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O'Reilly's Decision and Its DRM Implication (scottmeyers.blogspot.com)
185 points by SeanBoocock on July 2, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 99 comments

Tim O'Reilly once said "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy". I discovered and purchased almost every Rosenfeld Media book from OReilly.

After O'Reilly moved to DRM-free books, their 2009 sales went up by 104% http://toc.oreilly.com/2010/01/2009-oreilly-ebook-revenue-up...

In other interviews, he seemed confident that DRM wasn't worth it https://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0411/focus-tim-oreilly-me...

Perhaps some part of the equation has changed since then. I'm looking forward a deeper analysis of the business reasons for this.

I'm also interested to hear what more authors think - I wonder how many agree with Martin Kleppmann (Designing Data Intensive Applications) https://twitter.com/martinkl/status/880336943980085248

This independence day weekend there were a lot of sales, so I purchased:

* "Programming Clojure, Third Edition" from pragprog (30% off sale)

* The entire collection of "Enthusiast's Guide to ..." from rockynook (each for $10)

* "The Quick Python Book 3e", "Serverless Architectures on AWS", "Event Streams in Action", "Get Programming with Haskell" from Manning (50% off)

These sales are the only way I can afford the volume I read. Some of that money would have gone to OReilly authors, but they deleted my full cart with $100 worth of stuff before I could purchase!

EDIT: OReilly catalog seemed large & redundant with publishers (packt) offering the same materials on their sites. Some like Wiley / MKP only offered very few items from their catalogs. Others like Rosenfeld / rockynook / no starch now provide DRM free options directly from their sites. I'm hoping at least OReilly reconsiders selling their Animal books again.

Here is a quote of the Tweet for the lazy:

Martin Kleppmann‏ @martinkl

I am not happy about this. I believe readers should be able to get DRM-free eBook files to download to their own devices.

1:07 AM - 29 Jun 2017

Referenced below and applicable here, O'Reilly state they continue to support DRM-free formats (available from outlets that support them, like Google Play) and acknowledge the PDF issue in this post by Laura Baldwin.


I agree with O'Reilly's quote. Better to be more widely read. I use Leanpub for my books, and I let people read my books free online and the eBooks themselves are DRM free with a Creative Commons license.

>Perhaps some part of the equation has changed since then.

This is actually what I'm most interested in, but don't really see analyzed or talked about anywhere. Online distribution of general digital media (beyond glorified text documents and images) at a serious, mass scale, is barely 20 years old. We are only just now, like in the last decade or less, seeing people enter the economy (i.e. having their own income streams) who grew up with most media in general available on the web.

Hand-in-hand with that is the ability to "pirate" media easily, freely, and without consequence. Even in the last decade, piracy was sorta vaguely "niche". I mean, yes, millions of people did it regularly, but even though I spent my life around very technical people, I was often a sort of "go-to" to acquire things or explain how to actually be a "pirate". People were comfortable with it, but as far as I could tell, even in my "pirate" heavy demographic, it wasn't like some sort of ubiquitous, default thing. People were comfortable with it, and did it regularly either directly or indirectly, but I suspect that I am/was part of a fairly tiny but still rapidly growing minority that would automatically transition from "I want something" to "I'll just pirate that thing". For most people there was a decent amount of friction, not because of technology, but because of their own attitudes and knowledge, so it happened far less than it could have.

All of this is a preface to what I started off trying to say, which is that as a society and culture, we really haven't figured out the social norms and expectations around digital distribution and piracy. They exist, as do the legal ones, but it is so new that the rising demographics and future trends are going to rapidly and significantly change them, and have been changing them.

Patterns of marketing and distribution have already somewhat adapted to the expectation of large-scale piracy, but that is only the beginning. Who knows how this stuff will be viewed or treated in another decade.

FWIW, I don't think that piracy is ethical, I do it anyway (though far less nowadays that I have a paycheck and with all the subscription services available), and I suspect (opposite of the author of this article, but still without evidence) that piracy is actually a benefit to creators. The quote you lead with is a great way to phrase the idea in a way that I'd never thought to articulate it.

I believe the author also thinks that piracy is, overall, a benefit to creators: "My feeling is that most people who choose pirated books are unlikely to pay for them, even if that's the only way to get them. As such, I'm inclined to think the marketing effect of illegal copies exceeds the lost revenue."

I think O'Reilly just wants to be on the "recurring payments" dark pattern bandwagon and push people into Safari. Recurring payments might fall out of fashion one day, but until the Democrats get some electoral traction I don't think there is going to be a crackdown on them.

