Mike Shatzkin has published an interesting pair of posts to his blog talking about the commonly-held belief that DRM is supposed to prevent piracy. Shatzkin explains in the first post why he feels that this is actually a misconception, and that even if DRM does nothing to deter piracy, it can protect sales through preventing casual sharing.

Shatzkin refers to the O’Reilly interview with Brian O’Leary, with whom Shatzkin shares an office, about the effects of piracy on sales. He notes that O’Leary feels DRM is ineffective against preventing piracy, but it does prevent casual sharing.

I have no idea whether piracy helps sales or hurts them but, whatever it does, I can’t see how DRM prevents it. But I do think DRM prevents “casual sharing” (it sure stops me; and I think most people are more like me than they are like my friends who break DRM for sport) and I believe — based on faith, not on data — that enabling casual sharing would do real damage to ebook sales with the greatest damage to the biggest books.

In the second post, he presents the results of a discussion of these views with nine publishing execs and four powerful literary agents. Most of them seem to hold views similar to his own: that DRM is necessary to protect e-book sales, that it does not prevent piracy, and that the main benefit is that it prevents casual sharing.

Shatzkin notes one exec said that the only pirated e-book versions he’s found of books from his publisher had come from scanned paper, not DRM-cracked e-book files. Shatzkin wonders if the sales-effect difference between pirated and casually-shared books comes from the lower quality of scanned copies.

Pirated versions made from manuscripts can’t possibly be as satisfying reads as a jailbroken copy of a prepped ebook from the final copyedited version would be. Might some of the people who start reading a book with one of those switch over to buying the legitimate ebook? Might those posted copies be sales spurs that the publisher would be wiser not to take down? I don’t think we know.

He also suggests that DRM may become less important as e-books move away from “download and possess” to a more cloud-based, access-with-credentials distribution scheme.

Of course, he does quote the agents or execs who disagree with his position as well. One agent believes that casual sharing, while harmful to the biggest books, might actually serve better to promote smaller books because they need more readers to generate more word-of-mouth recommendations and hence more sales. The agent continues:

“On the smaller titles, I doubt that the ‘casual sharers’ would go out and buy the title but they might recommend it if they had sampled it. I know that many publishers are now giving away (or down-pricing) backlist titles of authors they hope to build. If there’s one lesson in all of this, it’s that the digital medium can be used in a variety of ways and we shouldn’t hamstring ourselves with DRM, except for the major authors as noted above.”

I have a few problems with Shatzkin’s point of view here. Most notably, I’m puzzled how he can honestly believe that casual sharing, in which one friend gives another friend a copy of an e-book he likes, can be more harmful than piracy, in which hundreds or thousands of random strangers can download the thing. If we assume that the same percentage of casual sharing recipients as downloaders chooses to read the book without ever buying anything else by that author, piracy should have a far more deleterious effect on sales. (Except no, wait—according to O’Leary’s research, it increases them!)

As Shatzkin points out, you can’t research the effects of casual sharing the way O’Leary did piracy—comparing sales before and after a book comes out on peer-to-peer sites. There is no way to tell how many times or when a book was casually shared privately between friends. You could do polls and surveys, of course, but nothing compels survey respondents to be honest about their sharing and purchasing habits.

But honestly, why should casual sharing harm sales if piracy helps them? Does something about someone telling a friend, “You really ought to read this, I think you’d like it” somehow compel them not to want to buy content they would otherwise have been inclined to if they downloaded it themselves instead?

And “casual sharing” of printed books has been going on from time immemorial. Even leaving aside public libraries, friends like to turn to friends and say, “Here, you should read this.” In fact, one of the big drawbacks print partisans find to e-books is that you can’t do that. The Nook’s and Kindle’s one-time e-book loan capabilities were an attempt to address this and make e-books more printed-book-like for consumers (even if the very idea of only being able to loan a book a single time for as long as you own it still falls short of any reasonable consumer expectation)—and perhaps the way that publishers and authors have been up in arms against those capabilities is another sign of how they feel about casual sharing.

Baen’s webscriptions, free library, and free promotional CDROMs are founded on the idea of promoting casual sharing, and they’re certainly not in any danger of going bankrupt. Indeed, they’ve found that giving their books away free and DRM-free significantly increased their paper sales. So did Cory Doctorow. The question remains just how this is going to affect overall sales as e-books start making up a greater and greater proportion of it, but so far Baen and Cory have not shown any signs of wanting to change.

