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As An Author, Why I Truly Hate Ebook DRM (disruptiveconversations.com)
60 points by danyork 1906 days ago | hide | past | web | 24 comments | favorite



I, also an author, 100% agree with this. Also, the royalties that authors receive (roughly 10% of what the publisher receives after the retailer has taken their large, say 50%, part of the cover price) is tiny.

When you consider the months of work to write a book and divide by the return it's not hard to see why authors have a hard time getting upset about 'lost royalties'.


It's hard to see why authors should act irrationally. If poor royalty, not DRM, are the major reason for poor earnings, authors should complain about royalties, not DRM.

It seems to me that today the best way to make money on technical books is to put the whole book for free in html on the web (for marketing and SEO) and sell digital version (PDF/ePub/kindle), where the author gets 70% (kindle) or ~95% (selling PDF/ePub via paypal).

If you don't believe in free html version as a marketing tool, don't do it - just build a nice web page for the book with TOC, a free chapter etc.

The point is: I'm mystified that authors of technical books (especially those in the programming field) still work with publishers given that self-publishing is potentially so much more lucrative and an author can probably market his own book better than Apress markets an average book they publish.


While I don't like DRM and will always choose an alternative product that does not have it, I don't buy these arguments.

So looking at his points:

"DRM Is Anti-Reader": There's no reason that DRM could allow the easy transfer of a book from one person or platform to another. You could submit a transfer request and the publisher could re-encode the book to the new owner or format. Would you expect that as the purchaser of the book, you'd be allowed to photocopy it and distribute the photocopy?

"DRM Locks Readers In To Platforms": This is not necessarily the case. The publisher could easily offer the same book in multiple formats. Converting from source is a trivial technical task.

"DRM Adds Unneeded Complexity": DRM does add complexity, but as most people read via an application rather than a text file, this can be abstracted for almost all readers. Again, this is a problem with the implementation.

"DRM Stifles Innovation": Authors not getting paid so that they can eat also stifles innovation. There needs to be a balance here, it's not all about making everyone's work free.

"DRM Halts The Spread Of Ideas": If someone can't afford the book, in many countries they can go to a library. They don't need ownership to read the ideas.

In summary, the issue with DRM for books is the implementation. Many of the problems listed are real but could be almost completely negated by the publishers doing things that cost them almost nothing, even following the assumption that everyone wants to read their books for free.

To be clear, I'm not implying that I support DRM or that it really does significantly reduce the availability of books that have not be paid for, just that the arguments presented here are against the current implementation rather than DRM itself.


You're misunderstanding the purpose of DRM. Every DRM format is cracked within hours of release. The purpose of DRM is not and never has been to stop "pirates".

The purpose of DRM is to get you, the legitimate user, to pay multiple times to use the same content. They want you to pay once to read the book in your kitchen and another time to read the same book in your bedroom and another time if you want to let your wife read it too. By definition, you've already paid once so you're an excellent candidate to get more money out of.

The purpose of DRM is to make it hard for you to use multiple devices, hard for you to use different platforms, and so on. So that you'll pay again. These aren't flaws. They're design goals.


If you are going to make claims that don't agree with what most people believe, you should try to at least provide reasoning behind your theories, if not proof. As it is you are just posting speculation as fact. I think you could make a compelling argument for what you are saying, but you just... aren't.


Some statements are simply obvious and do not need proof.

DRM from a technological perspective is broken, simply because it uses encryption in a wrong way ... the user being both the party that receives the message and the third-party from which the message is protected. This means the decryption key is easily obtained by inspecting the device's memory or hardware or by listening to packets sent over the network. This is why to date there is no DRM scheme that wasn't broken somehow, as the technology is fundamentally flawed from a technical perspective.

For Kindle, here's a collection of 4,687 mostly pirated books in Mobi format that you can copy straight to your device: http://thepiratebay.se/torrent/6748422/Kindle_Library___%284... ... do you really need more proof than this?

Because really, if DRM doesn't protect against piracy, and it doesn't, then what's its purpose, other than lock-in of legitimate customers?

And I've worked for BigCo, I know how they think. Lock-in is not something that just happens. Lock-in is a planned process.


> Because really, if DRM doesn't protect against piracy, and it doesn't, then what's its purpose, other than lock-in of legitimate customers?

To give technology partners something (broken) to sell to publishers so they'll agree, in exchange, to publish their catalogue in a digital format. It's like giving someone a (broken) gun so they'll agree to let you go on a date with their daughter. You know it's broken, and they might even know it's broken--but it's the act of doing a "good-faith effort" to protect the publisher's content that matters, not the consequence of whether it gets cracked or not.


Sad. I weep for HN.


> In summary, the issue with DRM for books is the implementation.

Absolutely friggin' not. The issue is with the very concept. It's trying to bolt artificial limitations on something that naturally has none. It's trying to reproduce an existing business model based upon scarcity where there isn't any scarcity nor any reason to want any, on the contrary.

DRM is bad, bad, bad, should be destroyed forever and as soon as possible. Boycott must be complete. We already won this battle in music where it's perfectly possible to buy about any music without DRM, and it must be the same (dare I say even more, because books are so much more important to knowledge than music) for ebooks.


Thanks for commenting and challenging my views! A couple of quick comments:

> "DRM Stifles Innovation": Authors not getting paid so that they can eat also stifles innovation. There needs to be a balance here, it's not all about making everyone's work free.

Please note that nowhere in the article did I talk about "making everyone's work free". I'm an author and I like it when people buy my ebooks. The royalties, though small, are helpful... and buying ebooks helps keep my publisher going, too, so that they can fund the creation of more books by people like me.

