Monday, May 24, 2010

DRM Free

I hate DRM.

For the uninitiated, Digital Rights Management is a catchall term for technology that restricts usage of something a customer buys.

For example, let's say a person buys an ebook and wants to make a copy of it, or change the format, or use it on more than one device. DRM prevents them from doing that.

This annoys customers, me included. If I legally purchase a print book, I can do what I want with it. But if I buy an ebook, I'm stuck with using it on one specific device forever. I can't lend it out. I can't make a back-up copy. I can't put it on a different ereading device.

Companies try to explain their limitations by stating that users don't actually own the ebook they bought. They simply own a license to use it it.

Yeah, that explanation sounds fishy to me as well. Why should I have any restrictions at all on something I bought? Especially if the format changes?

I've bought the same movie as many as four times in different formats. VHS, laserdisk, DVD, and BluRay. I don't want to do the same with ebooks.

And I'm not the only one. A lot of customers fear--justifiably so--that if they buy the wrong ereader, the ebooks they buy for it will be worthless. HD DVD anyone?

So the thing for publishers to do, to encourage ebooks and ereaders and satisfy their customers, is to get rid of DRM.

I approached Amazon, the publisher for Shaken, about this issue. I really wanted this book to be released at a low price, and without DRM.

They listened to me about the low price. Shaken is coming out as an ebook for $2.99.

And they also listened about DRM.

I'm proud to say that Shaken will be DRM-free.

This is a very big deal. It's also the way of the future.


Unknown said...

Wow! Good for you for standing your ground. said...


Don't you (and anyone else who publishes content on amazon) already have the choice of choosing "DRM free" as you publish for Kindle?

There are two options currently on, one of them saying "no DRM."

I have not used it for my books, but i assumed it was already available. Or not?

Gabriela Popa

Mark Terry said...

I agree. For the non-tech-savvy (or lazy) everyday person, DRM's a pain in the ass. For thieves and the tech-savvy, DRM's just something to work around. DRM alienates the wrong people.

baileythebookworm said...

Awesome! I'm glad to hear companies are slowly starting to listen to authors/consumers about DRM.

Ellen Fisher said...

Good for Amazon for listening to you, both on DRM and on price. Most publishers won't:-).

Erin said...

Thank you! I recently discovered your blog, and am hoping that your experiments can convince other authors move toward more forward-minded publishers (or self-publish), and maybe even convince some of the major publishers to think about how they can make things better instead of fighting the digital movement.

Zoe Winters said...

I like how Mark puts it, that DRM alienates the wrong people.

@Gabriela, yes you can choose no DRM, but Joe was being "published by" AmazonEncore for Shaken, but self-publishing "with," so Amazon being the actual publisher in this case, could have insisted on DRM.

Zoe Winters said...

*NOT self-publishing with, not "but" gah.

Anonymous said...

Joe I fully agree. Although in UK you can't sell a printed book on, in any other binding than the it was in when you bought it.
presumably to stop the bulk buying and re-binding, for resale. (Mind t=you these days that probably wouldn't be cost effective anyhow.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree. Although in UK you can't sell a printed book on, in any other binding than the one it was in when you bought it.

Presumably to stop the bulk buying and re-binding, for resale. (Mind you these days that probably wouldn't be cost effective anyhow.

Paul Bishop said...

Go, Joe! You're leading the charge . . .

Terry Odell said...

Two of my publishers give the buyer a choice of formats, but that still doesn't help if you decide to buy a different reader. I've still got my eBookwise, so I'm limited in what I can buy for it.

But I'm still waiting for the one-size fits all option.

However, I can understand some reluctance to make the books too accessible--people think nothing of offering countless people copies of an e-book, thinking that if they paid for it, they can distribute it (or re-sell it) at will.

With a print book, if I lend it, I no longer have it.

Carl said...

Great, but...

I may be DRM free, but it is still in Kindle's proprietary format, only readable by an actual Kindle or one of Amazon's Kindle apps (and still no Kindle App for Windows Phone).

So this doesn't really solve the "choosing the wrong format" dilemma, although you are probably safe choosing Kindle format.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

This isn't directly about DRM (which I also loathe and think is futile)--but PW mentions Shaken and agent responses--I love that Sterling Lord chap's comments--let's see who we remember longer, him or JA Konrath. In fact, I've already forgotten his name...


