This post was prompted by the complaints of a friend on Facebook about the DRM on a review copy of an ebook he had been sent to cover. Not a fan of ebooks at the best of times, he was driven to protest long and hard about the struggles he had been put to to actually open and read the book. I’ve had similar and worse experiences.

piracyOne leading publisher responded to a request for a review copy for TeleRead by sending me a download link, which, after an involved login procedure, prompted me to install Adobe Editions on my device. This is a platform I never use for ereading. Yet the publisher is asking me to mess with my own system to reassure them. And it’s not as though the final production copy will be limited to Adobe either – if the publisher wants significant sales, that is.

A smaller, and evidently less experienced, independent publisher tried a different approach. Their lawyer sent me a draft agreement requiring me not only to undertake not to share or distribute the review copy, but also to delete it after reading. (Shades of the CIA.)

I wrote back to that publisher, protesting. They apologized and said that this kind of policy was being foisted on them by the concerns of their authors. But needless to say, both books remain unreviewed. And until their publishers change their policies, they won’t be.

Many, many other publishers don’t do anything so silly. They send review copies in a range of formats, without DRM, and don’t impose any restriction on their use.Presumably because they know that a reviewer who wants to keep his or her fixes coming, let alone his or her income flow or job, is going to keep a tight hold on those review copies, never mind the less selfish motive of actually sticking to professional standards. And if the publisher or their authors do have some concerns, well I’m sure a reviewer would not be offended by a ‘review copy’ watermark. After all, pre-publication proof copies were legion in the halcyon days of traditional print publishing. And what possible financial incentive is there for reviewers (or anyone) to share ebooks? None.

Yes, a very few other publishers have no ebook review copies available at all. They are missing out on one increasingly important review channel, but that’s their lookout. However, I respectfully don’t buy the line that publishers are having draconian review copy control policies foisted on them by authors and agents. It’s up to the publishing houses to institute proper ebook review policies. I doubt there’s many other areas where a publisher would defer to their authors’ dicta about rights and marketing policies, after all. Meantime, the argument makes a handy cover for the publisher’s own uncertainties on the issue.

Advice to publishers? Forget it. DRM is controversial and unpopular enough as it is, without bringing it into the equation with a tiny audience who can actually deliver value to authors and publishers, whose ebook consumption can be absolutely tracked and monitored, and who have a professional obligation to respect fair use requirements. Why, once again, are you alienating legitimate readers?