After three years of uneventful Kobo ownership, I have finally had to sit down with my mom and explain DRM to her. This is something she’s never had to worry about before because I’ve always gotten her books for her; the Kobo she has was initially my Kobo, and remains registered to my account. Whenever she’s wanted books, I’ve gotten them for her.
So, over the weekend, she told me there was a new book she wanted, a memoir self-published by a friend of hers. “Only one tiny problem,” she sheepishly admitted. “It’s only on the Kindle store. Is that going to be a problem?”
Well, yes. Sort of.
The official party line is that Kindle is Kindle, Kobo is Kobo and that’s that. My mother, to her credit, actually tried to solve this problem herself before she came to me, and she forwarded me an email exchange between her and the author friend where she basically said…
“Well, I have a Kobo, but it should be OK because my daughter can get it for me,” and the friend said, “Well, I don’t think she’ll be able to because these companies tend to lock up their stuff pretty tight.” And my mother wrote back that be that as it may, her daughter is very good with these things, and the friend wrote back and said maybe my mother could just buy the paperback…
I have a few problems with what’s happened here. And I know this is the world’s most common tale of DRM woe and not at all rare or special. But it’s still a problem (well, a few problems). And here they are:
1. To the author, I want to remind you that this is not about the companies locking up ‘their’ stuff. The companies are locking up YOUR stuff. Your friend wants to support you and buy your book. Why on earth would you want there to be barriers to that?
2. Without going into legal grey area particulars, let’s just say that my mother’s faith in me is not misplaced. So, why bother with the locking down anyway if people like me can get around it in under five minutes? And before you yell at me about piracy, I’ll assure you that you’ll still be getting paid for the book—just by me, the one who isn’t going to read it, instead of by my mother, who is your actual customer.
3. That also means that if you were smart enough to try and build a customer base here, and maybe email them with further updates, you’ll be targeting your missives to the wrong person. Wouldn’t it be easier—all around, for everyone—to just make your book available to be purchased by your actual customer in the first place?
I get that there are reasons people sell through Amazon—people like Konrath have written at length about juggling the freebie sales to optimize their take on a given book—but I suspect my mother’s friend just went with the simplest route without really understanding it. And she may be losing sales because of it.
I am not a sales expert by any means, but I do know that any time you have a customer on the other end of the conversation basically holding their money out to you and shouting, “Take me, please!” it’s bad business sense to not accept it.