Saturday, June 30, 2012

My thoughts… On DRM

And why I don’t plan to use it.

DRM, for those who don’t know what it is, stands for Digital Rights Management.  In a nutshell, it’s a technology that can be attached to electronic intellectual property, such as software, ebooks, and movies.  It basically attempts to restrict what can be done with that intellectual property (ip).  Some would say it’s primarily aimed at reducing or eliminating digital piracy, but not everyone.  So, why wouldn’t I want to use a technology that’s going to help keep my ebooks from being stolen, robbing me of income?

To answer that, let me identify my target ebook audience.  I see them as divided into three camps:  those who are going to pay for the ebook, those who aren’t going to pay, and those who might pay.  Well, there’s a fourth:  those who aren’t going to buy, borrow, or steal my ebooks, but hopefully we can move some of them into that first camp over time.  So, let’s look at those readers and how DRM, or the lack thereof, will affect them.

French version of the original

French version of the original "Authors against DRM" by Nina Paley. Français : Version française de l'original "Authors against DRM" par Nina Paley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, we have those readers who are going to buy my ebook.  These are good folks who don’t steal ip.  They pay for their software, they don’t download music illegally, and they pay me for my words.  I love these guys and gals!  DRM isn’t going to affect their purchasing decision.  At least, not initially.  What if they get a different ereader that’s not compatible with the ebook format they previously paid for?  With no DRM, they could convert the file to a compatible format using something like calibre.  However, if I’ve attached DRM to that file, they would have to repurchase it.  That’s actually sounds pretty good, right?  I mean, I’ll get paid twice for the same ebook.  Well, here’s where we have to diverge into a talk about sales and customer relations.

I once had to make some trivial purchase, and I didn’t have cash with me.  While we located the item I needed, I’d been chatting up my salesman, who I believe was also the owner, about future purchases I was in the market for and the services he provided.  When it came time to ring up the sale, he looked at me with something like horror when I pulled out that card.  He told me he wouldn’t make any money off that sale.  I told him I was sorry but that I didn’t have any cash.  He ran the card, but his demeanor was nasty and he had no reply or eye contact when I thanked him after the purchase.  I suppose he could have refused the sale.  That would have been ok; I didn’t have to have it right then and I can respect him wanting to make a profit.  But given his behavior, can you guess if I ever set foot in that store again?  Do you think I referred other customers to him?  There are other stores selling the same items who are happy to take my plastic regardless of the size of my purchase because they understand the bigger picture.  He was so focused on that sale and his profits on that sale that he lost site of the big picture of gaining a new customer, who would generate repeat business and possibly direct other potential customers his way.

So, getting back to my paying customer…  Sure, I could maybe make a repeat sale by saddling my ebook with DRM, but that’s not going to make for a happy repeat customer.  I’d rather they spend their money on getting another book, maybe even one of mine.  Retailers, some of them anyway, have certainly figured out that consumers don’t like DRM.  That’s why you can get DRM-free tracks in iTunesAmazon offers you the option of using DRM; Smashwords won’t even allow it.  If you lay down your hard-earned cash, you should be able to read it wherever and whenever you want.  It’s called Fair Use.  If you buy an epub and decide you want to convert it to read on your Kindle, that should be your right.  You shouldn’t have to repurchase.

Second, we have those readers who are not going to buy the ebook.  DRM is not going to stop them because someone is going to bypass it and post the now DRM-free ebook online.  If they can’t get mine for free, they’ll just read something else.  I’m not going to make sales off of these readers either with or without DRM.  Retail has a term for this:  shrinkage.  There’s going to be some theft of your products.  It’s a given in sales.  You can’t stop theft.  DRM is not going to stop theft.  Prosecution and legal threats are not going to stop it (or increase your fan base).  All you can hope for is that some of these folks eventually convert to paying customers.

Third, we have those readers who might buy my ebook.  Some of them may get it from a friend and not pay.  Since it’s not DRM-protected, it would be easy to share.  Some of them may do that with this ebook but decide to support me by then purchasing it or another.  Woo hoo, a paying customer!  Now, I could slap on some DRM.  They can’t get it from their friend.  They may or may not buy that ebook.  Maybe I’ve made a sale, maybe I haven’t.  If I haven’t, I likely haven’t made a customer, someone who might recommend me to his or her friends.  If I miss them on this ebook, I might miss them (and their friends) on future sales. 

Now, what if some of my potential customers are technically knowledgeable?  What if most of them are?  They know all about DRM and its implications.  They may refuse to purchase DRM-laden ebooks because they don’t want the hassle and the restrictions.  Or they may purchase them, even with the DRM, but they’re not happy about it.  Again, maybe I’ve made a sale, maybe I haven’t; I’m less likely to get repeat business from the DRM haters. And here’s a sobering thought.  What if the presence of the DRM ticks them off so much that they go out of their way to break the DRM and then post to every warez site they can think of?  Now, suddenly, there are pirated copies available everywhere and a lot more of those who might have been paying customers turn into non-paying readers.  Think that’s far fetched?  I’ve read comments and forum posts from people who make it their mission to punish those who use DRM.  I’ve also read ones from people who were on the fence but then decided to purchase to reward the content creator for not using DRM.

So, have I convinced you, or do you still think I’m crazy for passing on DRM?  If I’m crazy, I’m not alone.  Harry managed to do alright for himself without DRM when he made the jump to ebooks.  Book publisher Tor is dropping DRM from all of its ebooks.  What about piracy, you ask?  Brian, don’t you think leaving off the DRM will just make it that much easier and widespread?  Piracy is going to exist with or without DRM.  And pirates aren’t always in that second, non-paying camp. Sometimes they can be your best customers.  I think most people want to do the right thing.  If you provide a good product at a reasonable price without unreasonable restrictions, they’ll buy instead of steal it.  They’ll buy it to support the artist and to reduce their risk of picking up malware along with their warez copy.

So, no, I have no plans to use DRM.  DRM won’t stop my ebooks from being stolen.  Heck, I plan to give some away.  Can you really have your book and your name in front of too many eyes?  I don’t think so.  DRM could, however, drive away potential or previous customers.  At the very least, it could inconvenience them.  Not what I want to do.  I want to scoop up the customers who are turning away from the other ebooks that have been handicapped by DRM.

What do you think?  Am I wrong?  Am I right?  Let me know in the comments.  Thanks.

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