The discounts you mention are a big controversy for downloadable sales. Go tell a game developer that "I get a lot of great free games with my PlayStation Plus subscription and usually buy games when they are deeply discounted" and often they will go berserk because they believe eroded pricing power takes a chunk out of their paycheck.

Another factor is that O'Reilly is not the company it was 20 years ago. The animal books were great (and are great sometimes today), but the books they've made on other topics (say graphic design) are not up to same standard. Those books aren't bad, but the animal books are hard to measure up to.

In recent years O'Reilly has been capitalizing on the strength of their brand, so you see Neo4J giving away a free O'Reilly book to promote their product, O'Reilly promotes their own conferences, etc.

> but until the Democrats get some electoral traction I don't think there is going to be a crackdown on [the recurring payment dark pattern].

How does this follow? Or is the assumption that use-after-sale rights would be strengthened for consumers?

Outside of New York, I don't see Democrats being gung ho to crack down on bad behavior. However, so long as the Republicans are in control, it won't happen at all. (Even if they wanted to crack down, they could not, because they don't have the staff.)

Political risk is only one horseman that threatens the recurring payment dark pattern. Another would be improvements in the payment system.

Credit cards are not really designed for recurrent payment, in particular, you cannot ask your credit card company to turn off a recurring payment without getting a new card number and turning off all of your recurring payments.

Even legitimate companies, such as the New York Times, will make you talk to a customer retention specialist who will give you a hard sell to turn off their service. Other companies are not responsive at all.

If you could go to your payment provider, see a list of all your recurring payments, and cancel any ones you want to cancel with a button press, that would go a long way towards legitimizing the business model.

The latter seems likely. In this country Democrats think of themselves as leftists. It's cute, but terrible.

Perhaps best read after the blog post from current O'Reilly media president Laura Baldwin, which makes two important points:

1) Book sales have been consistently declining overall, in all media. It's not clear that DRM has much to do with this.

2) They'll still be selling DRM-free through at least one merchant, Google Play. (It's not clear whether this policy extends to Amazon as well, but they wouldn't be the first publisher selling DRM-free there; Tor's science fiction novels have been DRM-free through all merchants for a few years now.)

Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/oreilly-mission-spreading-kno...

But there are no DRM free high quality PDFs ... if you download a PDF from Play Books its a conversion.

Can you given some more details? A screen shot demonstrating the low quality would be nice. Not that I don't what your saying.

Hopefully OReilly wanted only to cut costs, and is still willing to make high quality preorders and DRM free media available through some other source.

Here's a guy who shared a side-by-side comparison of Google and O' Reilly's editions of Designing Data Intensive Applications - https://mobile.twitter.com/kondrej/status/880540236303880193

Actually, that's just two screenshots from the same Google Play version. A side-by-side with O'Reilly's PDF is striking


We still sell all O'Reilly books DRM free in both PDF and ePUB. i.e. http://www.ebooks.com/95729334/designing-data-intensive-appl.... If you click on preview (on a desktop), the preview is composed of images rendered from the PDF.


>supported on "e-readers with Adobe Digital Editions installed"

Someone is incorrect here.

Thanks for the feedback, the boilerplate template was wrong. We've updated product description pages so they're clearer now (Clearly states DRM free)

Looking at the info about the formats for that book it seems that the ePub and PDF are unrestricted.

The second statement is probably boilerplate but is concerning.

Yes, you're right, it's boilerplate and needs to be updated to reflect that O'Reilly books are DRM-free and can be read on any device, I'll get it updated tomorrow.

Why does that page you linked have a list of supported devices? It looks to me like ebooks.com does use DRM.

You're correct, it should have different info for DRM free books under the supported devices section. We do use DRM at ebooks.com, but only for the publishers that enforce us to use it (99% of publishers).

I really want to support you, but $42AUD is many times more than it would have cost on oreilly.com.

That seems to be two different screenshots of different parts of the Google version. The typesetting is pretty bad.

"Running oreilly.com as a distribution platform was effective, but also costly. It required a dedicated investment in e-commerce software, staff, marketing, and so on."

Perhaps it was expensive because it was a platform for other publishers (and print) as well, but I doubt this would be true if they focused on their own selection of eBooks.

> They can also reach buyers who want to see the full product before making a purchasing decision or who wouldn't become aware of your book through conventional marketing efforts.

This is definitely true for me, and one of the reasons why Oreilly is one of the defining "colors" on my bookshelf. In particular with technical literature I really need to get a good look into the book before I make a commitment and a decision to buy. I just don't want to spend money first and then stick to something that turns out to be rather disappointing.