Zoe Winters said...

@Scott, That agent's reply looked like sour grapes to me. "How dare someone think they don't need the traditional system that pays my light bill!" *insert lots of spluttering and elitist BS here*

Meh. I think Joe will really break out with this.

E-pub IMO is the future. The people who do really well in it are tomorrow's name authors.

Luke said...

Great Article, Scott, thanks for posting it.

"let's see who we remember longer, him or JA Konrath. In fact, I've already forgotten his name..."

It's Ira Silverberg. I'm not sure if he's the same Ira Silverberg that worked at Serpent's Tail or not, but if he is, the last thing he has to worry about is being remembered.

But that doesn't matter. What's important in this article is that it exposes a weakness in Joe's deal with Amazon and what it means for traditional publishing.

The article points out that all Joe is doing is publishing a book no one else wanted, and one he probably would've self published on his own anyway. Yes, it's part of an established series by a traditionally published author so it makes for great press, but this article basically defangs the idea that it's a game changer.

If multiple publishing houses were fighting for the book and Joe turned them down to go with Amazon, THAT would be big, earth shattering news. Instead, it's just yet another example of a writer self publishing a book no one else was interested in buying.

The article also touched on an interesting point. Instead of witnessing the death of traditional publishing, maybe what we're looking at a different publishing structure where epublishing becomes a place where struggling mid-list writers like Joe can go and keep publishing instead of being cut loose like they would've been a few years ago. Sort of like the minor leagues in baseball. If so, this is great news for everyone.

One things for sure, after the news today about the huge jump in ebook sales and the profits the traditional publishers are making off these books. It's safe to say Traditional publishing is going to be around for a long time to come.

Anonymous said...

I just read the articles on PW. Joe is apparently the new "it" boy of self-publishing. What a quote.

The article with the Sterling Lord guy was all sour grapes. Yeah, your print sales are less-- so are everybody else's. They can keep ignoring ebooks while Joe keeps cashing his checks.

My husband and I are buying a new car today with cash. My royalties are allowing us to do that. I'm not rich, but I'm making real money self publishing. REAL money; without an agent or a traditional publisher.

Ellen Fisher said...

I don't understand that agent's comments at all. How is Konrath's deal with AmazonEncore a "scheme"? Publishing through AmazonEncore is NOT self-publishing, despite the repeated suggestion that it is in articles such as these. It's just another publishing deal, albeit one with a couple of unusual features, and as such I don't see why any agent would be snotty about it.

Moses Siregar III said...

One things for sure, after the news today about the huge jump in ebook sales and the profits the traditional publishers are making off these books. It's safe to say Traditional publishing is going to be around for a long time to come.

On one end of the spectrum, there's the notion that esales will make it much harder for bookstores to remain viable, and will eat into the traditional publishing portion of the pie, in the form of more readers buying a greater percentage of their books from independent authors.

On the other end, there's the scenario that as ebooks become an even bigger phenomenon, it will just plain make people buy more books, both in e and in print.

If the truth is somewhere in the middle, then traditional publishing will probably do just fine. My biggest concern with traditional publishing is if bookstores start failing as people move onto buying too much from online sources, as well as (and especially now) directly from their ereading devices.

But that scenario may not unfold *if* people start buying more books in print, and in bookstores, as the ebook explosion keeps occurring. Yes, print sales have been down in general, but that trend *might* reverse if reading becomes cool again.

Will ebooks help, hinder, or have a more or less neutral effect on print sales as the years go by?

Zoe Winters said...

@C. Pinheiro,

That's great! (re: your financial success)

Eric Christopherson said...

Luke, Joe was open about his book "Shaken" being rejected in NY from the get-go, and this fact was repeated in the Shatzkin blog, so no new news there.

I believe you're right though that traditional publishing will continue to exist for a long time. Too bad they'll have to cut the workforce in half (or worse) to deal with pricing pressures caused by the proliferation of ebooks, Amazon as alternative publisher, and other factors.

JA Konrath said...

The PW article had some errors and omissions. I'll respond to it later. :)

Moses Siregar III said...

I just did some math on the AAP monthly numbers.

