Thursday, May 24, 2012

To DRM or not to DRM.

It was Helen Ginger's post about DRM this morning that made me think seriously about book piracy, and piracy in general.

I used DRM on my first foray into self-publishing, but I no longer use it. The bottom line is that there will always be pirates, so why not make it easy for them. It's not just about pirates, though; DRM is about making life better for publishers and less so for the people who read. That's why Benjamin Franklin created the library system in the first place, a system that is in dire straits in the United Kingdom where libraries are being closed faster than a publisher's purse strings. 

DRM or Digital Rights Management keeps, as Helen writes, people from sharing a book between devices. You can create a Cloud as Amazon did or as Apple did with iCloud. Without DRM, a file sharing application isn't needed and you won't need a cloud just a connection between devices to share a book with a spouse, child, or friend, or even with someone you don't know. That's how libraries do it. No cost. No fuss. No membership. Go to the library, pick out a book, movie, CD, or magazine and take it home. You have to take it back to the library so someone else can borrow it, but that's a small price to pay.

I remember reading how Paul Coehlo, author of The Alchemist pirated his own book and uploaded it to BitTorrent to beat the pirates at their own game. The pirated copies were dreadful and had lots of errors. Coehlo uploaded a clean copy of his novel. His publisher was incensed, but the author felt it was the right thing to do. His magnanimous gesture didn't kill his book sales either. With more than 7 billion people on the planet, many of reading age, it's a big pool to fish for sales.

After I read what Coehlo had done, I decided to do the same with my novel, and I often hold promotions to give my first self-published novel, Among Women, for free. What I was surprised to find was that people continued to buy the novel after it was no longer free, even from as far away as Estonia. Of course I've sold more copies of my novel in Estonia than I have in the UK, but it's a beginning, and sales in the US have exceeded my expectations, both as free books and books sold. 

DRM is more a benefit for publishers than it is for authors or readers. DRM means you cannot share your book and another copy must be bought. That's short sighted, but publishers aren't known for their long game or for thinking beyond today's sales. If they did, books would be available, marketed and advertised for more than a few months. Instead, publishers end up dumping millions of books into landfills and selling them to remainder businesses. Very short sighted indeed.

If I can sell more books by giving away a few thousand, that should be enough evidence that removing DRM will not hurt book sales. Like I said, there are 7 billion people on this planet. That is a very big pool of potential readers and book buyers. Even if 1 billion people get the book for free, there are still 6 billion people left, some of which would be able and willing to buy a copy.

There is an old saying that you have to spend money to make money. In this case, it could be said that you have to give books to get book sales. If my recent experience is any indication of what is possible, I'll be giving away more free ebooks. The odds are in my favor, and you can be certain there will be no DRM. I invite readers to share and share alike. There are plenty of electrons -- and ebooks -- left.

In the end, I have to ask, what is the difference between DRM and censorship. What do you say?

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