So my usual way of buying books is to download various publications on a topic via Bittorrent and then buying the best one once I know what I want. This is similar to going to a public library, getting a few books, and buying the most convincing one for long-term use. If there was a micropayment way of paying for the short-term evaluation, I would be more than happy to pay for that (as I implicitly pay via library contributions, which go to the publishers to some part).

Having said that, Oreilly traditionally had a market of being the "printed out manual of open source software", which I'm pretty sure is dead by now, and I wonder if they can reposition completely. One thing I noticed is that they now often sell books that have titles that sound very general "Data Science for blabla" but turn out to be really just tutorials/manuals for some particular framework. That's the kind of book I would want to avoid. Nothing against good examples, but I don't need printed out tutorials.

What makes you think that this is OK?

I don't think it is ok in a legal sense, but it is perfectly fine in a moral sense. I can spend any time I want in a bookstore or a library and read those books as well, and the way I use BT is exactly that. I don't care if corrupt lawmakers have illegalized that. I care for the people who make good books, and I do so by selecting the best of them and paying those.

> What makes you think that this is OK?

what makes you think this _shouldn't_ be OK?

Because it's (most likely, depending on where OP lives) illegal. Distributing and copying other people's IP is illegal and unethical, rven if you have noble intentions after the fact.

(To be clear, i don't agree with the DRM implementation, I don't agree with O'Reillys recent change and I don't agree with an always online subscription service that is out of the price range of most people).

Illegal yes. Unethical? Very much still debated. It's really a fascinating debate once you go looking for quality arguments.

Lawrence Lessig (creator of Creative Commons) has a couple of great keynotes, and books, setting the tone for the battle ground.

Benklers Wealth of Networks is another great resource covering similar topics.

Then you have the clear opposition variants such as Stallmans arguments. The book Against Monopoly is also a good read on this angle (this one is more about patents than copyright though)

I don't recall the source right now, but there is also this fascinating history of copyright in Europe and the statue of Anne which, ostensibly, was mostly about censorship and not at all about authors rights or ability make a living.

First step is to recognize that IP is a propaganda term, designed to confuse issues and appeal to an entirely different set of laws and moral frameworks. So if you use this term, know that you've been successfully manipulated by the other side of the debate.

> First step is to recognize that IP is a propaganda term, designed to confuse issues and appeal to an entirely different set of laws and moral frameworks.

Exactly. BTW, equating non-profit copyright infringement with attacking ships also might be some kind of propaganda.

> Because it's (most likely, depending on where OP lives) illegal.

"There is no justice in following unjust laws."

Aaron Swartz - Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

> https://archive.org/details/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto

DRM-free epubs are at least supposed to be available from Google Books (though Kleppmann says when he tried with his book it wasn't DRM-free) - the ebook.com folks say that they have DRM-free epub and PDFs, but I don't know if the PDFs are the high-quality print editions that ORA used to sell or the crappy epub-PDF conversion that Google books sells, and what exactly ebooks.com means by 'DRM-free' - they make reference to having to use a specific Adobe software package to read them, but that you have the right to print and copy-and-paste. Until I see it opened in some libre-PDF reader I don't know that I trust it.

One bummer: Nearly everything I bought from O'Reilly were 'Early Release' books - The Kleppmann 'Data Intensive Apps' book took like two years for him to finish (not complaining, books aren't easy and this book was exceptionally well-researched), but it was nice to have the first half of the book available early on. Sadly, the Early Release program seems to be only available through Safari now. There were like five books I had planned to buy over the holiday weekend that now I guess I'll have to wait a year or so before being able to buy.

I also don't get the folks saying "Just buy $DIFFERENT_PUBLISHER books instead" - books aren't interchangeable, people buy specific titles, not whatever the publisher's version of that topic might be.

If I read these pages (1,2) from ebooks.com correctly, you need to read their PDFs in Adobe Digital Editions:

"As our books have Adobe DRM applied to them your device must state that it is compatible with Adobe DRM or Adobe Digital Editions"

Some time ago, there was a big fiasco with Adobe (3,4) "On 6 October 2014, Nate Hoffelder reported in The Digital Reader that Adobe Digital Editions version 4 ("ADE4") was sending extensive information about eBooks back to Adobe, including ebooks read by a user as well as eBooks stored on the same machine but not opened in ADE4."

I tried Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) a while back and considered it very poor experience. Originally it was based on Adobe Flex, and the font rendering was grey scale anti-aliased and looked terrible. I won't try it again to find out if they improved it.

