Most ebook customers don't know what DRM is. Many authors and small publishers don't understand it either. Yet if you're a reader, author or publisher, it's probably a good idea to roll up your sleeves and think about how DRM might impact you in the future.
All Smashwords books are published DRM-free. This means we don't apply copy-protection schemes that would prevent, for example, a customer from reading their ebook on any of the multiple ebook reading devices they may own today or in the future (e-readers, computer, cell phone, etc.).
Some of our retail partners apply DRM to our books in their own stores, and we're fine with this. It's up to the customer to decide if they care about DRM or not.
At Smashwords, we're strongly anti-piracy, though unlike publishers who infect their books with DRM, we instead work with our authors and publishers to help them educate customers to do the right thing. We think most customers are honest and honorable, and they understand the value of supporting the author or publisher who created the book for their enjoyment.
In the Smashwords Style Guide, we encourage our authors and publishers to add the following license statement to their books, which acts as a gentle reminder:
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
The license statement also acts as a trojan horse. Should the book fall into the hands of readers who didn't pay for it, the license statement provides the honest reader a chance to make good on their obligation to support the author or publisher.
Obscurity is a bigger risk to authors than piracy. And while I'd never say piracy is a good thing, I've seen some folks argue it can actually provide indirect benefits to the creator. The idea isn't as outlandish as you might think. Imagine if somehow my novel was pirated, and fell into the hands of one million readers. What if the gentle reminder above prompted one percent of them to purchase the book? That's 10,000 paid customers.
In the column at HuffPo, I have a real world example of how one forward-looking software company (and folks, ebooks are software!) leveraged piracy in their early years - even encouraged it - and now they sell billions of dollars in software per year. There are many lessons to be learned by authors and publishers willing to experiment.
The column at HuffPo is actually a re-write of a previous column that first appeared here on the Smashwords blog. In that column, I tried to rationalize what I viewed as dichotomous thinking on the part of mainstream publishers. They sell books in print, and those books are shared, resold, resold again, again and again, and at each step the publisher receives nothing. If that book was an ebook, the publisher would call it piracy.
The same previous column was also republished over at Teleread. One commenter there called it, "marvelously imperfect," which is the highest praise I've ever received on a blog post. To me, the best blog posts provoke thought and serve as conversation-starters, not the last word.
What do you think is the last word (or the next word) on the DRM debate? Comment here, or click here to join the discussion at HuffPo.