sampling, but no buys at all, which meant that it makes basically no difference to anyone whether the books are hosted with DRM or not. They just want free books.

  • Stan Scott // Oct 21, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    What a great discussion here? Let me add a couple of points re DRM.

    We talk about DRM as though it were one strategy, but it’s actually many different strategies. Apple’s DRM allows you to copy the music to any medium, but play it on only 5 computers. Amazon’s DRM is a new format. Right now, their ebooks will run on only a few platforms.

    So, if publishers insist on DRM, will they standardize on a single type? Unless they all adopt Amazon’s format (a mistake), there will certainly be a number of formats.

    Another legitimate use of a file, music, ebook, whatever, is making a backup. Digital files can get corrupted, the CDs last only 5 years, among others. Will publishers with DRM allow this?

    What happens to a user base when a provider discontinues the use of a DRM? We’ve already seen Microsoft’s strategy when it abandoned the FairPlay music format. Users were basically out of luck, though some conversion was possible. Here, I’d look really closely at Sony, which has a habit of abandoning tech items.

  • Sue Sparks // Oct 22, 2009 at 2:39 am

    Kassia makes some very good points as usual, including that (most) people are happy to accept an eco-system for managing rights that makes things easy for them e.g. iTunes and the Kindle, though these are not perfect. It is probably more productive to draw a distinction between digital rights management, and technical protection measures. DRM has become conflated with TPM, which is not surprising as it is the many clumsy technical implementations of DRM which have infuriated consumers. Digital rights management is perhaps better thought of as the general question of how to manage rights in a digital environment, including, for example, machine-readable licenses.

  • Laura Binnie // Oct 22, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    If you are interested in DRM for eBooks, please read the following article:

    Publishers cutting out the middle man in ebook distribution

    ‘eBook platform allows publishers to self manage their global eBook distribution’

    Independent Australian health care publisher Ausmed is exhibiting at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year with a brand new digital offering for its international distributors.

    Ausmed, which produces health care education textbooks and related training services for nurses and allied health staff, aims to empower their partnering distributors with an end to end online eBook distribution platform to compete in the ever-growing world of digital distribution and pipelining to market.

    This unique opportunity has come about for Ausmed thanks to the innovative eBook distribution technology from DNAML called DNL DRM.

    Ausmed will be able to empower their current distribution partners with eBook distribution. They can also expand their market through the DNL DRM by simply, easily and without set-up costs, sign up new distribution partners and be able to negotiate distribution commissions through the DNL DRM system.

    This allows Ausmed to cut out wholesalers such by negating the need to hire expensive third-party distributors and pass on that saving to their customers.

    The DNL DRM platform also provides all parties participating in the transaction with real time reporting of sales and many other options that can assist the publisher with the distribution of their eBooks in the global market.

    DNAML CEO, Adam Schmidt says: “The DNL DRM platform is groundbreaking news for all publishers, in particular small and independent publishers, as it allows them to move into a larger realm of retail sales, whilst maintaining independent control over their own profits.”

    “This is just the reality of the changing face of the publishing industry as eBooks begin to capture the public interest and innovative eBook technology like the DNL DRM format offers publishers independent and the capability to expand outside the established channels. We all love to make more sales and this is what we provide to the publisher,” says Schmidt.

    DNL DRM uses the interactive DNL eBook format as its core which also benefits publishers like Ausmed, who require an audio and visual component to enhance their ebook publications. Ausmed says that this audio element is one of the features that sets their e-textbooks apart from others in the health care publishing market.

    “The ebooks being created by Ausmed are unique as many of them allow the reader to listen to a short summary of each chapter right from inside the ebook,” says William Egan, Ausmed Sales and Innovation Officer.

    “This enhances the reader’s end experience and aids with comprehension of the subject.”

    Ausmed will be presenting their DNL DRM-formatted ebooks at the Frankfurt Book Fair which commences on October 14th 2009.

    …… It is not impossible to roll out DRM so that it is easy for the reader…. It is just a matter of acting sooner rather than later so that we avoid the ‘Napsterisation’ of the Publishing industry