DRM Isn’t the Answer, But It’s Not Not the Answer Either

by | Feb 27, 2012 | E-books | 58 comments

In a recent column in Publishers Weekly, Joe Wikert made the case for a unified e-book market and suggests that publishers consider getting rid of DRM, those digital pesky restrictions that, among other things, prevent you from easily taking your Kindle book collection over to a Nook.

He also references Steve Jobs’ famous letter to the music industry in which he plead that they get rid of DRM, which Jobs said doesn’t work and will not halt music piracy.

As a writer, reader, and former agent, I have to say: I really don’t have a problem with DRM. But it could be better.

Here’s the thing that the anti-DRM crowd rarely adequately acknowledges: It’s way too easy to e-mail your 1,000 closest friends a copy of a non-DRM e-book. Yeah, DRM can be cracked. Yeah, if someone really wants to pirate something they’re going to pirate it. Yeah, there’s nothing that’s ever going to stop piracy entirely.

But adding some basic restrictions on use of a file encourages average consumers to do the right thing. As long as those speed bumps are reasonable.

And to that end, here’s how I think a reasonable DRM policy should work:

Readers Should Have the Right to Transfer Their Libraries

This is the biggest injustice of DRM. If I buy an e-book on a Kindle I should be able to transfer it to a Nook. There should be an e-book reader Bill of Rights that compels e-booksellers to provide the means for a reader to read the e-books wherever they wish. If I want to move to another device or app or e-book program I should be able to do so.

This is obviously way more complicated than it sounds. Who is going to develop and maintain the conversions? Could e-booksellers agree on a universal format when Amazon in particular doesn’t have much of an incentive to open up their e-book ecosystem?

But someone needs to take leadership on this. It’s only fair that when you buy an e-book you have the right to read it wherever you want.

Readers Should Be Able to Access an E-book On Up to Six Devices

One of the greatest things about e-books is the ability to sync between devices. And allowing multiple devices simultaneously allow families to pool e-book collections as well. Six seems reasonable to me – an entire town shouldn’t be able to access a shared e-book account, but a family should be able to share an e-book.

Readers Should Be Able to Permanently Give Away an E-book

Done with an e-book and want to give it a friend? You should be able to e-mail it to a friend. Once they download it to their device it’s disabled on your device. Just like if you were giving away a physical book.

Other than that? The file is locked down. I can’t e-mail it to my friends. I can’t copy it endlessly. I’d have everything I need for legitimate home use and all the benefits of being able to choose my app ecosystem, and it would be a pain to do the wrong thing.

What do you think is fair when it comes to e-books?


  1. Jory

    Great post Nathan. I completely agree. One of the biggest things keeping me from buying an e-reader is that I can't then transfer over any books from, say, my e-reader app on my iPod or phone. I understand the need for DRM, but I'm sure there are ways to make things a little more user-friendly.

    Also, I've always wished there was a "package deal" system where you could purchase a hard copy and get the e-book for a small additional fee, because I just can't bring myself to give up physical books. Although, from the way things seem to work as you described in your post about e-book costs, maybe that wouldn't be possible.

  2. Mr. D

    I think a file should be able to be read on any type of reader. Books are loaned to other people all the time, and it didn't affect publishers that much, did it?

  3. Firetulip

    I agree with sharing among friends and familiy, but a copy of an ebook costs a fractiion of a physical book and it won't break anyone's wallet if they paid for one. And I think that is what the industry tried to achieve with this technology.

  4. Nathan Bransford

    Mr D-

    But they were loaned one at a time. This is what this provides for. The problem is that digital files can be endlessly reproduced and shared without restrictions in place.

  5. Richard Gibson

    Key word: Reasonable.

    Agree with all you suggest, including the difficulty of implementing some of it.

  6. Josin L. McQuein

    DRM's worthless. It's strippable in under a minute. A digital watermark which tracks who uploads/downloads is a more viable feature.

  7. Mr. D

    Yeah, Nathan, that occurred to me after I posted. Such is the modern age. I'm still getting used to it.

  8. Leah

    Nathan, while your suggestions are very reasonable, they're still not going to have any significant effect on ebook piracy and will only end up inconveniencing legitimate customers.

    Is "encouraging" a handful of customers to not illegally share an ebook that they've already purchased really making a dent in piracy? Are the people buying and sharing ebooks with friends really the "pirates" the industry wants to be going after?

    Steve Jobs was right. DRM doesn't stop piracy. But it does make honest customers pay for it. This is backwards thinking and needs to be thrown out entirely.

