DRM-free indie ebooks outsell DRM-locked ones 2:1


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Who cares if the unlocked version sells an extra million copies… if one pirate copy gets out into the wild, all is lost! A mere sample chapter can bring down the mighty Harry Potter, and Jack Ryan and Jason Bourne all at once!

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They should do a breakdown by lending enabled vs. lending not enabled. I suspect that this is what is actually causing the differences they are attributing to DRM vs. non-DRM. There should be a positive correlation between non-DRM and lending enabled, since (I think) non-DRM ebooks automatically work with the Kindle lending system, whereas with DRM ebooks it is up to the publisher to decide whether or not to enable lending.

I suspect this because with the availability of Kindle readers on all major smartphone and table platforms, and on all major desktop operating systems including Linux, the overwhelming majority of Kindle ebook customers have no occasion to ever notice DRM, except as it relates to lending.

With ebooks, DRM poses little challenge to pirates, who can crack these locks with a few clicks. Meanwhile, for the paying customer, DRM makes it difficult to move ebooks between devices and traps readers into a single retail channel.

Yep, that’s one of the conditions that supposedly will encourage various forms of e-piracy rather than purchase. Basically, making something harder to acquire or use will often make people more likely to find an easier route to it.

Not only that, higher cost is also supposed to contribute to theft. The only people overcharging for e-books these days really do seem to be the Big 5. In fact, on every sale of a book, a Big 5 editor expects to pull in twice what the author will, and it’s their own paycheck they see protected by controlling sale price. Many authors are seriously unamused.

About DRM-free lending: Forbes had an interesting idea that required lending of e-books become a physical act. You’d just perform a “bump” or “swipe” with two readers (or an accessory to a reader) that would tie the loaned e-book to the other reader. Then, you’d need to retrieve it. The article goes over some of the flaws of the suggestion, but for a library it might not be a terrible option. You’d just need to visit the main desk or have a bump device at your home desk for checkout.

Also, here’s a blog on library lending using DRM-free books, and how it might be achieved.

The ugly trick with DRM is that you are architecturally compelled to adopt more or less all its vices even if you plan on being ever so friendly and reasonable in writing the conditional access rules:

Unless a system is to be painfully weak, it must store plaintext and encryption keys only in locations that are difficult for a user to access, and it must not interoperate with any external system that will not enforce the same restrictions that it does. If the plaintext or keys are available, or if the system will happily provide them to an external system that lies about enforcing the DRM, it’s just a technical support headache with potential lawsuits attached.

Unfortunately, approaching these goals requires some rather radical design changes, none of them good:

  1. Parts of the system must be above the control of the ostensible ‘owner’ of the device running the software and forever controlled by a ‘trusted’ 3rd party that enforces the restrictions. If this isn’t implemented, or is implemented imperfectly, the plaintext and keys are vulnerable.

  2. The entity implementing the system must control entry to the market for compatible software and devices: They can do this in several ways, ‘hook IP’ that must be licensed and only will be if you agree to build your system to uphold the restrictions (as is the case with DVD CSS and others), ‘secure remote attestation’ (not terribly widely available at present; but supported by a TPM near you!) or DMCA-and-similar threats against makers of ‘circumvention devices’. If this isn’t done, breaking the system is as simple as dressing up as a compatible system and asking nicely.

  3. Ideally, to prevent the ‘crack once, run anywhere’ problem, systems should default-deny anything that isn’t explicitly blessed by the DRM system, rather than allowing anything that isn’t visibly forbidden(the best example of this is iOS applications: it is trivial to obtain a binary and strip the signature; but only a jailbroken device will run something that is not cryptographically blessed, so each and every would-be pirate must crack their client in order to make use of cracked software. In default-allow systems, only a single hack must occur, to produce the plaintext, which can then be copied at leisure. This, of course, is the fairly fundamental difference between general-purpose-computers and consoles, and is about as sweeping a form of permanent vendor control as one could imagine.

That’s the trick. There is no ‘moderate’ DRM, only weak DRM or strong DRM. And weak DRM is not equivalent to ‘moderate’ rules; it’s as restrictive as strong DRM against the rule-abiding and useless against the pirates, worst of all worlds. DRM access rulesets can be anywhere from highly liberal to brutally restrictive; but those same architectural demands apply (and are extraordinarily pernicious) regardless of the rules that determine whether or not you get the OK to perform an operation.

eBooks should be cheaper – no expensive overhead of paper – but publishers do take a huge share and it is frustrating getting a royalty statement – plus, these days, authors are expected to do all or most of the promotion, and there are a lot of expenses that fall’s on an author’s shoulders, that should, technically, be the publisher’s job.

eBooks liberate authors from the skewed system if they decide to go the independent route, and even though there are still a lot of hurdles one must overcome, they are not insurmountable.

It pretty much is a no-brainer that DRM is not selling as well – people do lend their print books to others without the publisher meddling, and the restrictions of ownership of a product you bought is not very appealing.

Publishing is already in a mess and DRM just makes things worse for everyone…

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Great suggestion.
Next report, we’ll also pull data on whether titles are Lending-Enabled.

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