Do You DRM? No, Thank You

My fellow SFNovelist, Simon Haynes has a very interesting interview with himself up on his site about DRM and free ebooks.  See… Simon has  a thriving series of comic SF books in Australia, Hal Spacejock, whose success outside Oz has been largely due to his publisher giving his first book away for free in ebook format.  (It’s still available too, so if you want to read something dryly funny that takes a lot of good solid jabs at Space Opera conventions, go get it and get hooked.) Sounds kind of screwy in this age of financial depression and copyright malfunction, but it’s working very well for Simon and Freemantle Press.  By making his books into inexpensive, DRM-free ebooks (only the first one is free; sorry but you’ll have to help Simon pay his bills if you want the rest), Simon and Freemantle have been able to penetrate the worldwide English language market with minimal cost and promotion.  This is not only good for Simon, it’s good for his publisher and readers and it’s a very nice model I’d like to see expanded.

I am very much in favor of DRM-free ebooks, even though they are easier for commercial pirates to copy and distribute (I have waived DRM on my audio books with Recorded Books for the sake of library access, but the option is not available to me on the ebooks).  The basic idea of DRM-free ebooks (and audio  books) pleases me, not because I don’t care if I make money on my work–I do care a lot!–but because it cleaves to the standard of trust and reason I prefer.  I like to think that most people are reasonable and ethical, or will be if you make it easier for them to do things in reasonable and ethical ways than in unreasonable, illegal, unethical ways.  And I think that giving a few things away, keeping prices reasonable, treating your readers and customers well, and behaving in a generous manner will earn you more readers and customers in the long run.

I don’t rail against used book stores or libraries for letting people get their hands on my books without my getting a cut.  So it makes no sense to me to tie up the electronic versions so that the majority of customers are hamstrung and treated like criminals to restrict the activities of the few who are criminals.  I’m very disappointed in the tigerish stance of some organizations in the name of protecting copyright.  I’m reasonably sure that the current copyright system is broken and needs a total replacement, or at least a major overhaul, and taking draconian steps that only alienate and restrict customers and readers is not going to help preserve the earnings of writers as much as it keeps control in the hands of corporations.  We don’t need to treat customers and readers like cows to be milked.

Readers are rare enough beasts that we should encourage them. Selling or giving them something (an ebook or audio book in this case) without strings attached, that they can keep and share with others is much better than squeezing them for every penny and restricting what they can do with the book they just paid for.  If they like your books, they will tell others, or pass their copy along to someone else who may be equally pleased and buy some for themselves and pass the word along, and so on….  That’s part of how the review process works.  It’s the reason publishers give away thousands of copies of books every year to conventions and publications.  Word of mouth is the single strongest promotional tool writers can have on their side.  Locking up the electronic forms of books so readers are captive to a proprietary format hurts that potential word of mouth by restricting readership conditions.  It also insults the buyer of your book with the supposition that they can’t be trusted.  While it’s not the writer who makes that decision, it’s the writer who will suffer most when the books don’t sell.

DRM is largely a tool for maintaining industry control; it doesn’t help writers. It would be nice if writers were guaranteed to get money every time anyone read our books in any format and from any source. But that has never and will never happen. I’m not sure what changes we need to make to the way we manage intellectual propery in this electronic age, and how we give writers and other intellectual creators a reasonable chance to profit from their work, but I am sure that draconian DRMs aren’t them.

Now, go read Simon’s book.  It’s much funnier than I am.


About Kat Richardson

Writer, editor, eccentric pain in the tail, bestselling author of the Greywalker novels.
This entry was posted in book business, Cool writerly people, other people's books. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Do You DRM? No, Thank You

  1. MD says:

    Thank you for that post, highly interesting! They’re trying to push ebook readers in Germany right now, so it will be interesting to see whether this actually catches on. I’m rather sceptical, because I like the tactile feeling of reading a book. I like to look at my bookshelf or simple page through a book.

    But from what I’ve heard I’m not even supposed to sell the ebook I bought on Amazon for my Kindle. That’s ten kinds of stupid and I have no idea why any customer would buy into a scheme like that.

  2. Adele says:

    Fascinating post. As far as honestly and reason. I think for the vast majority of people, it’s a bit like the old days of cassette copies from mates. If you really wanted something you bought it, if you weren’t sure you copied it. If you liked the copy you then bought the next album yourself.

  3. Buyers put up with this stuff when they think it’s the only option they have. Or in the case of the original Kindle release, they don’t know that they will be so legally restricted. It doesn’t occur to them that the product will be any different than any other book they’ve every bought except for the format.

    At the moment, most ebooks are treated by the companies producing and distributing them as “licenses” just the way software companies try to sell their products. But that hasn’t been such a successful strategy for software companies and I don’t think it’s a good one for books. The music industry has tried to do the same thing with downloaded tunes, but we all know how that’s turned out.

    What’s needed in my opinion is a change in the paradigm, not a change in format or these attempts to limit the access and portability of the electronic product.

    It’s been shown in study after study that people pay for what they like/use and don’t pay for what they don’t like or for what they feel is excessive or abusive. They steal it instead, thinking that the only person hurt is the distribution company. Of course that’s not true, but the answer to the problem is not increasingly draconian controlled access. That’s the problem to begin with. People don’t like police states and they like Big Brotherish companies and practices even less. They will look for alternatives that offer them the things they want at a price they think is reasonable.

  4. Hairy Thing says:

    Oh great, now you have me hooked on another author. What part of my life can I shift time to read from? Oh well, I guess I’ll drop the plans for world domination for a while.

  5. MD says:

    There was an interesting talk on ebooks and the ebook market at the London Book Fair last year, back when this was all news to me. Of course, they also tried to tell everyone that people will go and illegally download books left and right. That may be true, but I agree with you: If you like something, you will go to the shop and buy it.

    I don’t know if you’ve heard of Paul Coelho’s big pirating experience where *he* started a website which offered illegal downloads of his books. Turned out that people downloaded his novels like crazy, read the first pages and then went to the bookstore to buy them. He’s talking about his experience here: (the link is German, the video is in English – the part concerning copyright starts at minute 6).

  6. Oh Hairy Thing: I know I’m evil. What took you so long?

    MD: I hadn’t heard of Paul Coelho and his “pirating” experience. That’s really neat. Thanks!

    It’s been my own experience from both ends that freebies–legal or otherwise–generate sales. I buy books, comics, DVDs, and music once I find something I like that I got for free from one source or another. That seems to be the case for a lot of other people, too. So long as the price is reasonable.

    Pricing was the real breakthrough with the Napster and iTunes systems, not the medium. Why the industries think otherwise continues to elude me.

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