Monday, November 26, 2007

To DRM or not to DRM, that is the question

First, a disclosure: I’m one of those people that loves technology. I’m also an avid reader, and I don’t look on these passions as being a contradiction in terms. Call me strange – and many in the book biz do – but I firmly believe that digital mediums suit books beautifully.

I believe it so much that I frequently read my books in a digital format. About 50% of my reading for pleasure is in the form of ebooks. About 10% of my reading for pleasure is in the form of mss (usually in MS Word). So that only leaves about 40% for physical books… Which makes me somewhat unusual in the publishing industry.

As a person who reads a lot of ebooks AND works on the biz, I have a very delicate balancing act when it comes to DRM. When I’m reading? I HATES it.

Hate, hate, hate.

I abhor the fact that I can’t read my legally purchased ebook on my work laptop because I can’t get Microsoft Passport to validate my installation of MS Reader. And you know what? I’m a pretty tech savvy chick – if I can’t do it (and I think it’s probably that I have too many devices activated – I have two current personal computers, plus a PDA, and probably had my last machine and maybe even the one before THAT activated with the same account), then bet your arse other people can’t do it, too.

I have nightmares about the coming day when my beautifully catalogued library of ebooks will become useless because Microsoft stop supporting the format. Or because a format other than .lit becomes the mainstream.

I hate the fact that neither Sony Reader nor Kindle will ever be a good option for me, because I have such a huge investment in a different format.

And you know what else? If that day comes, I’m ready willing and able to crack the DRM on my ebook library so that I can continue to read my books…

Flip side? I understand why Publishers are so keen on this technology. We know it doesn’t work, we know that the main formats have long since been hacked. And yet, it’s really really tempting to do it anyway because up until now, we’ve been protecting by the very fact that books are an analogue product. Unless you work as a typesetter or in editorial or production at a mainstream publishing house, your only options for pirating a book have been either ridiculously labour intensive or just plain ridiculous. Witness the Harry Potter leak – someone went to LOTS of trouble to photograph that book pre-release; but did anyone actually read more than a handful of pages? So when you talk about putting a digital copy of the book out there WITH NO PROTECTION the hearts of publishing execs (and probably authors) around the world start palpitating.

But, I think the main reason that they are so keen on the idea of DRM is because NO ONE IN THE INDUSTRY ACTUALLY READS EBOOKS! ‘Cause I can assure you – in all my travels I’ve never met a single person who uses this stuff that thinks it’s a good idea. Most, like me, are happy enough to live with it so long as the files keep working. A few violently hate it. But most don’t have the tech savvy to work WITHIN DRM. And that is a very serious usability problem!

So that’s my challenge to the pointy heads out there with their encryption algorithms: make me a DRM that is as easy to use as a pirate version, and I’ll be a happy camper indeed.


Chris Brand said...

So point out to them that by using DRM they are making a less attractive product that costs them more to make.

They are businesspeople, right ?

webgoddess said...

Ah, I was thinking I'd just lock 'em in a room with a credit card and a laptop with an internet connection and not let them out until either they starved to death or had successfully bought (and opened) a Secure MS Lit ebook.

Your way sounds faster ;)