There was another fiasco, but Adobe backed down (5). A contact from Datalogics confirmed that Adobe was going to force everyone (publishers, users) to upgrade to the new version of DRM (ADEPT) and that your old titles would be unusable if not!

I avoid ADE like the plague.

(1) https://support.ebooks.com/hc/en-gb/articles/213875366-Guide...

(2) https://support.ebooks.com/hc/en-gb/articles/206061173-Readi...

(3) https://the-digital-reader.com/2014/10/06/adobe-spying-users...

(4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_Digital_Editions

(5) https://the-digital-reader.com/2014/02/03/adobe-require-new-...

Disclaimer: I have commercial interest with oreilly. I speak at a ton of their conferences and lean on them partially for marketing and lead gen.

Oreilly author here. FWIW a ton of us were caught off guard by this as well. At the same time, I can't say I'm surprised.

My commercial incentives for working with oreilly wasn't about the book per se. I found a ton of value in working with them for their peripheral activities including safari, their strata , and AI conferences. I think other folks who write for oreilly tend to do these same things.

Pointing out where oreilly is making money: It tends to be large companies paying for access to safari now.

They will be putting other content in there now.

Print is a dying media. That being said: A ton of people prefer print still.

I don't think any end user or author of their's is "happy" about this per se. 1 benefit I liked of the online store was the ability to point people at that for pre releases and updates. You can't really do that with amazon.

I may be naively hopeful in saying this, but..

That being said: this should allow them to invest in other distribution channels now as well.

Oreilly showed they know how to run a distribution channel and may use that expertise in other areas.

As someone closer to this than a lot of people, I'm happy to answer general questions about the process, other ways this could affect us etc, if that helps.

As someone who regularly bought eBooks from them, and kept their epub versions on my laptop, their new self as "ebook rental" does not interest me.

What if I'm out of work and cannot afford the rental (Safari) fee?

What about account problems? Because of technical reasons or political (say revenge because of public criticisms), there's a risk to lose access to the material. This happened to somebody with their Amazon account and their ereader.

Sad day.

Yeah..there's always that risk with a "life time download". That includes if the company goes bust as well.

I would just consider having your own drm free backup. I understand what you mean though :(.

What's the current state of the DMCA in the US? Is it now legal to circumvent DRM in order to backup titles you own? (Not that circumventing DRM will always be feasible for the casual user - see last generation of Amazon DRM for example).

If circumventing DMCA is still illegal in and off itself, I'd be careful by advising people to break the law, without making it clear that they risk some serious penalties in many jurisdictions.

What's the current status of inheriting DRMed works? I know that I'll be able to read the books and comics I inherit - but I'm not so sure about the kindle eBooks - without gaining access to the account of the deceased - assuming it remains active for long enough to do so?

I think you're extrapolating a lot from my post :D. Yes there are laws associated with it.

You bought the book, you own the pdf. I'm not advocating or implying people giving them away.

I'm not sure if you read above but I'm actually an author. Authors don't really make much money when working with publishers..but it doesn't mean I don't want something for my work.

I'm also not going to hand out legal advice as I'm not qualified to comment on or do so.

I'm not trying to put words in your mouth about sharing copies (hence inherit, not borrow or get a copy of) - my main point was that while:

>> I would just consider having your own drm free backup.

> You bought the book, you own the pdf.

seems perfectly reasonable on the face of it - it implies removing the drm - which I think is still unclear if it is legal or not (per the dmca)?

I believe there was some case around backing up dvds (a notoriously fragile medium) - as well as circumventing drm in order to view legal copies (eg: play dvds on Linux/in vlc) - but I'm not certain if that was tested in supreme court or not - and if it would apply to ebooks.

I do know that with the initial draft of the dmca, circumventing drm was in and of itself illegal.

Oreilly lets you download drm free copies though? You're not "removing" anything if it doesn't exist in the first place. That's the source of my confusion here.

I won't comment on DMCA regulations.

Ok, might be confused by the context. I would think you only need "drm free backups" if what you get originally is "drm-ed files". If there's no drm, there's no drm. I thought the change was that O'reilly was moving towards drm only?

Will the bookshelf I have on the O'Reilly website of books that I've paid for disappear and/or be replaced with DRMed files?

From the oreilly website:

Your Products Every ebook and video you’ve purchased through your O’Reilly account is available below. You get lifetime access to these products, and we will alert you when they are updated.

This is your account. You should be fine here.


They are my main source for PDF DRM free books (I don't care about stamping my name as long as it can be read anywhere).