And it remains to be seen how effective DRM is even against casual sharing. Sure, a lot of people may not know how to do it, but that just means others have to teach them how. As we mentioned the other day, Gizmodo has even posted a tutorial video in how to crack Kindle DRM, and other information about how to do it is not exactly hard to find. I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to “casually share” a DRM-protected e-book with a friend, I could do so without much difficulty. Of course, tech-savvy folks such as I are in the minority, but it’s becoming easier all the time.


  1. Apols for the long post…

    I really do not know how Mike and his publishing colleagues can continue to hold these views at this stage of the game. It really beggars belief for me. I am a member of Teleread.com web site where these subjects are explored regularly. On many occasions authors appear and commonly state, in an appalled fashion usually, that their title was pirated within 36 hours of it’s appearance ! They also quote the stats on the pirate sites claiming thousands if not millions of downloads.

    There is a fundamental difference between being pirated and being downloaded. Pirates (those who create the illegal copy and post it for downloading) can trawl for new titles on the web with automatic web trawlers and basically pirate everything and anything they chose. DRM is then removed by drag’n drop scripts and this is often built into their web site processes.

    Downloading is a completely separate process, carried out by ordinary users who visit Pirate sites and download the illegal copy.
    And as someone who managed an SME Web Design business for several years I can say categorically that chances that the the download numbers quoted on these sites are correct is less than the chances of winning the 100M dollar lottery. These download numbers are totally fictional and created by the Pirates to create the impression that they are successful and millions of people are downloading their pirated copies!

    In addition DRM can now be removed by easily obtained apps on our desktops. All a reader has to do is purchase the eBook legitimately, make a backup to their computer and drag each one onto a DRM-remover app icon. Bingo. Done. The outcome is that any averagely computer competent customer can have all of their eBooks DRM free in seconds to with whatever the chose.

    So lets revisit the 3 questions.

    Let me tackle Q 2 first. It is, I hope, self evident that DRM is NO barrier to Pirates who can effortlessly crack the DRM in seconds, uploading illegal copies of titles to be downloaded free to anyone. I am relieved that Mike and his colleagues agree. That three senior people in Publishing disagree is however quite shocking.

    Now that we have agreed that DRM is no barrier to having the eBooks Pirated and up on the web for ANYONE to download after a 5 second search on Google, let’s look at Q1 again. And in doing so I am interpreting the concept ‘protect against sales’, reasonably I believe, to suggest that it in some way it inhibits free, unpaid for, illegal copies being obtained by readers who would otherwise have to pay for them.

    Saying YES to Q1 infers that the person believes that readers/customers who do not have possession of the titles in question, are now less likely to either download these pirated copies because they were originally DRM’d, or that they are now less likely to acquire them from friends who have already done the dirty deed because they were DRM’d.

    I would seriously question the rationality of that point of view.

    Moving on to Q3. I believe this is a slightly more arguable point, but it is highly subjective to know what exactly ‘casual’ sharing means.

    What I would say is this – What is the significance of sharing as opposed to downloading when it comes to sales ? and why is it a distinction that matters ?
    After all if downloading illegal copies is so totally painless and if essentially EVERY paper book published in recent times will, within a very short time, be available on pirate sites – then why is sharing even necessary or a separate threat to sales ? This makes no sense to me at all and when I read statements like the frat party one which purports to come from an ‘executive’ in a publishing company my brain goes into meltdown. I am in the wrong business … I need to get into the Publishing business management!

    The ONLY people that DRM influences, and whom DRM ‘hurts’, are the computer illiterate reader and the reader who is so morally strict with himself that he feels bound by the DRM protection and the License condition. If anyone believes this is a significant portion of the population then god bless their sweet innocence is all I can say.

  2. I hadn’t really considered DRM as a mechanism to prevent casual sharing. In my case, it’s very effective in that regard since I’m not going to casually share something that I refuse to buy. Actually, I’ve purchased two books for my wife’s Nook because they were on sale at a drastically reduced price. Otherwise, the only books that I buy are DRM-free because I want to be able to move them between my Sony Reader, my wife’s Nook, my Mac, my iPod Touch, and my Android phone. I believe, very strongly, in supporting those who produce content (books, music, etc.) for my consumption, and I refuse to share what I buy, but I’m not going to buy stuff with DRM. As far as I’m concerned, DRM reduces sales and means less income for authors.