  9. Christy Farmer

    Nathan, I love it! iTunes seems to have made this work with a limited number of devices.

    I would love to see e-books become interchangeable between nook and kindle with a limited number of devices. Great post!

  10. Mira

    Hear, hear! Great post. I completely agree.

    There needs to be some gatekeeping function, but it should be flexible enough to protect the seller while still providing real ownership to the purchaser.

    I like your solutions here.

  11. Jory

    How is sharing an e-book any different from passing along your paperback? That's why I like the idea of giving it a limited but reasonable number of device allowances.

  12. Carmen Webster Buxton

    Immediately after this item by Nathan, my feed reader had an article on how to put iBooks on a Kindle by cracking the DRM. What DRM is doing is inconveniencing the folks who would never steal the book but who want to be able to transfer it to a new device. I agree that a watermark is probably a better deterrent.

  13. Amber

    Ahhh, thank you. I've always had issues with the fact that books aren't tradeable between devices. I feel like once you own a book, you should be able to do whatever you want with it. The lending option was big when Nook first came out for that reason.

    I also agree with Jory on the Package-deal bit. When I travel, I want to be able to take my favorite books with me on my Nook, but I hate the idea of having to rebuy them. My copy is perfectly good. It's just not digital.

    When I am on the Barnes and Noble website, too, sometimes it amazes me the price of their ebooks vs. their regular books. They average around $9.99, but in some cases, that's more expensive than the actual book….

    I think there's just some bugs still in the ebook system.

  14. Steven J. Wangsness

    One problem with lending an ebook "just like a regular book" is that doing the former requires virtually no effort, while doing the latter requires that the two parties meet, or at least that one of them go to the post office.

    So many readers of ebooks already expect to get books for free that you wonder how writers will ever be able to support themselves in the future (as hard as it is now).

    Perhaps the solution is to keep one's library on the digital cloud somewhere, able to transfer it to different devices, or permanently to someone else's cloud-library.

  15. Nathan Bransford


    How are honest customers punished by DRM? Still wondering about that.

    I just don't believe a digital file should be shared endlessly. I mean, I do you think people should be able to print a million copies of Harry Potter and pass those around to everyone they know?

  16. Nathan Bransford


    But that's the point of this post. People shouldn't have to crack DRM to transfer their e-books. Otherwise I don't see why you would even need to crack DRM.

  17. Steve Masover

    Interesting ideas toward finding middle-ground on the DRM question … not one in which middle-grounds are very popular positions.

    I'm reminded of some of what Adam Gopnik wrote in the 30 Jan issue of The New Yorker, in reference to more serious crimes than copyright violation (emphasis is mine):

    And, in a virtuous cycle, the decreased prevalence of crime fuels a decrease in the prevalence of crime. When your friends are no longer doing street robberies, you’re less likely to do them. Zimring said, in a recent interview, “Remember, nobody ever made a living mugging. There’s no minimum wage in violent crime.” In a sense, he argues, it’s recreational, part of a life style: “Crime is a routine behavior; it’s a thing people do when they get used to doing it.” And therein lies its essential fragility. Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages.” Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.

    (From Adam Gopnik, The Caging of America, The New Yorker, 30 Jan 2012.)

  18. LadySaotome

    Books should be able to be lent more than once. Honestly, I share most of my physical books 3-4 times – with siblings, good friends, etc. Only being able to share them once is going to make me less likely to share them at all.

  19. Robert Michael

    I remember something my dad said: "locks are for honest people." The more barriers (locks) we have in place the more inconvenient it is to pirate. Thieves will always be thieves and a culture of entitlement will always breed a significant number of folks ready to exploit an easy mark. At a certain point, the level of security required to protect something as basic as creative properties becomes a study in the inane and ridiculous.

  20. Michael Clemens

    I'm just dipping my toe into the waters of self publishing, and I made the conscious choice to not DRM my title. I have the luxury of a day job, and maybe that makes the difference — I'm not depending on my writing for a living — but I don't believe anyone is served by assuming that my customers are criminals, and by essentially locking my story into whatever the technology is at the time. DRM effectively puts an expiration date on my work, by ensuring that some kind of upgrade cycle it going to be required for the words to migrate to the successors to todays e-readers.

    Besides, as a fledgling author, I want people to read my book. If someone discovers my work through less-than-honest means and also finds out that they like it, then I've got a Reader, the most valuable part of this transaction. DRM does not prevent piracy, but I can see it as a hindrance to discovery.