If they stop selling then they lose 100% of my business which is about $100 a year.

I don't use other formats. They screw technical books too badly. Some other publishers like Apress and MS Press do okay too but if O'Reilly pulls out then it's quite a blow.

I was at a garage sale and I was perusing a bunch of Wrox books. The seller offered me a ridiculous price and then I noticed he was on the cover of one of them.

I asked him about it and I think he'd rather have the latter benefits than the minuscule compensation:

"Piracy is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means you receive no compensation for the benefit readers get from the work you put in. On the other hand, pirated books act as implicit marketing, expanding awareness of you and your book(s)."

So I bought the books, but asked if he had another copy of his own book. He said that he did not, because that he guesses he should keep a copy as, after all, he was the author. That's a lot of trauma for him to say something like that.

That could be because in a typical deal the author gets an advance up front and the royalties are so meagre that that's all the money the author ever gets.

In fact any initial advance is often calculated on this basis. A book has to sell exceptionally and unexpectedly well to start paying extra royalties.

So... authors can make a little extra money by selling their five or ten free copies direct to the public. Even at a knock-down price, it's still money they wouldn't get otherwise.

The piracy argument is nonsense. Most technology book authors either have a brand/platform because they're already notable, or they remain unknown, because it's almost impossible to build a brand solely by writing specialist technology books. (This wasn't always true, but it's become more and more true over time.)

Piracy for "exposure" changes nothing. Given the royalty issue, it doesn't even affect most authors' earnings - although of course it does affect publisher income.

I co-authored a Wrox book back in the day. Financially it was absolutely not worth it by itself. But if you were a consultant or speaker who could leverage "published author" into more engagements, then doing it would be a sound investment.

DRM-less PDF encourage me to buy books that I'm not going to read anytime soon, and I bought few books I didn't read yet and may be I won't read at all. But the point is, my PDF is always with me in my backups and no matter what happens with DRM software, platforms or publisher, I can always read them. That's important for me, I truly own this copy, not some stupid renting thing.

I sincerely doubt the change had anything to do with DRM. Book sales have been declining for years. Developers just don't use books as their primary source of learning anymore. I believe OReilly is going to double down on their subscription service, Safari.

O'Reilly used to produce the definitive bibles that you were required to own to work on different technologies, but I feel like the quality has gone down over the last 10 years or so. I don't know if that is a byproduct of developers relying on books less, or technology moving faster, or poor publishing decisions. But it has probably contributed more than DRM, one way or the other, to their decline.

It turns out in 2017 innovators can spread their own knowledge, and sell their own multi-format ebooks in large numbers (keeping most of the revenue).

If I had a tech book in me I'd be trying to steal from Wes Bos's playbook, not get on a call with an O'Reilly editor.

In the 90s their "in a nutshell" books were worth their weight in gold. But you are right that tech is different now. A nutshell book from back then would be good for 5 or 10 years. Now the "shelf life" (haha) is a year at most before tech fashion moves on.

Entirely anecdotally, but that is what slowed me down the past few years. I am not in the industry at all (biologist), so I'm usually very late to development technologies. I tried to pick up Laravel about a year ago, and I just don't like learning from videos, so I tried to find a decent book to get started. Almost every book from O'Reilly has reviews that say the code examples are nearly unusable. I don't really want to spend the time troubleshooting their examples instead of using that time on whatever brought me to the framework in the first place.

Exactly. Take for example the Sendmail book. Probably one of the most important (and feared) sysadmin books of our time. If you had a well worn dog eared copy on your desk, you commanded respect.

The Essential System Administration book was a regular reference for me. Thankfully, I was not the sendmail guy.

The conclusion here (to paraphrase: "no DRM isn't a big enough draw") doesn't seem to be at all supported. It may be that they want to focus on publishing; it may be that they simply had to charge too much; it may be that it wasn't bringing in enough sales to make it worthwhile, compared to other retail channels.

Without more data (or really... any), this conclusion is pure speculation.

Yeah, I completely agree, but the OP is speculation too, because it's from Scott Myers's reading of a blog post. If you go read his linked blog post (from Laura Baldwin, President of O'Reilly media) you can see they explain many different aspects of their decision. Not once do they mention DRM in a negative way (only apologizing for no longer offering it in multiple formats via their store). In fact, they mention explicitly that Google will still publish their content DRM free.

The reasons they give for discontinuing their e-commerce efforts are that book sales have been dwindling since 2000, and that they simply make too much money on new interactive media and don't want to pay for their own e-commerce infrastructure and staff anymore. I would imagine the publishers they are now relying on can also help them market their titles (which I suggest speculatively would help significantly).

