Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Readers, Authors and Librarians Against DRM

Artist Nina Paley has created a cool collection of images for those ready to rail against DRM.

She created versions for Readers Against DRM, Authors Against DRM, and Librarians Against DRM.

If you share these sentiments, go to the site, download the images and sprinkle them on your blog or web site. The images can be freely distributed, though please cite as the source of the images.

DRM stands for "Digital Rights Management." It's a copy protection scheme designed to prevent piracy.

While few would disagree that authors deserve compensation for their hard work, the problem with DRM is that it treats law-abiding customers like criminals. DRM controls how, where and when a reader reads books.

Oh, and then there's the small matter that DRM doesn't work.

Five Reasons to Say No to DRM:
  1. Readers (who know about DRM) don't like DRM
  2. DRM adds expense to books
  3. DRM makes books complex
  4. DRM limits accessibility to books, especially for those with vision disabilities who require Text-to-Speech (TTS)
  5. DRM doesn't prevent piracy

At Smashwords, we've always been DRM-free. I've written about my views here on the blog, at HuffPo, and elsewhere.

The biggest threat facing authors and publishers today is not piracy, it's obscurity. Anything that makes a book less accessible and less enjoyable makes it more obscure.

Piracy is an indication your content is in demand, yet it's also an indication your content is not available, accessible or affordable to those who want it. Pirates satisfy demand not satisfied by the publisher.

The best method of combat piracy is to make purchasing preferable to pirating.

How do you do this? First, distribute your book to as many retailers as possible. If your book is available where customers want to shop, it's easier for a reader to buy it than to look for an illegal copy. Second, price your book fairly. If the book is affordable to your customers, they have less incentive to steal it. Third, make your book available in multiple formats so it can be read on any e-reading device. Fourth, trust your customer by going DRM-free, and communicate to them that you trust them. Rather than threatening the customer with legal action, gently remind them of their ethical obligation to support the hard work of the author (This is the thinking behind the Smashwords License Statement).

At the risk of beating a dead horse (literally and figuratively), if a publisher were to do the opposite of my above four recommendations, then what you'd have are the practices of the big 6 traditional book publishers.

Isn't it ironic that the DRM they require for their books is in reaction to a fear of a practice (piracy) encouraged by their own customer-unfriendly business policies? I'm referring to their practice of scarcity-as-a-business-model, high ebook prices, limited worldwide distribution, limited formats and unwillingness to trust the customer. For more horse-beating, see my last post, The Author Uprising against Big Publishing.

There will always be scoundrels and cheapskates who will never pay for anything. Those people would never be your customer anyway so they don't represent a lost sale. And who knows, they might even love your book so much they rave about it to their more ethically-inclined friends.

Some best-selling authors such as Paulo Coelho are known to have deliberately encouraged piracy of their books. Kevin Kelly, last year at the Writing for Change Conference in November, told the crowd he views piracy as a tax on success, a tax he said he's happy to pay.

A couple years ago, I remember one prospective Smashwords author wrote me and said, "Do you think I'm an idiot? There's no way I'm going to publish DRM-free at Smashwords. Within days there will be millions of stolen copies across the Internet!" I shared this story later in a talk I gave at the IBPA's Publishing University conference in New York, and afterward one author walked up to me and said, "Are you kidding? I'd pay to have my book stolen a million times!"

There's also a growing body of evidence that piracy doesn't harm sales. Might piracy even improve sales? This is the conclusion author Neil Gaiman came to, as he explains in this must-watch video below.

Several major ebook retailers, including Apple, Barnes & Noble and Amazon, have already dropped DRM as a requirement in their ebook stores. Authors and publishers now have more freedom to publish DRM-free.

Some readers are rebelling against DRM. Check out Lost Book Sales. It's a fun site sponsored by Jane Litte of Dear Author in which readers list books they would have purchased but didn't because the books were DRM-infected.

Are you a reader? How do you feel about DRM?

My thanks to author and blogger Karl Drinkwater, whose interesting blog post, DRM Will Kill us All is where I first discovered Nina's images.


BrotherJoeRadosti said...

Thanks Mark. I was familiar with your view on this subject, but I am glad that you posted this. I am with you here. I believe most people will pay for your work. Yes you may have some that steal it, but that is compliment.It means you are in demand.

Nina Paley said...

Thanks! But the Flickr user listentomyvoice is definitely not me. I believe listentomyvoice is a real librarian against DRM, doing the good work of spreading the message.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

Thanks, Nina, corrected now.

Marjorie McAtee said...

Great post, Mark!

James H. Byrd said...

Good stuff, Mark. I hope we have a chance to talk about some of this during your teleseminar with the Self Publishers Online Conference.

As a publisher, I believe DRM is a waste of resources. As an author I believe it is a disservice to my readers. As a reader, I think it's a big pain in know.

One reason I hope we can cover this issue is that I frequently get questions from authors about piracy. I don't know how many times I've given the piracy versus obscurity speech. I've also written an article myself about it.