  3. The publishing industry knows that most trade book sales are made to people who are middle-aged or older.

    For those not in the business: trade books are the ones you might find in a general bookstore. Include all fiction and general interest non-fiction. This category is less than half of the total dollar volume of industry sales, but it’s what everyone thinks about when they talk about book publishing, and it’s where the pirates operate.

    Middle-aged people tend not to be very aware of or adept at dealing with pirate sites. But casual sharing? Absolutely, and cluelessly.

    If my assumptions are true, than you’re far, far more likely to find the trade book buyer thinking about sharing on the personal level than you are to find them “patronizing” a pirate, even as we shift to ebooks. This is yet another way in which books are different from music.

    In other words, Mike Shatzkin is probably right on that point. I could argue for his other points, too, but I’m already in danger of being verbose.

  4. This is going to sound pro-DRM. I’m not, but I can completely understand why the publishers are.

    On the numbers… there’s one big question. Who’s reading the book?

    The model is that books have no DRM. Let’s say the book sells 10,000 copies and each reader, on average, shares with one other person. What’s the likelihood that the one benefiting from the shared book will read it? What if they share it onward?

    Instead, the book has DRM but is pirated (at scan-quality). There are 100,000 downloads. Again, what’s the likelihood the downloader will read the book? What’s the likelihood that, the downloader will purchase the book?

    Then, let N be the number purchased, s be the likelihood of sharing (read copies only), P be the number of pirate downloads, r be the likelihood of reading (when pirating), and p be the likelihood of purchasing (a percentage of pirate readers included in N). Set the average book price at $10.

    Without DRM:
    $10 / (1+s+s^2+s^3+…)
    represents the revenue per copy read. Essentially, the price is shared across a percentage greater than the number of people who actually purchased the book.

    With DRM:
    $10 N / (N + Pr(1-p))
    represents the revenue per copy read. (We remove the number of pirate purchasers from the total number of pirate readers). Here, the price is shared across a virtually unknowable number of readers.

    (This may be over simplified, but let it be a first order look at DRM post-production revenue).

    This is clearly how the publishers are thinking… The problem is that it doesn’t show the whole system. Without DRM, readers benefiting from shared copies would not likely have purchased the book, but the number of shared copies will certainly go up.

    With or without DRM, the pirates will keep pirating. If pirate quality increases, the number of follow-up purchasers decreases. This is clearly bad for publishing.

    The trick is that pirate quality will certainly increase. The only possible thing preventing pirates from breaking DRM and releasing top quality is the initial purchase of the book. (And perhaps worry about some hidden identifying information?) With DRM-free sharing, pirates WILL receive a copy and will also have no qualms about sharing the copy to the world. Many of these will be new pirates who lacked the means before, leading to Napsteresque ebook sharing.

    Is DRM the right business decision? Yes. Does this tell the whole story? Heck no… but (from a business perspective) I don’t think we’re ready for a system where people only pay what they feel the work is worth.

    In my opinion, the right way to go is to change copyright law… but that discussion is well off topic.

  5. I agree with much of what Shatzkin says but I don’t think book publishers differentiate between casual sharing and piracy. It’s all piracy as far as they are concerned. I will though, for the sake of argument.

    It is absurd to say piracy has an effect on book sales. I’d be surprised if piracy costs any book sales. The people who pirate books aren’t going to buy them if they can’t pirate them. There certainly isn’t a one to one sales ratio to pirated books to lost sales. The people who pirate the books are not going to buy the book, ever, if they can’t pirate it, they’ll just do without it.

    Casual sharing could have an effect but it is probably negated by the borrower’s subsequent purchases when they find an author they really like and they discover that author through a book borrowed from a friend.

  6. I’m sure these publishers are sincere, but do they understand that the US government has authorized (at their industry’s urging) 5 year jail sentences and $100,000 fines for DRM circumvention activities? The US is also lobbying hard to extend the same draconian measures to the rest of the world. All this because the poor publishers think casual sharing might get out of hand?

  7. Book publishers haven’t learned from the music producers who went down this path years ago. The result is that today, you can purchase and download DRM-free music from almost any site, including Amazon. Yes, music is still pirated but most folks can just purchase the music and use it freely, just like we used to with albums and cassettes.

    “The people who pirate the books are not going to buy the book, ever, if they can’t pirate it, they’ll just do without it.”

