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.