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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Are publishers losing book sales with their anti-piracy measures? DRM problems

When I go to publish "Legs" in early May, I won't be using "digital rights management," or DRM, technology. DRM helps to prevent piracy, or theft, of your content.

What is Piracy?

Millions of users worldwide download movies, songs and books using bit torrent sites. The process is fairly simple: go to a website, search for the book/movie/song you want, and click to upload. Normally you need to create your own account, and most sites ask if you're willing to help the torrent process by either uploading some song/book/movie you have, or by letting your computer act as a host in a different way.

Slowly, slowly, the book/song/movie downloads to your computer. Some movies can take 4-10 hours, for instance. When it's done, you have the entire movie to watch as a .avi or other format. It was free.

People do this with books, too. Textbooks are popular but rare for find, for instance, because it would require someone to scan an entire textbook into PDF format (or, even more time-consuming, type out the whole thing into a text file). eBooks can be pirated as well.

Arguments for DRM

The arguments for DRM are pretty simple: protecting intellectual property. The "Big 6" publishers use DRM. Some smaller presses do as well.

Digital rights management also gives the publisher a method for tracking sales and reader behavior.

Arguments Against DRM

But there are some unintended consequences of DRM. First, DRM + high prices = increased piracy. A $12.99 eBook vs. a free copy in a day via bit torrent is, for some people, an easy decision. A $.99 or $2.99 eBook downloaded instantly on Kindle vs. waiting all day for a free torrent copy? The $.99 price point likely will win out, and piracy loses. By keeping prices extremely high, and using the "agency model," are the Big 6 actually encouraging piracy?

Second, DRM can alienate customers. If you buy an eBook on your Nook and later decide to stop using the Nook and buy a Kindle instead, good luck switching that DRM-protected book over to the new, different device. And what happens 10 years from now when, maybe, there's no such device as a Kindle (perhaps we'll have Kindle microchips embedded in our readermind). DRM makes it impossible to save the file in different formats (well, impossible to anyone but crackers and hackers...).

And finally, there is the issue of lost sales. Lost Book Sales helps to chronicle these lost sales, which largely focus on geographical territory issues. eBooks cannot be purchased in some countries. I don't mean that people can't afford them - I mean that the sale of certain books are blocked, or that the publishing rights don't extend to sales in those countries. New Zealand is one example - digital rights don't extend to that country for some eBooks. Reading the stories at Lost Book Sales reveals how prevalent this practice really is.

Non-DRM Approaches to Piracy

Is piracy justified, then? I'm not sure, but as an author this makes me realize that I might want to investigate some technologies that will, at least, cover the issue of price points and of digital rights format for readers in some countries. The workaround for price is easy; I plan to set mine at $2.99 and occasionally put it on sale for $.99.

The issue of using technology to make the book available in such a manner as to protect my copyright, make royalties, and give readers in all countries the opportunity to buy is best left to software developers. Any thoughts, readers?

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