  21. Anonymous

    "Here's the thing that the anti-DRM crowd rarely adequately acknowledges: It's way too easy to e-mail your 1,000 closest friends a copy of a non-DRM e-book."

    I hear this argument a lot and my response is always the same: Who does this? Who is out there emailing thousands of people books? I've never randomly gotten an email from someone with a book attached. It's nonsensical. If someone is out there emailing books to thousands of people, my guess is they'd quickly find their emails sent to the spam folder because who wants random books? And who reads a book that's emailed to them along with thousands of other people? How can that many people get together and have the same taste in books?

    The reality is most people may email a book to a friend or two, which is no different than lending.

    I don't think it's fair to restrict a book to 6 devices. Between myself and my husband we already have 5 registered Kindles ( a Fire each, an e-ink each, and a keyboard for me). I like being able to sync between them. If we decided to get each of his 3 kids a Kindle, that takes us to 8. I know families with 11 kids, do they just need to pick their 6 favorite kids to get e-readers?

    DRM does nothing to stop piracy and just inconveniences legitimate customers, period. If anything, it encourages pirating. It's like telling a kid they can't do something, it just makes them want to do it even if they had no desire to before.

    I have yet to see someone give a real life scenario of how DRM has stopped someone from pirating. If you want to curb pirating, give people your product in the format people want at a reasonable price. It reminds me of this comic from The Oatmeal http://theoatmeal.com/comics/game_of_thrones

  22. Nathan Bransford


    Books, maybe not as often. But I've definitely had albums e-mailed or Dropboxed to me with quite a bit of regularity. As we move toward critical mass with people reading e-books it will only get more common.

    I think the key with DRM isn't to ignore it but to make it unobtrusive and fair. The Game of Thrones example is way different – that's HBO's decision to make it only available via a single distribution channel. It has nothing to do with DRM.

  23. Ishta Mercurio

    I think you've come up with a pretty fair system, but I wonder how do-able it is. Partly because of all the programming involved, and partly because I can't see Amazon cooperating.

    Out of curiosity, a side-question: does anyone know how much money the book publishing industry is worth nowadays? Is it comparable to the music industry? My guess is not – which would beg the question of whether the effort (and money) necessary to come up with a better DRM system would be worth it, in the eyes of those burdened with the cost of doing so.

  24. Lauren


    How are honest customers punished by DRM? Still wondering about that.

    I just don't believe a digital file should be shared endlessly. I mean, I do you think people should be able to print a million copies of Harry Potter and pass those around to everyone they know?"

    I believe you answered the question yourself below:

    "But that's the point of this post. People shouldn't have to crack DRM to transfer their e-books. Otherwise I don't see why you would even need to crack DRM."

    People are being inconvenienced at this very moment due to DRM (which would certainly lessen if the changes you've described were to come into play).

    On one hand, I understand the fear that books will go the way of images and music, whereby once they've been digitized and uploaded there's really little that can be done to prevent the product from being duplicated and shared over and over again. But on the other hand, locking users into one device for the rest of their lives isn't practical either. I've already downloaded several e-books for class from Google Books. While a Kindle or a Nook sounds tempting, there's no way I'm going to re-purchase all of these class materials if they do not transfer over. The universal file format issue is just so different than what it was like for music. And unfortunately I don't think the big guy (Amazon) really has any incentive to make their materials transferable to any other device.

  25. Anonymous

    DRM is meant to stop piracy. I brought up the Game of Thrones example to show that people in general don't pirate…unless they can't get the content they want the way they want it at a reasonable price.

    The answer to piracy isn't DRM, it's making the product available in the format consumers want at a price consumers want. While there will always be people who pirate because it's what they do, the rest of the people who pirate do it because they feel the price is too high or they can't get the content the way they want it, which is why the Game of Thrones example is relevant. If publishers made their books available at reasonable prices and made it available on the platform I want (in this case giving up DRM so I can use it on whatever platform I want) then there would be no need or reason to pirate. Yes, piracy would still happen because some people are just jerks and nothing is going to stop them, but for the vast majority of people they would no longer have a desire to pirate or strip DRM (which is just as illegal as pirating).

    For the person who asked how DRM hurts legitimate customers I have an example. A friend of mine gave me a B&N gift card. I read on a Kindle. With DRM that gift card is now useless to me. However, since there are some publishers and authors smart enough to not mess with this DRM nonsense, I bought their books and converted them for my Kindle :).

    With all the bookstores we've seen go out of business, it's not out of this world to think that there might not be a B&N 5 years from now. For people who bought into the Nook and bought all their books through B&N, they would be out all the money they spent on ebooks (except for the non-DRM ones that they could transfer to another reader once their now defunct Nook dies). That scenario can happen with any e-reader and any company.

