Not just a change in words: a shift in mindset

While I was attending and presenting at O’Reilly Media’s TOC conference in Frankfurt, I had a chance to talk briefly with Cory Doctorow, who had delivered one of three keynote presentations earlier in the day.

Now, Cory is not always the most popular guy in a room full of publishers (lately, apparently, neither am I).  He has a focused and sometimes forceful point of view when it comes to topics like copyright and piracy, and he doesn’t mince words.

Cory had attended the update I gave on the impact of P2P file distribution on paid content sales, and he said he had a “nit” to pick with me.  Given Cory’s extensive history and interest in the topic, I was more than a little curious about what he wanted to share.

In the presentation, I had described some content in the sample set as “DRM-protected”.  He asked if I would consider changing the phrase to “DRM-restricted”.  I agreed that it made sense to do so, and we went our separate ways for the rest of the day (and the Book Fair).

But the exchange has stuck with me.  When Barnes & Noble announced its new reader and described its social reading features (the ability to share content in serial fashion, for example), “DRM-protected” cropped up again and again in coverage and commentary.  I found myself asking, if DRM is protecting authors and publishers, who is it protecting them from?

My answer, not uniquely: readers.

A recent post on Access Romance leads the way on this: we’re restricting the rights of readers just in case they turn into pirates.  Digital books that come with DRM for the most part can’t be shared, can’t be handed down, can’t be resold.  Why do people pay less for an e-book?  Because it’s worth less to them.

For the most part, in studying piracy, I’ve steered clear of DRM.  O’Reilly does not use DRM to restrict the use of its content, something that initially led us to think they would be more vulnerable to lost sales through piracy.  So far, that is not what we have found.

I’m not prepared to argue that piracy is not a threat and so we should abandon DRM.  But if we care about readers paying more for content, we have to recognize that DRM restricts use and lowers the value of the content inside.  Teaching our best customers to pay less for things does not seem like a good idea.

Oct 23, 2009  at  04:47 AM

I know its a sidestep in relation to your (excellent) point but: The B&N;Nook Social reading feature, that allows you to share content, seems to allow only for a *one time* lending out, not serial lending:

From their support page (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/nook/support/):

“You can lend many of your eBooks one time for a maximum of 14 days.”

Posted by Brian F OLeary
Oct 23, 2009  at  06:53 AM

Thank you for the additional information, which covers something I did not understand fully while writing the post.  Unfortunately, it underscores the “restricted” nature of DRM restrictions.  Ultimately, I do think these practices reduce prices for content.

Posted by Kristine
Oct 23, 2009  at  02:07 PM

DRM = Don’t Read Me.

Posted by fairuse
Aug 23, 2010  at  02:29 AM

Just a foot note to DRM. Books, Magazines & any hardcopy that goes on the Net as digital data has a noisy neighbor - RIAA. They are not in the business of making life easy for Publishers, Retail & Consumer. Here is their policy:


Axis of P2P Evil? Congress, RIAA call out six worst websites in the world

By Nate Anderson

  (..) Hold your children close

Still, even with such tremendous victories behind it, the RIAA can’t resist a spot of over-the-top rhetoric.

“The global challenge in the years to come will be to win the battle for a civilized Internet that respects property, privacy and security,” said Bainwol. “An Internet of chaos may meet a utopian vision but surely undermines the societal values of safe and secure families and job and revenue-creating commerce. Shining the spotlight on these websites sends a vital message to users, advertisers, payment processors and governments around the world.”

Yes, that’s right: a Ukrainian website called “mp3fiesta” is threatening the safety and security of your family. And a good chunk of Congress wants to do something about it. “.

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