Book Publishing and DRM

November 29, 2009

Mike Shatzkin once again nails a tough topic with his blog posting, “Some thoughts about piracy.” DRM remains a tough subject for all, be they music, film, periodical or book publishers. Of course each face the challenge in somewhat different ways, both by dint of economics and because of practical realities.

As Mike points out, “the question of DRM-or-not in the ebook world is a very complicated one, although opponents of DRM often paint it as very simple.” Of course it’s not.

For fiction writers, not currently thinking of their text as subject to revision, the problem looms large. But for non-fiction authors, as Mike points out “every editor knows plenty of authors of non-fiction books that wanted to keep writing and changing and adding past every deadline the house presented. Let the new process start with those; there will be plenty of candidates.” Quoting the generally on-topic Tim O’Reilly, Mike notes, “obscurity is a greater threat to most authors than piracy.”

Check out (and subscribe) to Mike’s blog. It’s always thought-provoking. And as all topics on the future of publishing are intertwined, you will always be informed.

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The 10 Most-Pirated eBooks this Year

September 2, 2009

Courtesy of freakbits.com comes this perhaps authoritative list of the 10 most-pirated eBooks of 2009. The results are calculated from BitTorrent downloads. As FreakBits notes, “The list shows us that illicit book downloads are not yet threatening the bestselling authors you’ll find in the New York Times list…In fact, most books that are downloaded on BitTorrent fall into the nerdy niche, are porn-related – or both.”

(I write “perhaps authoritative” as the post notes neither author nor publisher. In the case of the “Kama Sutra” (the usual spelling), Amazon.com includes over 6,000 listings. Further it’s not clear whether the pirated editions are eBooks where the digital rights management (DRM) was broken, or whether they were amateur scans from printed versions.)

The post goes on to note what may be a frightening harbinger for book publishers as they flock to make their paper books available in digital form: “All eBooks in this list were downloaded between 100,000 and 250,000 times.”

The list:

1. Kamasutra (sic)
2. Adobe Photoshop Secrets
3. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amazing Sex
4. The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
5. Solar House – A Guide for the Solar Designer
6. Before Pornography – Erotic Writing In Early Modern England
7. Twilight – Complete Series
8. How To Get Anyone To Say YES – The Science Of Influence
9. Nude Photography – The Art And The Craft
10. Fix It – How To Do All Those Little Repair Jobs Around The Home

As music publishers have learned, DRM does not solve the problem of illegal downloads. Most book publishers still, I think naively, believe that DRM will somehow prove more effective with eBooks than it has with music. No, the truth is that the business model for eBooks, as with music, must make it easier and more beneficial for the user to pay than to steal, while at the same time accepting that there will be a great deal of theft (but, as I and others argue, mainly from those who would not pay anyway under any circumstances).

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Why eBooks Aren’t the Same as Printed Books

July 24, 2009

I’ve avoided commenting on the controversy this week when Amazon realized it was selling an eBook of George Orwell’s 1984 that the vendor did not own the rights to sell to Amazon and its customers. I knew that there would be lots of back and forth to fill the blogger trough. Of course the story became more inflammatory because (a) it  was Orwell’s 1984, which we all know deals with the destruction of printed books, and (b) because Amazon, in its omnipotence, removed licences to the book from many customer’s Kindles without so much as an “excuse me.”

Of course, if we translate the story into the world of traditional print book publishing the publisher would merely have withdrawn the book from sale and requested retailers to return unsold copies for credit.

And as the Wall Street Journal points out in a well-modulated post tonight: “an ordinary bookstore wouldn’t be allowed to come into a buyer’s home to retrieve a book that he or she owned.”

And there’s the rub.

Amazon, of course has been suitably shamed and says it will never remove books from customer’s Kindles this way in the future (what else would it say, particularly until legal counsel has a chance to weigh in fully?).

Anyone who reads this blog know that I’m not a big fan of the Kindle, nor of Amazon’s promotional efforts surrounding it. But surely this is a tempest in a teapot. Amazon will become more cautious in accepting uploads, and will issue recalls more gracefully in the future.

The sky is not falling.

Follow-up: An interesting post on Fiction Matters which casts the incident very much as a tale of the perils and pitfalls of DRM.

And of course the inevitable lawsuit has now been launched.

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The Best Blog on DRM

May 2, 2009

My colleague, Bill Rosenblatt, could be nicknamed (perhaps inelegantly) “Mr. DRM.” He remains, as far as I know, the leading American expert on the topic, having dealt with it in his work at various publishers since 1994, and writing extensively on the subject since 2001, including a website, newsletter, and now an excellent blog, Copyright and Technology. He also authored the standard text on DRM, Digital Rights Management: Business and Technology (Wiley, 2001) (with Bill Trippe and Stephen Mooney), as well as contributing a chapter (“Digital Rights and Digital Television”) to the new volume Television Goes Digital (Springer, 2009).

Bill explains his position on DRM this way:

My philosophy is that digital rights technologies are fundamental to the future of the Internet and other digital networks as viable media for news, culture, and entertainment. And my definition of rights technologies spans much more broadly than the “classical” definition of DRM: it includes technologies such as fingerprinting, watermarking, content identifiers (such as the DOI), and rights licensing schemes. (For example, my view is that Creative Commons is a rights technology — and a very successful one at that.)

As Lawrence Lessig says in his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, technology is one of four empirical forces that determine how people and businesses conduct themselves, others being laws, markets, and societal norms. We can argue about how those four forces do or should balance each other out, but my belief is that when it comes to digital content, markets and technology are ultimately the most powerful forces. Many attempts to manipulate the other two to control them are doomed to failure, especially when they are driven by people who fundamentally do not understand or appreciate technology and how it interacts with market forces.

The issue of digital rights management will be with us long after numerous seemingly-urgent technological challenges have been resolved. Every publisher, indeed everyone in the larger electronic publishing sphere, needs to keep a close eye on this topic as it evolves, and Bill Rosenblatt is who I’d recommend you turn to first.

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