    Exactly. There are ebooks that are priced far too high in my opinion given that they provide less value than physical books – no sharing, no selling, and no giving away. At first, I just purchased the physical books used or from our library sale ensuring that neither publisher or author would profit. It didn’t take long for me to no longer bother. Instead of reading those books in any format, I get free or low-cost indie books and read those instead. I sure don’t miss the bestsellers, in other words, I just do without. I could download them illegally, but why would I when there are many, many ebooks out there that are priced reasonably and provide a win-win for both author and reader?

    Instead of losing out to pirates and illegal downloads, traditional publishers will lose out to the indie author industry. There are many indie authors who are making a good living while selling their books for $.99 – $3.99, why would I even pay $9.99 for an ebook when I can get at least 3 books for the same amount?

    As they earn back their digital rights, smart authors will start publishing their backlists independently and discover that they do just as well or better without the middle man. It also creates a closer relationship between author and reader which generates more loyalty to that author.

    Publishers should be far more concerned with the thousands of international readers who can’t get ebooks through any legitimate means because of antiquated rights and licensing. These are people frustrated enough to seek out pirated copies of books. They can’t even get books that are free here in the US without paying at least $2 and many books aren’t available to them at all.

  8. He loses all credibility here: “Pirated versions made from manuscripts can’t possibly be as satisfying reads as a jailbroken copy of a prepped ebook from the final copyedited version would be. ”

    The key distinction between an amateur scan and a professional one is that once the OCR is done, the amateur goes through and manually corrects all the niggling OCR-introduced typos; the professional wraps the raw OCR output in DRM and sells the result for ten bucks.

  9. I agree that it reduces casual sharing for a large percentage of the reading public. It also inoculates the viral marketing that happens as a result of the casual sharing. It also devalues the potential price for an ebook because those readers learn to have no confidence that they’ll be able to read the books they buy (beyond 6 months). It also reduces sales of ebooks because when a best seller comes out those people won’t buy it “because they’ll read it eventually”, they’ll only buy books when they are ready to read them.

    I firmly believe it’s a net loss to the publishing industry.

  10. I’ve been saying that for some time re DRM. No one would ever suggest that someone who purchases a book (or music album) would not have the right to lend, trade or give it away. This to me is the main reason why DRM will fail.

    I’m not so sure why everyone gets so upset over piracy. I think the average person really just wants things to be inexpensive and easy to find/use. Most people’s computer skills stop well short of piracy.

  11. The first ebooks I discovered in the dim and distant past were drm free. I spent far too much money and totally loved my problem free books. No problems sharing on my kindle or iphone cause they didn’t exist then. Then some other publishers came alone and did titles with drm. I wasn’t sure what that drm stuff was but hey I really wanted the books so I installed the software and carried on buying. Then I upgraded my computer. The drm’ed books wouldn’t open. Adobe couldn’t help neither did the site I brought them from. Some books I brought again. Then I discovered that drm could be broken. Pretty soon I discovered that people were sharing books that they had removed the drm from. Soon I wasn’t spending quite so much money on those drm’ed books any more. If I hadn’t gone out looking for a way to be able to read drm’ed books I brought in the first place and been annoyed that I’d paid for books I could no longer access that publisher would have had a lot more of my money.

    With publishers like Harper Collins who recently shut their ebook store with no notice, every thing is roses until customers can no longer access their books unless they strip the drm from them.
    Drm turns all us readers into pirates if we want to keep our books

  12. It certainly has not reduced casual sharing in MY family! Of the family members who might possibly share booms with me, the only one who does not k ow how to crack the drm is my mother, and I buy all the books for her on MY kobo account—so she has it on the kobo (which is still registered to me) and I technically have it on my iPad or other device. My sister and I sometimes read the same books, but many of these come from the library where we both can get them legit, and in the rare case where our tastes intersect and there is no library copy, we both know how to make suitable arrangements 🙂

  13. When we say that DRM is easily circumvented, I believe that we are referring exclusively to Adobe DRM. Has Apple’s DRM been equally nullified yet? I haven’t yet seen the drag & drop solution for Apple’s “Fair Play” DRM. Please set me straight if I am wrong on this point.

  14. Mark said:
    It is absurd to say piracy has an effect on book sales. I’d be surprised if piracy costs any book sales. The people who pirate books aren’t going to buy them if they can’t pirate them. There certainly isn’t a one to one sales ratio to pirated books to lost sales. The people who pirate the books are not going to buy the book, ever, if they can’t pirate it, they’ll just do without it.

