As a publisher, it’s likely you know what DRM is. If you don’t know what DRM is, crawl out from under that rock. DRM, which stands for Digital Rights Management, is the digital watermark used for copyright protection of digital media such as video games, MP3s, and e-books. DRM was developed to combat piracy of these things that are most often pirated by downloading or sharing through peer-to-peer exchanges. DRM is usually embedded and sometimes even has a specific time period that limits content accessibility in some way.
This sounds like a great thing for publishers and authors who want to protect the content they’ve worked hard to create and produce. There’s nothing wrong with wanting that. DRM has its advantages in the publishing world, that’s for sure. But there are benefits of ditching DRM that, in this innovative and ever-changing industry, might help publishers keep the edge they need.
As we’ve previously mentioned, J.K. Rowling is one of the more successful stories of going DRM-free. Not only did Rowling completely exclude DRM with Pottermore, but she also built a direct sales channel. These two things paired together tell her loyal readers that she trusts them and wants to make sure not to exclude any kind of reader. Joe Wikert of O’Reilly TOC agrees that Rowling knew exactly what she was doing because she realized how strong her brand was and wanted to build direct relationships with fans.
What DRM tells your readers is that you don’t trust them. Every reader is a potential pirate. DRM also puts a limit on the platforms where your e-books can be sold and distributed. With e-books accounting for a large part of book sales these days, it only makes sense to be able to sell your e-books through all possible avenues. Limiting potential sales channels helps no one and is not even proven to eliminate piracy. Unfortunately, publishers’ Napster-esque fear pushed them into a DRM-loving frenzy that has now handed Amazon keys to the literary kingdom.
The rise and fall of Napster is what ultimately gave birth to DRM. Apple was able to corner the market and get music bigwigs to agree to use DRM. But music fans and hardcore listeners “hated DRM because it restricted their ability to enjoy music they paid for.”
Charlie Stross agrees that DRM adds unnecessary restrictions. Stross says, “the Big Six’s pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder.”
Stross goes on to point out that DRM allows Amazon’s hold over e-books and keeps customers stuck to the Kindle, which means readers who buy books for their Kindles likely won’t read on other e-reading platforms and will be reluctant to purchase from Amazon’s rivals that use incompatible DRM. Not only does this limit sales for publishers, but it also pushes Amazon’s Kindle to the forefront as a preferred e-reader—a vicious sales and marketing cycle that only benefits Amazon at the end of the day.
As Wikert says, “If Harry Potter doesn’t need DRM, why does your book? If you ditch DRM you’ll be able to offer all the formats. You’ll show your customers you trust them and you’ll also make it far easier for them to actually use your content.”
Ultimately, insisting on DRM only further complicates the e-book buying process for readers, tells them that you don’t trust them, and fails to foster the kind of relationship publishers and authors need to be initiating with readers.