The article I want to link from Laura Baldwin is unfortunately only directly linkable via social media, but for now it's the only article at this link: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/oreilly-mission-spreading-kno...

Anectdotally, I bought a lot of DRM free books from O'Reilly directly. While I did share them due to convenience (coworker doesn't understand SSL! No problem), I also shared them with friends who couldn't afford them. I think this was actually good for O'Reilly, and that Tim was right and still is on this score.

I say this because I personally spent many thousands of dollars through their web store. My friends without cash who went on to become computer professionals started paying for the new books they wanted as well. The vast majority of people I shared books with who could afford them would go out and buy several more after seeing the quality and value of particular titles.

It's obviously a culture and economic mechanism that subsidizes certain kinds of customers and use, but I believe it subsidized the "right things". Because much of the content builds value in real marketable skills, free-riders can eventually become wealthy enough that the price to convenience ratio tips correctly and they become paying customers. It helps that they now have very strong brand loyalty. This is how I became an O'Reilly customer in the first place, so many year ago.

O'Reilly direct e-book sales was a positive example of business that creates huge uncaptured value for the domain (technical knowledge), but by virtue of that generates more customers. This is the kind of business we actually need. In some ways I think it was their own success that killed their book business, because ultimately digital books were replaced by more compelling media formats, and those exist largely due to advances in design and technology, and their books are raw fuel for those advances.

I say this many words only because I loved them so much, and am sad to see them go. I have to sadly admit it's been probably two years since I either read or bought a lot of titles from them. I haven't been reading or buying technical books at all. I don't know if this says something about my current level of specialization, perhaps my current level of laziness, my subconscious desire for new media formats, the quality of the titles they've been publishing, their business model, or perhaps the nature of the industry they serve.

I'd personally like to hear more from O'Reilly about this eventually. I know they need to spin everything to look good, but I am incredibly curious if their non-book media is actually increasingly popular as they suggest. Do people just not want technical books anymore? Do people want them but increasingly pirate them and never pay? Are people willing to pay for technical knowledge in different media? Did their business model cost them their business, or is this the result of unavoidable change in the market for technical knowledge?

Technology titles live on the usual bell curve. The less sophisticated and expert the audience, the bigger the potential sales. As you go up in expertise titles become increasingly niche - and harder to write well - but potential sales become more limited.

The biggest sellers were always mass-market guides to Windows, OS X, Word, iOS, and such.

The next tier down were introductory guides to core topics - HTML/CSS, js, Java, Flash, VisualBasic, and on on.

The tier down from that was much more specific - e.g. sound on iOS - but only of interest to a relatively small audience.

Eventually publishers hit a point where they can't find good expert authors because the money for writing a book is so poor compared to a typical developer salary, and the amount of work so high, that no one wants to do it. And even if they do they probably need a lot of help with editing and formatting.

StackOverflow and other online sources have more or less wiped out the lower levels. Changes in the industry have wiped out the upper levels - hardly anyone needs an introduction to Windows now, and even an intro to HTML/CSS is much harder to sell than it used to be.

That leaves the niche-y, limited, specialised levels - which aren't big enough on their own to support the old publishing model, except as a cottage industry.

Aside from author advances, the production costs of a book don't depend on the technical level of the content.

So this is why the industry is struggling. Meanwhile lynda.com, Udemy, and other courseware are cleaning up in the same space.

So of course O'Reilly, Wiley, and the rest are going to try to make a play for that space. And IMO they will fail, because the costs of producing courseware are much higher than the costs of producing a book, the courseware business requires an even more specialised skill set, the market isn't huge anyway - and more than anything, they're late to the party.

Some of this is true, but it's still possible to be a successful technical book publisher.


But it's rather harder to be a successful technical book author.

I think the broad market trends are pretty suggestive -- consumers in general don't care about DRM or wouldn't see e.g. Amazon's success in the ebook business. For more specifics I think we'd need hyper-detailed data. For example, how many people consider Google's use of the broken ACS4 DRM "close enough" to DRM-free?

> Piracy is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means you receive no compensation for the benefit readers get from the work you put in. On the other hand, pirated books act as implicit marketing, expanding awareness of you and your book(s). They can also reach buyers who want to see the full product before making a purchasing decision or who wouldn't become aware of your book through conventional marketing efforts.

The point I've emphasized above really matters a lot for people who do read many books. Despite select chapter previews that some publishers provide, there are people who really want to do their own evaluation of something before committing to buying it.