    I disagree strongly. It’s obvious that many people who download pirate copies would never shell out money for the book. It’s equally obvious that some of them would have.

    Of course, some of the people who read a copy that they didn’t buy (casually shared without permission, legitimately loaned, or pirated).

    So, will the number of people who buy after reading be bigger or smaller than the number who buy only if they can’t find a free copy?

    I suspect that this balancing act will be different for different books, and I’m certain that it’s different for the various kinds of books — academic, professional, reference, scientific/technical/medical, el-hi, niche non-fiction, general non-fiction, fiction (adult, YA, genre or literary).

    The blanket pronouncements are often a sign of narrow thinking or lack of familiarity with the publishing landscape.

  15. Although this discussion centers on the investment returns to publishers and authors, the DRM issue is actually much broader than that. The encumbering of text, images and, now, audio and video nullifies many of the more important advantages of digital content. For example, researchers and reviewers seeking to programmatically analyze text found in one book or a definable set of books are effectively prevented from doing so.

  16. To all (but specifically Joanna as she admitted to it):

    Let’s say you crack the DRM on an eBook or purchase a non-DRM’d eBook and share the file with “friends and family” while keeping a copy of the eBook on your computer. How many shared copies would it take for you to start feeling bad about the “sharing”? 10? 100? 1000? I’m legitimately curious as to where people think the “line” is. Thanks.

    As for me, I’m not quite sure where my “line” is, but here are some thoughts. My decision regarding sharing is probably more dependent on the person’s relationship is to me rather than a particular number, but I do think that after I shared it about 10 times I’d start thinking that I’d done something wrong. Even though there might be a strong possibility of turning someone into a fan of the author and that person buying copies, I’m not it’s enough of an argument to copy a book for “friends” past 10 times. So I guess an another quetsion is this: at what point would you stop sharing and start gifting an eBook? Thanks.

  17. It seems that everyone is basically preaching to the choir here. DRM is at best absolutely meaningless. The only thing it does is provide a little “security” blankie the publishing execs can suck on at night to help them sleep.

    Some argue that the average middle-aged and older individuals don’t have the know how or interest in stripping out DRM but there are 2 fallacies with that argument:
    1. You need to look at your future customers – the younger people – the ones that not only find it incredibly easy to strip off DRM, but also the ones who, having grown up facing the current politics regarding media, don’t really care about piracy.
    2. DRM removal has become ridiculously easy. People who strip DRM used to be able to install python and use command-line scripts. That took a bit of tech knowledge. Now all you need is to drag the file onto an icon – done. I know someone who is in their 80’s who does this now. All she does is download her DRM book and then drop it on the DRM removal icon on her desktop and then she no longer needs to worry about losing her book to future software/hardware changes.

  18. Anon—well, I said I *could* but not specifically that I *did” 🙂 Anyway, to answer your question, I guess for me, I view it as if the book were paper. For example, I have a key to my mother’s apartment. I could go over there at any time, borrow anything I wanted, and she wouldn’t care. I’m going there today to do some chores for her while she’s out of town, and I might poach a cookbook while I’m over there since I think she has one with a recipe I need. Now, I would not take this cookbook and go re-sell it on the street, or loan it out to others, necessarily. But among family? Sure. Same with my sister. She would happily loan me any of her paper books if I wanted them, so what’s the difference, from a moral standpoint? To me, there is none.

    Fwiw I asked at Mobile Read what people thought about the Kobo situation, and they all said that I was perfectly within my rights. Mom’s Kobo has never even been plugged into her own computer—she charges it with a wall charger and when she wants more books, she loans me the physical Kobo and I load them on with my computer, then give her back the physical Kobo, which is technically still registered to me. She just has an irrational phobia of buying the books herself. Technically, I could read the books too since they are on my Kobo account, but the two she has asked for so far don’t really interest me, so I haven’t.

    As for my dad, he pretty much only reads classics, so I have no issues sharing with him 🙂 If anybody really wants to fight him over his e-copy of the diary of Samual Pepys, they are more than welcome to go to Gutenberg and get their own 🙂

  19. Mark – I think you are so right when you write “The only thing it does is provide a little “security” blankie the publishing execs can suck on at night to help them sleep.”

