When I used Amazon to publish Year 18: The Schism, the first book in my dark epic fantasy series, Pearseus, I was asked whether I wanted to use DRM for the book or not. I was also warned that I would be unable to change the setting in the future. So, just what is this DRM, and how should one answer that question?
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It locks a file so that it can only used by the buyer. Originally used by the gaming industry, it has expanded into all things digital, such as movies, music and eBooks.
The publisher or the author is responsible for deciding whether they wish to use DRM or not. DRM is not limited to one format and is fundamentally conceivable in all formats. In general, Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) copy protection is used for this purpose. In order to read text, users must first install ADE on their PC or mobile reading device, and then register with an Adobe ID. This is a relatively complicated process and distracts the user experience.
One alternative to Adobe Digital Editions is watermarks, which are partially visible for the consumer but not distracting. This means that purchased eBooks can be uniquely allocated to one consumer. The advantage of a so-called soft DRM strategy is that it does not have a negative impact on the process of reading eBooks. This is the model introduced in the US by Amazon and Apple, in which content is registered to one user. This DRM policy allows the user to read eBooks on many devices, but not to transfer it to a device registered to someone else. The restriction often goes unnoticed and usually does not affect consumers.
Cumbersome DRM have largely disappeared, except in the gaming industry. Most analysts predict that this trend will continue, and developments on the eBook market will follow those that have been seen on the music market. Music publishers abandoned DRM in spring 2009, after a lengthy battle against file sharing. Experts believe that abolishing DRM is necessary sooner rather than later because illegal content will be available anyway as the market develops, and that DRM will not be able to perform its protection function. On the other hand, most experts expect that soft DRM will become established.
Put your money where your mouth is
So what did I decide in the end? Just in case you’re wondering, I decided to not use DRM for Year 18: The Schism. Why? Because I realized that my main problem was not fighting piracy, but fighting obscurity. Like Neil Gaiman, I reached the conclusion that what piracy really amounts to what is “people lending books“. To quote the great man himself:
““[U]nderstanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and what the web was doing. Because the biggest thing the web was doing is allowing people to hear things, allowing people to read things, allowing people to see things they might never have otherwise seen. And I think, basically, that’s an incredibly good thing.”
A few days ago I came across a fascinating report regarding the future of e-Books and e-Readers by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The analysis itself is somewhat dated (2010) but the survey gave some interesting pointers for us, self-published authors. So I will be posting highlights from the report as I go through it.