What I'm talking about here is the developer who comes up with a really cool ebook tool and then figures out that to make that tool publicly available - and to SELL that tool - he or she needs to add DRM software to it so that the tool can interact with (or create) the DRM'd ebooks that people are getting. That developer now needs to pay some serious $$$ to build that DRM software into his/her tool.

> "DRM Halts The Spread Of Ideas": If someone can't afford the book, in many countries they can go to a library. They don't need ownership to read the ideas.

Fair point, and you're absolutely right they don't need ownership. They can borrow a book from a library - or from a friend. Unfortunately DRM'd ebooks often make it difficult to lend the book to someone.

Libraries, too, have issues getting ebooks from some publishers. And when they do they are DRM-constrained and set up conditions of artificial scarcity. And, as I noted in my post, borrowing an ebook can be needlessly complex when DRM is involved.


"There's no reason that DRM could allow the easy transfer of a book from one person or platform to another."

You've inadvertently hit onto the core issue. DRM isn't about copy protection, it's ultimately about power. If DRM were only about publishers wanting to limit consumers to the same rights and capabilities that physical copies have it would have a much different form that it does today. Instead, DRM as it exists in reality is a tool to leverage even greater control over sales and wrest the very idea of "ownership" from buyers. It's no coincidence that almost all DRM schemes refuse to allow buyers to transfer their purchases to others.

All the talk about DRM is misleading, in reality it's just a power grab. Ultimately (much like software patents) we have to confront the way it exists in the actual world, not some hypothetical perfect ideal that has never been realized.

Today DRM is not a good thing, and for that reason we should strive to get rid of it.


> There's no reason that DRM could allow the easy transfer of a book from one person or platform to another.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what they do and what publishers use them for!

> The publisher could easily offer the same book in multiple formats.

Yes. I know exactly one publisher that does it: Bragelonne. They sell DRMed ebooks on Kindle and Apple store and DRM-free books on all other libraries, and freely give the DRM-free to any buyers of locked books.

> DRM does add complexity, but as most people read via an application rather than a text file, this can be abstracted for almost all readers.

There exists no application to read DRMed books on my computer on my tablet and on my smartphone. I can only read Adobe DRM on my e-reader. However, I can read DRM free books on all those devices.

> this is a problem with the implementation.

Yes, but since there will never be any implementation for my devices, this is a purely rhetorical argument.

> Authors not getting paid so that they can eat also stifles innovation.

Authors published by no DRM publishers also get paid. Authors published with DRM also get pirated.

> In summary, the issue with DRM for books is the implementation. Many of the problems listed are real but could be almost completely negated by the publishers doing things that cost them almost nothing, even following the assumption that everyone wants to read their books for free.

DRM costs a lot to publishers. publie.net chose to be DRM free also as it was not able to pay adobe for using DRM.


> "DRM Halts The Spread Of Ideas": If someone can't afford the book, in many countries they can go to a library. They don't need ownership to read the ideas.

In most third world countries there aren't a lot of libraries. Even if you are lucky enough to have access to one, the collection of books is most likely outdated.

When I was living in Pakistan it was prohibitively expensive to have books shipped to me (and I was a salaried professional so can be considered relatively well-off) and ebooks offered a reasonably priced alternative at around Rs. 700 ($9.99) + no shipping costs. Most people, though, would look for a pirated copy if they could find one because Rs. 700 is still a significant expense for someone who makes Rs. 25,000 a month.


My argument was that DRM _could_ be used in such a way to negate most of the experience issues that people have. The objections that the author makes are valid in the implementation, but it is possible that it could be implemented another way.

It's probably true that DRM will never be implemented in a different way because DRM is about power, control, maintaining monopoly and fighting technological progress. But there is a difference between the objection to the DRM ideology and the DRM implementation.


A list of places to get DRM free ebooks: http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/E-book_stores#Dealers_and_Pu...


Thanks for the great list!


If we can get the antiDRM movement coming from both content producers and consumers, perhaps distribution will join in.


I don't love DRM, but the hyperbole could be notched down. In particular, this cliche:

"DRM starts from the premise that all readers are slimeballs and thieves."

Such a dire pronouncement doesn't logically follow. DRM starts from the premise that there exist many slimeballs and thieves. Next, that we should thwart as many as we can with technology, even at the inconvenience of paying customers, presumably yielding greater profit than in the absence of DRM.

The first assumption's undeniably true; the second is open to much debate. But "all readers are scum" is a needlessly cynical attitude to read into it.


Well the decision is to treat all customers as criminals, just the same as if we already were criminals.


How so? Criminals are fined or arrested, not prompted to enter authentication information or sync devices via this approved route.

Do you think locking your front door treats everyone else in the entire world as a criminal?


While I grant you that those promoting DRM may in fact start from the premise you state, the end result is that we all wind up being treated as potential thieves. Perhaps it is an overly cynical attitude... but that is how I view it.


I'm not in the industry, so I'd expect your cynicism to be greater, I suppose. I get that. But to be accurate (if at the expense of nitpicking):

"the end result is that we all wind up being treated as potential thieves"

We all are potential thieves from the perspective of anyone who doesn't know us; and if you have a valuable good, it's a far more reasonable (and profitable) assessment than "no one is a potential thief." It's the same stance you take when you design a website: "everyone is a potential hacker."

A potential thief, however, is not an actual thief, and to repeat what I said above, I don't believe DRM treats users as actual thieves: it treats them as potential thieves until they've authenticated and as honest users afterward. If you have to authenticate annoyingly often, it's a usability problem, but it doesn't change the essential dynamic.


I hate DRM too, but the one area where I'm conflicted is with libraries. There's a strong disincentive to buy if one can just download a book without restrictions on availability or borrowing period.


It's an interesting question. If a library buys all of the DRM-free Tor Books, then puts them up on their website as downloadable files for their community members, is that OK?




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