    I wonder though how they don’t realise the major irritating factors that are beginning to face readers of DRM’s eBooks ? Changing eReader or PC causing the loss of eBooks. The long list of publishers going out of business causing complete loss of their eBooks. Who is next ? How do we know we will have our eBooks next year ?

    It seems to me to be a security blankie that is causing slow and steady lead poisoning …

  20. @anon – you raise very good points. I can’t answer for everyone, but for myself, I only share e-books with my spouse. My belief is that I don’t want to share the purchased digital media outside of my household’s firewall and I know my spouse isn’t going to pass it on. We treat e-books like a book inside our home sitting on the counter/bookshelf. This is even less sharing than I did with physical copies. With physical copies, I would often give them to extended family and friends.

  21. There have not yet been any viable suggestions about how publishers and/or authors might make money other than by selling copies.

    Some revenue is lost (and yes, we know it’s not one-for-one) to piracy. If piracy becomes too common, the sales volume will drop enough that prices per copy must rise, and eventually, we’ll go into a death spiral.

    No one puts locks on things that don’t get stolen. When copies aren’t being shared hither and yon, DRM will vanish. No one, publishers included, likes it.

    Think you can’t share legitimately? That’s not true. Anyone can share copies legitimately on the Kindle, on the Nook, and in some other systems. Most books from most publishers have that option enabled.

    The loan does expire in short time, though. So the person you loan it to has to actually read it quickly, once you give it to them, and if they want to keep the copy permanently, they need to buy it.

    Anyone can legitimately read their Kindle books on any device they own (up to 6, IIRC), and share without limits within the family (family is defined as people you trust with access to your credit cards).

    Sharing a printed book means you don’t have more than one copy. When it’s on loan, you don’t have it.

    Illicit sharing schemes for ebooks mean that you are usurping the publishers’ and authors’ rights to control the copying. (–Copy–right, it’s even in the name.)

    Publishers aren’t stupid. Stupid people may occasionally get a job in the business, but they don’t last very long at all.

    Publishing people aren’t evil. They’re not in it for the money (there isn’t much — read the latest salary surveys, or my sample P&Ls on my blog). They do this because they love books even more than you do.

    I know I’m whistling into the wind. But I hope you’ve read this anyway, if only to pick it apart. Maybe some of it will stick.

  22. @Marian – How is it obvious? Your veiled ad-hominem notwithstanding, yours is ever bit a blanket pronouncement as mine. At least what I said aligns with the conventional wisdom and isn’t just wishful thinking that sounds like it came straight from a publisher’s public relations office. And no, I am not in the publishing business but, if anything, that makes me more qualified to speak on the matter.

  23. Some interesting points Marion. It sounds as though you are closer to the publishing minds than many of us are. I was wondering if those in publishing you know actually think DRM does anything? You mentioned that it is supposed to be a lock, but I believe the lock is completely defective.

    If you google DRM removal of ebooks, you can find drag and drop scripts that will remove the DRM easier than adding an attachment to email or even texting your friends on your smartphone. Really, it is ridiculously easy to remove ALL types of DRM. This would imply to me that the DRM lock is faulty and thus useless.

    In reality, all DRM does is make honest customers unhappy by:
    1. making it much harder for them to upgrade their technology or change to a slight different hardware (ie changing your e-reader from a sony to a kindle)
    2. making the customers jump through extra hoops to buy books when they get confused in the e-retailers about which book has what DRM and whether they can buy it there or whether they need to go to a different website
    3. making the customers jump through extra hoops to “register” each device they own and want to read a DRM’d book on (ADE is nasty for this)

    I think DRM doesn’t stop pirates, sharers, or anyone else for getting or giving e-books. It has just become too easy to do so DRM or not. If you want more sales, then make it easy and available (georestrictions) at a decent price (ie not $15 for a 15 year old novel) to customers. Just my 2 cents worth (and no DRM on this writing either).

  24. @Mark:

    I apologize for what seemed like an ad hominem attack. I’m not all that great a writer, and must have let an unintentional offense slip through. And you’re also right that I made blanket statements. It’s hard for all of us to avoid without sacrificing either clarity or brevity.

    I said that it was obvious that some people who downloaded free copies would have bought one if they couldn’t get it free, and that it was equally obvious that many people would not.

    Are you maintaining that NO ONE who grabs a free copy of an ebook would EVER consider buying one if they couldn’t get a free one? No one? Ever?