> My feeling is that most people who choose pirated books are unlikely to pay for them, even if that's the only way to get them. As such, I'm inclined to think the marketing effect of illegal copies exceeds the lost revenue. I have no data to back me up. Maybe it's just a rationalization to help me live with the knowledge that no matter what you do, there's no way you can prevent bootleg copies of your books from showing up on the Net.

Again, the emphasized sentence above has been known for a very long time in the areas of music, movies, TV shows, books - any content, actually. In my observation, people who pirate books also tend get into a habit of hoarding rather than reading (low disk/storage and bandwidth costs). Leaving aside the people who are in countries with poorer currencies and cannot really imagine buying a lot of the English language technical content produced, I doubt if the real loss in revenue is even substantial.

Books also, depending on the subject, require investments of time, attention, memory and repeated reference, unlike movies, TV shows and music that most of the time require a "one time investment". So I would not consider books to be in the same category as others when it comes to piracy.

I'm not at all happy with O'Reilly's decision, and did write to support at oreilly saying that this makes it difficult (finding DRM free content on amazon or elsewhere in multiple formats) and that I wouldn't be buying O'Reilly products again. I received a standard reply thanking me for the feedback and pointing me to the blog post. My guess is that the direct customer relationship and brand recognition through its website is going to be lost along with this decision.

I don't know if O'Reilly will change the decision, but people who do value the freedom of DRM free content in different formats must voice their opinions by writing to O'Reilly support.

> I doubt if the real loss in revenue is even substantial.

I am not a fan of DRM. Less because of its restrictions, but more because of its low level of user experience (merely consequence of its restrictions, sure, but still), with publishers not making content available for this or that device, and with lack of smart features like lending/borrowing/transferring material.

That said, and being from Latin America myself (Brazil), as well with connections in Asia (friends), I've heard many stories already that give an idea of thousands of developers that are consuming "paid" content downloaded through torrents/forums/dropboxes/etc, and never made the "honorable" payment.

I am afraid you are underestimating the amount of developers in developing countries that consume books from O'Reilly and other publishers and are not paying at all for that, ultimately damaging investments on new material, both by publishers and authors. It is hardly the case of not being able to afford, but simply a cultural thing.

For any author that thinks their content should be DRM-free and available to anyone, I don't understand why they don't publish on GitHub, and drop a link to their PayPal account for contributions. If they did, my bet would be on repositories with huge traffic (easy to monitor), but low pay-rate.

This is basically the same problem as monetising an open source project on GitHub. I don't know what O'Reilly's take of a 5-20USD eBook was, but I bet you the authors get more than your average Patreon.

Even if you do convince someone to pay (did I read that 1% was a good conversion rate?), how difficult is it to get their money? How many are you going to lose to the PayPal login process? How much money is your payment processor going to take?

While I've got you here (although this looks like a throwaway account), how easy is it for you to make a credit card payment to a US merchant from Brazil? Can you use Patreon? PayPal? Flattr?

Also, Bitcoin is not the solution here.

I agree that there's a cultural factor in piracy. As for putting up the book on GitHub and a link for donations, that hardly ever works (like you said, "low pay rate"). Most people feel that they ought to pay only when faced with a specific "buy" option. Except for some terrific authors and great works, donationware usually doesn't get much for the author.

> As such, I'm inclined to think the marketing effect of illegal copies exceeds the lost revenue.

My personal experience doesn't really support this. I used to work for a publisher of fiction books. Our business model was that we'd sell them exclusively on our website as eBooks for some time before putting out physical copies. One result of that was we were able to track all sales of the books in realtime.

The vast majority of eBooks were sold with DRM. But it would only be a matter of time before the DRM would be cracked and we'd see the books pop up on pirate sites. By tracking our sales figures, we noticed a very steep decline in sales as soon as a pirate version of a book became available. This was very consistent across our range of products.

I'm personally not a fan of DRM, however I don't think we would have been able to survive without it. We would always hope the DRM wouldn't be cracked quite so soon, as we'd receive very few sales afterwards.

Of course, the types of books we published were different to O'Reilly's, and our target audiences were different. The effect of piracy might not necessarily be so bad for them as it was for us. I'm sure it's still a challenge, though.

We usually see the opposite effect, especially for technical books with a large potential market. Visibility is key.

> I doubt if the real loss in revenue is even substantial.

yes, i also agree. The content just needs to be made slightly difficult to pirate, to keep the honest people honest - but there's no need to invest in any expensive and difficult to maintain DRM (like an online check).

Also, if content is easier to consume when pirated, then whose fault is it that more people would rather pirate than go though the official channel?