    Since DRM and format is controlled by retailers, I don't see there ever being a way to make it unobtrusive. There's no uniformity in the ebook world and retailers want it that way. Amazon doesn't want you buying your ebooks from B&N and putting them on your Kindle and vice versa. There's no incentive for them.

    For the most part, I think that as we've moved online and to everything being digital companies like to point their finger at pirates and say piracy is the problem because it's easier than changing the way they do business.

    Piracy has been around as long as books have and it hasn't stopped publishers. I guess my point is that instead of focusing on something you can't control (piracy) and putting resources into something that at best is a placebo for publishers and at worst is a deterrent to people buying their books (DRM), publishers should be focusing on what they can control: the quality of their product.

  26. Nathan Bransford


    I don't think anyone really believes DRM stops piracy. Anyone who wants to pirate is going to pirate. DRM isn't going to stop that. As Robert alluded to above with the locks analogy, DRM is about keeping honest people honest.

    As we've seen from things like Napster, if pirating is way easier and way cheaper than buying honestly, people are going to do that. If it's really easy for someone to e-mail the Harry Potter books to five of their friends, they're going to do that. But that casual sharing of a digital file can snowball.

    DRM is a speedbump, not a barricade. I think you're saying it's obtrusive right now, and I agree with you. What I'm saying is that it could be better if the steps in the post were taken.

  27. Zan Marie

    Great ideas, Nathan. The six-device rule is a real winner to me.

  28. Alexa O

    Given that the solutions you propose, while all entirely reasonable, would be difficult to implement, I wonder if keeping the prices low, but still restricting lending, is a workable idea.

    I've seen so many self-pubbed authors see more success than they ever thought possible, simply because they can price their ebooks at $.99-3.99. Readers looking for a romance or a murder mystery are just as likely to find a good book by purchasing a self-pub with a lot of good reviews as they are by going with traditionally published books, and what they find is cheaper by far.

    Selling Tina Fey's memoir for anything more than about $5 (for the ebook) AND restricting lending amounts to telling people to go ahead and steal it. And yet, *Bossypants* is currently $12.99, lending not enabled, and Amazon is claiming that purchasing it is a "savings" of $14.00 (compared to the print edition).

    I'd rather pay less and NOT lend it than pay more and maybe lend it.


  29. Emily

    Oooh. I love this. You are brilliant. Especially being able to send it to a friend.

  30. Anonymous

    My opinion–I should be able to use my purchased book on any device that I choose. I feel that Steam (electronic distributor of computer games) handles this well. Steam lets me download my games onto as many computers as I want, but I can only be using Steam games on one of those computers at a time. When I log into my Steam account on a second computer, it automatically logs me out on the first. I have no objection. That's fair.

    Another thing I like about Steam is that if my internet connection is down and it can't validate my account, it chooses to trust me and let me play anyway (it syncs up and validates later, when the connection is back online). A little trust goes a long way towards building goodwill.

  31. Kristin Laughtin

    This is probably the most reasonable solution I've seen to the DRM problem, and one publishers should consider. I have a Kindle, and while I'm quite happy with it, the idea that I won't be able to transfer my books to another platform should I choose to get a Nook or other device when my Kindle dies someday is quite concerning. And I've already had several moments where I want to loan an ebook to someone only to remember that I can't! Other than your suggestions, I want ebooks to become easier to lend between libraries as well. We're able to borrow physical books from around the world, and it doesn't make sense that we can't borrow an ebook as well.

  32. Doug

    Tangential to the blog posting…

    The issue of lending to friends and family will probably be fading away on its own. A number of people I know have already "traded up" their e-readers and have an older one. They just load the e-book(s) to be lent on the old unit and loan the unit.

    With e-reader prices rapidly dropping, it probably won't be long until most people can afford to buy an additional unit for lending purposes if they do much lending.

    All of the DRM systems permit at least six devices to share an e-book, so that should pretty well handle the "legit" lending needs. At the same time, it doesn't promote the Lendle/eBookFling lending to people you never even heard of.

  33. Sofie Bird

    The problem with DRM is that you immediately hand the pirates the better product. No matter how reasonable your restrictions are, their version has none, and it's free.

    The games industry has been demonstrating recently that a significant number of people will choose to support an artist whose work they enjoy, even if they can pirate it, especially if that artist steps forward as a real person, rather than a faceless corporation.

  34. (hris

    I think the question is how do you make money on something that is free or can be easily "stolen"?