    I have heard it said that many people in the downloading community accumulate books as trophies and have no intention of ever reading most of them. I think we can agree, the vast majority of those downloads are not lost sales. But even in that community, I suspect that a tiny minority have been known to buy ebooks once in a while, and would buy one by a favorite author, if that was the only way to get it.

    And, as I think we’d both agree, that’s not the only, or even the largest, group of people acquiring ebooks. There are millions of e-readers in the hands of people of all stripes (and some who are dotted? No? Maybe just dotty . . . ) out there. (Just checking to see if you’re still with me.)

    Many of those millions are not in the traditional ebook community, or heavily involved in piracy. Most are just garden variety readers, who may have arthritis, or are frequently on the go, and like the ease of using ebooks. Some of them never download illicit copies (like me). Some do occasionally, but won’t go out of their way to do it. Some don’t know the difference. And a fair number know what’s legit and not, but download illegitimate copies a lot.

    Many of the garden-variety readers are quite happy to get free books (like me!), but will pay when necessary. And the group that downloads illegitimate copies is not monolithic. I suppose that it is possible that no one who downloads illegitimate copies ever buys books, or that if they do buy books, they would never buy one just because they couldn’t find it for free, but I think that it fails the “reasonability” test.

    People DO buy ebooks. And some of those people DO download illegitimate copies. I can’t wrap my head around any other conclusion than that SOME (maybe small) fraction of the downloaded books would have been sales if the pirate copies weren’t out there.

  25. @MarkChan:
    I hope that I’m closer to publishers’ thinking than most readers are. I’ve been in the business for more than 20 years. And I’m one of those dreaded bean-counting MBA types, too, worse luck!

    When I used the analogy of a lock, I was thinking of something like the locks on your car. They don’t even slow down a serious thief. And we all know that. And we can certainly leave our keys in the car, and trust our neighbors. In some places, that’s still pretty common.

    But the nitwitted teenager down the block going for a joyride is going to have a little more trouble, and might just be given pause by the need to hot-wire an ignition. We lock our cars because sometimes it stops someone who’s silly, but basically honest.

    Similarly for DRM. No one in any part of this conversation expects serious pirates to be stopped by any type of DRM. For trade e-books, the light levels that are part of some ebooks are just there as a signpost — this is not yours to take. Yes, you can crack it, but you shouldn’t.

    Everyone involved would like to see practical DRM that didn’t get in the way of readers’ legitimate desires to do backups, move copies from one device to another, and so on. Recent developments seem to be coming closer to that goal, at least.

    And everyone involved would love to see a world where that sign wasn’t necessary. If you really don’t like DRM, get out there and preach a little moderation and respect for the right of authors to make some money from their work.

  26. @Marion, first, thank-you for joining our conversation on this topic. It is really nice to hear from someone in your position about these issues. I am on the opposite end of the book chain in that I am probably the ideal book customer since I purchase hundreds of dollars per year in reading materials – I am a serious reader who has many more years of purchasing left. I don’t consider myself a “pirate” but I do strip off all the DRM any of the books I buy (this is legal in the country I live in – it’s considered fair use). So your analogy of a car lock or thief doesn’t work for me. I understand the point behind your analogy, but it still doesn’t work from my perspective.

    From my perspective, a car thief is committing a serious crime when stealing a car. His/her whole purpose in breaking the lock of the car is to steal it or something inside the car. This can be, but is not exclusively the purpose of someone who circumvents the digital DRM locks. For example, I strip off or circumvent DRM’d ebooks for several reasons:

    1. I have had DRM’d books I purchased previously suddenly disappear either because the company I bought them from became insolvent or the distributor (overdrive in my case) lost the distribution rights to the books after I bought them. In both cases, I lost access to the original files other than the copies that were on my computer. When I upgraded my computer, the DRM software could no longer register those files and I could no longer read them despite purchasing them.

    2. I have changed reading devices over the years (palm, winCE, adobe epub devices, kindle). When going from any of these devices to another, you can NOT transfer the books previously purchased due to DRM. I disagree with this and no longer trust any company that says they have solved this. Kobo and Kindle have come the closest to solving this, but their solutions are not as universal as a DRM free file since both companies do not support all devices/OS due to format fighting business practices. My stripped DRM ebook will always be available to me on any computer or device I use or will use in the future (as long as I make sure I back-up said book).