I have given a few O'Reilly DRM-free books to colleagues. Younger colleagues, who usually have never heard of an "animal book." I always point out where it came from, and suggest that if they like it, they either buy it, or buy something else from O'Reilly.

Maybe some did, I don't know. I suspect that the ones that didn't, probably wouldn't buy a similar book from anyone, not because of piracy, but because they just aren't into that particular kind of product. So no (real) harm, no foul.

I bought probably about 20 books on O'Reilly website. Mainly because they are typically of good quality but also because they're drm free.

I always appreciated that they were available in any format (pdf/ebook etc) and thus easier to search. You can even sync them to your dropbox automatically after purchase. A download them.

We had a book service at a former company and it was terrible, one page at a time with a clunky web interface. Being able to download and scan them was much appreciated.

But as internet search gets better, you find quick solutions on stack overflow. It must be hard selling books.

I love the Dropbox sync, although I found it hit or miss. Some books it wouldn't work. But, I've bought at least 50 books from their site.

I tried Safari when I was still in university, but found it terrible (but that was a few years back). I won't pay $400/year for a service like it. I could see maybe half that being reasonable. But, there are so many subscription services now.

It annoys me to no end when you can't copy or click on a link in a magazine that is not DRM-free.

The death of the DRM-free model was a big concern to me, but a recent supplementary blog post from Laura Baldwin, linked-to in the article but not called out, seems to claim that O'Reilly books will still be available DRM-free from Google Books. It's not clear to me if this means the Google Play e-book store, or something else.

Blog post here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/oreilly-mission-spreading-kno...

I'm just a consumer, but Google Play Books are in fact available for DRM-free download when so-requested by the publisher. Or least that's the reason Google gives when directly providing the book as a DRM-free download.

Check other comments, they aren't the quality PDFs previously available from the O'Reilly site, but crappy conversions from epub.

Yeah. Also I'd rather not give Google my money. If something goes wrong I don't like my chances of getting it back. At least with O'Reilly you could talk to a human.

No more $5 dollar books by registering as a 'print-book owner'?


So does anyone know of another online bookstore that is completely DRM-free? I mean both hard DRM (encryption) and soft DRM (watermarking, be it visible or invisible). That O'Reilly was completely DRM-free (AFAICT) made me spend quite an amount of money on their eBooks over the years... I wonder who wants to serve that market in the future? It seems that all the other options at least do watermarking, which makes it uninteresting to me.

Guess I'll have to buy everything as print books again...

I've never really had a problem with the watermarking in the footer with the person who bought it. It's out of my way so I tend to forget about it.

All of our ebooks have always been DRM-free. That's true for some other publishers, too.

That's great! I had bought several of your books from O'Reilly -- I will head to your store directly then in the future.

I like reading PDFs of books on my phone, especially on my commute. It works surprisingly well, better than I thought it would.

My work bought a copy of Designing Data Intensive Applications for the team, I've started reading it but lugging around 1kg of book every day gets old really quick, I wish they would have offered a PDF download coupon or something inside.

I wonder why they still offer the Google Play versions as being "DRM free"

Is it just Google has more weight they can throw around and O'Reilly didn't want to 'rock the boat', or was it a technical problem?

Apparently the Google Play versions of O'Reilly books are formatted strangely and aren't a direct PDF of the physical books.

When I discovered books at OReilly I thought I had stumbled into heaven. I bought a couple hundred books over several years. I thought they "get it." No longer.

Companies are starting to get serious about product and service lock-in, for me and many others the paradigm is repellent.

I didn't quite get that. Will their books still be available DRM-free or not? If not, that's a major setback.

Technically, they're saying Google will offer them DRM-free, but they're ePub and the PDFs are conversions from ePub. It looks like ebooks.com will offer ePub and PDF that are DRM-free too.

Is it just cost reduction for them? Why can't they continue selling them from their site?

I published a book and have to admit that I have given it away to everyone who has any inkling of interest.

What's the book?

That sounds more like O'Reilly gave up on fulfillment and went with Amazon, like everybody else.

Monoculture monopoly leads to tyranny and gouging.

I liked using the O'Reilly early release program available from the site (as well as Manning's MEAP program). Is there any replacement for that now?

I also prefer the PDF versions which I can print out a chapter when I need to read hard-copy Instead of carrying with me an entire book (live/work in Manhattan, we don't use cars much and value light-weight equipment).

I prefer PDF versions because they're formatted nicely. I find that ePub and Mobi versions of technical books almost uniformly terrible.

Completely agree.

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