DRM: Does it Really Matter?
By Matthew Crockatt, Head of Sales & Marketing, And Other Stories
Conversations around Digital Rights Management tend to focus on piracy. The argument swiftly becomes channelled along lines that will be tediously familiar to anyone who has attended a digital conference during recent years. It can be summarised as follows:
DRM is essential as it protects the creative rights of authors and ensures they get paid for the work that they do. Publishers have a responsibility to safeguard these rights so they need to make sure DRM is in place. Piracy is stealing and if we catch you doing it we’re going to lock you up.
Then someone else stands up:
DRM is useless. Anyone with 5 minutes to spare can crack it. Publishers are following the music industry along a path that leads to consumer disillusion and they should just accept the old model has been swept away and get used to this new world where they are not needed. Authors will be fine. They get better royalties self-publishing with Amazon anyway. Like my man Cory Doctorow says: “It’s hard to monetise success, it’s impossible to monetise obscurity.”
As well as working for And Other Stories Publishing I’ve been studying for an MA part-time. I recently researched a dissertation on DRM and I thought I’d share a couple of the interesting insights that emerged.
1: Rather than talking about Piracy I split this concept in two and looked at ‘sharing among strangers’ – defined as ‘piracy’ – and ‘casual sharing’ – defined as ‘sharing among friends’.
Most of the publishing professionals I spoke to thought that ‘piracy’ is bad but ‘sharing among friends’ was alright. However they also thought DRM was completely ineffective against ‘piracy’ but did inhibit ‘sharing among friends’.
- In other words DRM only inconvenienced the kind of readers publishers profess to value.
2: Publishing professionals didn’t think that their readers actually seemed to care much about this. Why didn’t people care about the inconveniences of DRM?
- Because the prices they were paying to read on their devices were so low.
- The technology was so easy to use that they were happy to live with a restrictive DRM as the device interaction with the retail ecosystem ‘just worked’.
3: Retailers have developed the platforms and devices that enable digital books to be sold. DRM helps to tie readers into their commercial ecosystems.
- What began as technology publishers insisted on to safeguard the earnings of authors and publishing revenues has become a threat to both of these as the middlemen drive down prices whilst seeking to uphold margins at every opportunity.
It is my personal view that the removal of DRM would be beneficial to authors and publishers. Dominant retailer positions with regard to market share have clearly become established but there is no reason to think such positions are unassailable. The removal of DRM would make competition easier to establish. Publishers need to trust readers and listen to what they want. Publishers should seek to work with device manufacturers and software developers to enable easy, enjoyable delivery of digital books to any device, from a variety of sources, including physical bookshops. Publishers and authors have what readers want – great reading experiences. We should be more confident of this and trust that readers will pay a fair price for what we have to offer.