    Your analogy (where the dealership/car maker = publisher/author; DRM = car lock; and car = book) would work for me if once I purchased my car, the dealer would give me the key to opening the door and use of the car – this key will always work even if the dealership goes under or changes the type of locks on future cars. It won’t matter what the dealership does, I will always have a working key for the car I bought. Furthermore, if I change the tires, windows, lights, engine, paint job, or drive off the road, on a gravel road, in a different country, or let it sit in the driveway, I will still be able to use the key and the car.

    Even in this situation, the analogy still has it weaknesses for us both since any analogy is often difficult to match perfectly, but I think you do understand some of the issues that bother me, the end customer (let’s leave out the argument that publishers customers are distributors/retailers, not readers) in that you mention that “practical DRM” is the end goal. I can only ask that people in your position evaluate whether you are similar to the music business, or truly different. If somewhat similar, why can’t you move to DRM free media files as your “practical DRM”. I am sure you or someone you knows has an iPod or iTunes account with purchased music on it. In that case, you or your acquaintance has bought DRM free music which would have been easily “pirated”. What kept you from pirating it? Probably the same concepts/beliefs that would keep readers from pirating DRM free e-books. If this is the case, then selling DRM free e-books would save you the costs of DRM and also make more money by selling to all those people that can’t use DRM files or won’t buy them.

  27. @MarkChan,
    Thanks for the welcome.

    Your concerns are all valid, and ones that bother many people on my side of the business. I sympathize completely. And I hope that future versions of mild-DRM will have a work-around for most of them, if we remain stuck with DRM at all. (And the analogy of the lock does have flaws. Although, of course, anyone who has ever locked him or herself out of a car knows that locks, too, can be annoying!)

    And I’m sure you know that many publishers issue books DRM-free by preference, and where ever the store/device combination allows. (I do for the books I publish, for example.)

    The decision is usually based upon a combination of factors:
    –Who reads our books, and how likely are those readers to pirate/download pirated copies INSTEAD of buying?
    –Of those who read illicit copies, how many will go on to buy some sort of copy legitimately?
    –How many readers will be bothered by this particular version of DRM while engaged in legitimate uses?
    –How much does the DRM itself cost?

    In other words: what do we lose, what do we gain, and how does this really impact the majority of our readers?

    Every publisher has to answer this question for every type of ebook.

    Quite frankly, the analogy to the music business is pretty poor on many levels, but especially so when you look into the numbers involved. Fixed costs per copy sold, variable costs, royalties paid, size of audience for a typical “product,” and the list goes on.

    Bean counters may be only one notch above criminals in the popular culture, but trust me, numbers really do speak very clearly when it comes to looking at things we’d all rather not see. (Which is, after all, one reason why we tend to be loathed!)

  28. @Marion, again thank-you for your thoughts and coments (and so pleasantly provided as well). I do know about DRM free publishers and e-retailers and much of my purchasing is directed towards them (ie. baen, fictionwise, carina). We only buy about 10 DRM titles per year which is less than 7% of our reading materials. It is interesting to hear that you find the music media so different in terms of a business. Perhaps if you had some spare time, you could write a guest posting to Paul/Chris detailing the differences in terms of factors you mentioned above since the comparison is often used. It would be an interesting conversation.

  29. @bothofyou…

    The Car analogy is broken. The car thief steals someone else’s car. The “nitwitted teenager” is breaking into someone else’s car. If the car didn’t have locks, they’d be free to take it. Most of us don’t share out our entire computer, at least we assume some amount of protection.

    The problem is, once a car is purchased, it is owned (forget about leases – it’s never a good deal). Some license of use is associated with digital content. The legality of this is certainly a question – and has been questioned extensively when it comes to resale and fair use.

    Personally, I consider digital content “owned.” If I buy a physical book, I own the book. I don’t own the content, but I’m free to do whatever I like with it for my own use and the use of my family. If I wanted to make 1000 copies that never left my possession, that’s not a problem. With digital content it’s the same. I am free to modify, copy, and even share (amongst my close family and friends) this content. DRM prevents this, thus I’m free to break it (regardless of law – we’re talking about implicit rights, not legal ones).

    It’s easy to do. Breaking DRM will always be possible. You can’t encrypt something for someone to use without giving that person the ability to remove the encryption. Using the media involves decrypting it. It’s not a broken lock… it’s a broken concept.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.