Question on Digital Rights Management or DRM

Question: Hi, my name is Arthur Mills. I’m the author of the part-fiction / part-memoir book, The Empty Lot Next Door. The book is available on hardback and softback but after talking to Maureen, I’ve become interested in selling my book as an ebook on Smashwords. My concern is that Smashwords’ ebooks are DRM-free. To my understanding, that means that a purchaser could theoretically buy a copy and pass copies to all his friends. Copies could also end up on other free ebook sites. Maureen explained it best when she told me that authors would always struggle to protect their work. Is my concert valid? Do any of you have the same concern and how do you deal with it? I’m a new Author that could use all the help you are willing to provide.

Arthur and anyone else that has been interested in this question,
I started out commenting to your question, but the answer got too long so I decided to make it a post. To answer your questions, yes DRM-free means that the purchaser could buy and pass around copies to all their friends and they could end up on free eBook sites. However, DRM-ing your eBook doesn’t always stop this problem.

DRM doesn’t keep it from being pirated, it just makes it harder to do. Anyone with good computer skills can hack into the DRM program and crack. Or they could just look online for articles on removing DRM or cracking it, the list is long. Also if a pirate really wants to share your book, all they have to do is buy the print book and scan it into a computer to distribute it for free or even sell it.

I thought I’d create a list of the pros and cons of Digital Rights Management and let you judge for yourself which you would prefer to do. Some of this list comes from reader complaints to Fictionwise and Smashwords. Sadly, the pros are few and the cons are many.

Pros of DRM
~limit the unlicensed sharing of content beyond those who paid for it

Cons of DRM
~It affects eBook sales, many people refuse to buy digital products that have DRM in place and/or objections to it on principle. Secured formats also cause ten times the number of customer service calls, when compared to unsecured formats. A customer who has a problem with a secured file is less likely to purchase DRM formats again.
~bugs in the DRM software
~The inability to use a file they paid for across multiple operating systems they own personally. Secured formats are difficult or impossible to pass from device to device.
~The inability to back up and safeguard files.
~Limit the ability of the legal purchaser to fully use the content, such as printing locked PDF files, citing material in a scholarly study, or when using a recipe from an e-book version of a cookbook. Some might argue that you have to hand type in from a paper book, but the fact is the unique advantages of e-books are stripped away by DRM.
~The inability to make the e-book into an audio book.
~The inability to print and read on the go from paper.
~The added expense of DRM, which is passed along to the reader, in the form of higher prices.
~DRM punishes honest purchasers, in a vain attempt to stop criminals. There is currently no DRM that cannot be broken. When a new form comes out, it is usually broken within a number of weeks and the hack…or the unlocked copy of the file is passed around.

Anyone have anything to add?

9 thoughts on “Question on Digital Rights Management or DRM

  1. I continue to side with the argument against the application of DRM to e-books but until I read Ruth’s great post I had no idea about the many technical ways DRM-protection can negatively impact a book. Wow.

    I actually think I may have elected DRM-protected when I uploaded January Moon at Amazon via its DTP software. As I said before, I only brought my book over there myself b/c Smashwords wasn’t able to do it yet (I don’t know if they’ve resolved those issues yet). SW’s distributed JM to B&N, Sony etc b/c JM is in its Premium Catalog so I assume JM is not DRM-protected at those other sites.

    I’m going to go back and remove the DRM-protection from January Moon at Amazon.

    Thanks, Ruth.


  2. Well, that was lame… reading too fast here. Sorry Stephannie! Thought the post was Ruth’s. So thanks to you!! I think both of you are knocking it out of the park today! 🙂


  3. Excellent post, Stephannie! I like how you laid it out very simply and easy to understand. I’ve opted out of the DRM on all of my titles and intend to continue doing it. I only buy MP3’s at Amazon because of the lack of DRM, and I figure if that influences my purchasing, it probably influences others’, too, in all media forms.


  4. Many thanks Steph andRuth for the posts. Very informative….i didnt know half those cons on the DRM. Its a no brainer for me…might as well not even worry about it, especially if the hackers are that good anyway!


  5. Great post about DRM. I put DRM on my book when I first uploaded to Amazon without realizing all the cons. Once I found out about the cons I went back to try to take it off and found that I couldn’t. Is there a way around that? Maybe Amazon has changed and you can take DRM off your ebooks now. I honestly haven’t checked in a while. This post just reminded me that I have to do something about it.


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