Ebooks' percentage of total sales, starting with March and then going back:

March: 6.2%
February: 5.9%
January: 3.9%
December: 1.3% (it said 19.1 million out of 1.5 billion)
November: 2.3%
October: 2.5%
September: 1.3%
August: 0.9%

What's interesting is that this doesn't have any iPad sales yet, since that started in April. The April figures next month will give us the first glimpse of the iBooks/iPad impact. If there is a decent impact from Apple (and then Google), ebooks could potentally reach at least 10% of publishers' book sales by the end of the year, since they are around 6% right now.

HOWEVER, these stats don't include figures from independent authors. That means that, for example, Joe's independently released ebooks on Amazon are not included in percentages like the above. The above percentages are those given by *publishers.* None of the indies are included in it.

And a year ago, Amazon said that 35% of the sales on any given book were on the Kindle edition of the book, whenever a book was available in both Kindle and paper formats.

And that 6% figure is out of a base of categories that includes University Press, higher ed, K-12, and scholarly.

So really, the current 6% figure of publisher's sales is probably lower when compared to actual reading percentages, certainly of fiction. Ebooks may be 6% of publishers' overall income, but a higher percentage of books being read are ebooks.

OTOH, is the agency model pricing really depressing ebook sales? Hard to say, because ebook sales are still very much increasing for publishing houses, but what would ebook sales be if ebooks were priced lower? Maybe even better (I have to think so, since a recent study done by showed that 93% thought that an ebook was too high at a price of around $11.20).

Moses Siregar III said...

Also the percentage of growth in ebook sales declined a bit in February and March, compared to January. When did the agency model pricing start on ebooks?

Anonymous said...

@ C. Pinheiro, when you said you were buying a car in cash on your royalties, did you mean the other books you publish by other authors at your publishing company too?

The (Tim) O'Reilly Factor
'PW' talks with the iconic technologist, publisher, and Tools of Change conference organizer about old habits, new directions, and, of course, Google.
By Andrew Richard Albanese

Laurence MacNaughton said...

But does anybody have any solid sales figures for DRM vs. non-DRM titles? Are there any concrete numbers to back that up?

Anonymous said...


I don't really understand your question? Almost all my books have co-authors-- it's a type of peer review for taxation subject matter. The co-authors all get a percentage of each book sale. Since tax law changes every year, the books are updated and the co-authors review and contribute every year.

Eliza Gayle said...

As a reader and a writer I am annoyed by DRM to no end but as an employee of an online ebookstore it makes me want to pull my hair out and scream.

Every single day customers who want to legitimately buy and read ebooks give up because they are so frustrated.

I have said more than once that every employee at a publishing house should be required to purchase and download DRM books from multiple sellers to see for themselves exactly what they are doing to the readers.

If you own a kindle and you only buy from Amazon it can be pretty easy. But if you own a different reader and/or read on your computer and you have never downloaded a DRM book before, you are in for a huge surprise.

Even I don't like to venture into the DRM waters if I don't have to and I understand how it works pretty well.

JA Konrath said...

I just blogged about PW. ;)

Unknown said...

I whole heartedly endorse your taking this book non-drm.

DRM only hurts honest people anyway and hurting your paying customer just encourages them to become non-paying customers.

When ever I get into a discussion with anyone about the ebook industry, DRM or Pirating media I point them to your blog.

William Stanley

David H. Burton said...

This is great news! Congrats!

I'd like to see more authors have this option.

I ran a poll awhile ago and what surprised me is how savvy e-readers have become. Around 25% of them refused to even buy an ebook if it has DRM. Glad to hear they can buy yours!!

Anonymous said...

I started out with reading e-books by Baen. None of them have DRM. Next I bought all the books of Steve Jordan, also not broken by DRM. Now I have JA Konrath and have bought several of his books, downloaded this free stuff and have read quite a few. Most of the books I buy are DRM free except for the free ones on Amazon, which even though they are crippled with DRM, they are worth the price... nothing. I use Calibre to convert any books from the format I have to the format I need, as long as they are not crippled with DRM. I do not understand why an author would be willing to pay to have a system attached to his book that makes it less valuable to the buyer. Paranoia? Baen has been doing this for over 10 years and they are still in business.

Mark Bacon said...

It seems to this writer that avoiding DRM makes sense, BUT let's not forget why this came about. Copyright was easy to protect in a completely print world. Today there's and other torrent sites where you can download hundreds--thousands--of books without a cent going to the author or the publisher. I think the concept of copyright as we know it is--sad to say--fading fast.