A poster child for this issue is J.K. Rowling. She refused to publish the Harry Potter books as e-books, so the pirates filled the gap by scanning her print books and offering digital downloads. They got the money, and she didn't, but mainly because she didn't do as you are suggesting and make the book available in as many formats as possible.

I don't want to get ripped off any more than anyone else, but there are better ways to fight piracy than DRM.

Paulo said...

Mark, i agree with you. Put a obstacle (DRM) to the customer... :S its a silly action.

One correction in your text: the writer's name is paUlo coelho, not paOlo coelho.

Paulo = in portuguese
Paolo = in spanish
Paul = in english

Paulo Coelho is a brazilian writer.


Paulo de Lima

Anonymous said...

Excellent! As a reader, librarian and author (sort of) I tick three of the boxes, so this resonates with my thinking. I'm glad I am not alone. Also I've corrected the attribution on my site to Nina Paley. And many thanks for linking back to my blog.
Best wishes, Karl Drinkwater

John Hilton III said...

My favorite quote on this subject: "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy."

Anonymous said...

The only thing that kills me is that I didn't think through the whole DRM thing. On Amazon and B&N I enabled DRM for two of my stories, thinking this was a good idea. I've since seen the light and I make sure I keep everything DRM free. It's unfortunate I can't go back and disable the DRM on thw two stories I have out there. I hope this hasn't hurt my sales.

GaryTaylor said...

Let me raise a question then, regarding Google editions. Google asks about a DRM decision as well as a separate decision on whether to allow readers to copy, paste and print the book. I opted to enable DRM on Google and declined to allow readers to copy and paste. What's theory on those decisions for Google? And what's the future of Smashwords distributing to Google editions?

BrotherJoeRadosti said...

Good question Gary. Copy and pasting takes it a step further doesn't it.

GaryTaylor said...

Here's another question about the Kindle. Last year, Amazon offered authors the option of making their books "lending enabled" and I agreed. Because I had my own Kindle account before signing with Smashwords, I opted out of Smashwords' Kindle distribution. But I had initially submitted my book to Amazon in a DRM format. So, I am wondering: Does the new "lending enabled" agreement remove some of the reason for reader complaints about DRM? I noticed a significant increase in sales last year about the time that change took effect. Any thoughts on that change by Amazon?

Anonymous said...

A book I couldn't copy&paste from would be a bit of a drag, at least if I actually liked it. If I wanted to write a review, or discuss the book in a forum, I might want to copy&paste a favourite line, or a text passage relevant to the discussion every now and then. Why make quoting bits of your book more difficult than it has to be? People talking about your books seems to me like a good thing.

The lending function on Amazon is pretty ridiculous. A lending enabled book can be lent out exactly once, for two weeks. It's better than nothing, I guess, but, eh. Given how many books I bought my own copy of after borrowing them from friends or libraries, I don't understand why they're being so stingy.

Kerry Allen said...

Gary, I have many occasions on which to quote books (schoolwork, papers, reviews, general "ooh, look at this" sharing), and it is always an irritation to have to flip from window to window and type it manually. If it's not absolutely necessary, I'll skip the hassle, which primarily means less "ooh, look at this" promotion of things I would otherwise recommend to like-minded readers with money to spend.

Don't use fear of something unpreventable as an excuse to put obstacles between readers and your words.

thb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thb said...

Hi Mark,
just to clarify your statement about "limited worldwide distribution" - that means that certain publishers and distributors are in fact prohibiting readers from buying content from them, without offering those readers any other recourse than to buy print media, with all the waiting and pollution that entails.

If it were not for places like Smashwords, Baen, Ridan Publishing and other Indie publishers like them, I would probably have given up on e-Reading by now.

DrDln said...

I have used DRM with Amazon and BN without thinking much. It sounds better to protect. But I was not hesitant to go without DRM with SW.

If I have to do it again, I will go without DRM. Thanks.

Unknown said...

It's comments like Brother Joe Radosti that makes DRM a sad necessity. Please understand that as a professional author I am not fooled by code words "Obscurity". Child pyschology does not work with a professional or business person.

When you became an American that did not mean that you got to dictate to authors and speak for them. You want to speak to a real author. You got one right here.

I have a degree in English Literature and Creative writing.

When fools attempt to control markets that is nothing but chaos and anarchy.

The people that feel that they get to control how industries work are messed up.

The truth is that if there is going to be DRM it is not to be in the hands of consumers.

There are alot of challenges to life. Sadly each one of these people don't work and are on welfare.

I know a welfare receipient when I hear one.

I checked out the people who supported DRM removal.

Many of them aren't American citizens. Many of them support stealing and pass it off as democracy.

I've got news for you.

I write bonafide best selling type novels.

I know about human nature. When somebody pretends that I will chomp at the bit because they mention Bill O Riley.

You are a fool.

I have nephews and know children. They are much better behaved than the lot of fools who want something for nothing.

We usually term people who are always fighting rules as sociopaths and borderline personalites.

DRM is unfortuneatley a neccesity for sociopaths.

I was kidnapped years ago. No one was there for me when I needed people. For that there will always be rules.

Further. The hippie movement died in 1970. I would know.
I was alive then.

Grow up loser
A highly sought after author.