    Purists will find this hathotic, but I think the answer is to inject each ebook with advertising.

    This could range from "product placement" in the story to a popup that says, "Drink more Cola! Click to turn page…!"

    Personally, I think Micropayments are a much better solution for most of us, but the free options need to be available because as such as people will steal anything; there will always those that want something for "free".

    I think all can be possible. 🙂

  35. nilla|utanpunkt

    I'd be happy to sign your suggestions. I guess ideally, I'd like to add the odd friend, but then we get to that blurry borderline of how many that could be. But give an ebook away permanently may be that working compromise. And, I refuse to buy a kindle because of the restraints.

  36. London Crockett

    Nathan, I like the idea behind your system, but it seems technological and politically challenging at best. Every publisher would need to agree to a single, interchangeable format, much like MP3s have become, and then there would need to be a central registrar for the DRM codes. Amazon is not going to sell books that can be read on competing readers without using an Amazon app that ties the reader into the Amazon store. Their entire business model is based on selling you a reader at a loss so you'll not only buy ePubs from them, but everything else.

    Looking at the mess of patent lawsuits in the mobile field, where patents that are vital to interoperability are now being used as weapons (despite agreements against that), its unlikely the industry would align around a single DRM registrar.

  37. Nathan Bransford


    I agree, though it also seems like there could be an opening for something like Steam (as one of the Anon mentions) where publishers or a third party band together to create a system that is fair and works.

    What's kind of amazing about the landscape at the moment is that because of the agency model e-booksellers aren't competing on price (e-books have to cost the same), they're competing on convenience and user experience. Amazon's closed system is a weakness that others haven't yet been able to exploit. It sure seems like a big opportunity if others can match the Kindle app on usability.

  38. Bryan Russell

    I think, since ebooks are generally much cheaper than paper books, that less maneuverability is a fair tradeoff. You pay less, you can't share as much. If you want to share it with someone else, buy it for them. Or be very convincing and entice them to buy it for themselves. Oral book reviews! See? Good for the industry. More sales, more book talk.

    Of course, I'm a Paperite, so everyone should probably ignore me.

  39. Samuel

    Both your article and the one you referenced did not explain what DRM was in any way. I had to look it up.

    I think that would have been worth a sentence, if not a paragraph, and this post was sorely lacking because of this oversight.

  40. Nathan Bransford



    "those digital pesky restrictions that, among other things, prevent you from easily taking your Kindle book collection over to a Nook."

  41. Unknown

    Anon has mentioned the issue of a reasonable price several times. I believe this is the core issue. Publishers and booksellers ought to realize that the reasonableness of the price is in the eye of the customer. This means that the producer cannot simply add up his costs, add a profit, and arrive at what is to be charged.

    In the old days we all subscribed to a daily newspaper. Everyone on the block got their own paper. There was no pirating. But I'm certain that if the publisher added up his costs and concluded that he had to charge $20 for each issue, many neighbors would band together to share one subscription and pass the paper around. No one even considered sharing a newspaper, but make it expensive enough, relative to what seems reasonable, and it will be shared.

    In the early days of software, programs that we now buy for twenty or thirty dollars cost three or four hundred dollars. At the latter prices, friends often banded together to buy a program and shared it. But this practice stopped being a significant problem, at least in the US, when the developers dropped the price. At the lower price there was enough incremental benefit, including the satisfaction of doing the right thing, for each customer to buy his own.

    As long as publishers believe that, after avoiding the costs of printing, shipping, warehousing, and returning, they can still charge anywhere from 25% to 100% of the cost of a paper book, pirating will be an issue. It doesn't take much time on an online bookseller's website to learn that ebooks are often offered for sale at a higher price than the mass market paperback version … the mass market paperback version that must be printed, shipped in heavy boxes, and stored.

    I wonder if manufacturers of televisions sat around trying to justify charging a thousand dollars for a TV when technology had allowed TVs to be profitably sold for a couple of hundred?

  42. Sparrow

    You'd be amazed how quickly those "six devices" go, even between two people, in a multi-device household…

    My iphone. My husband's iphone.
    My kindle. My husband's kindle.
    My macbook. My husband's macbook.

    Which leaves no space for the desktop computer we use as a media server… Not to mention our iPads. Or any Windows laptops we might need to use for, say, work.

    Or any devices we replace without remembering to de-authorize our entire media catalogue, which can be really time-consuming, considering there's DRM from Amazon, Apple, Steam and goodness knows how many other DRM'd files. You'd think just deleting the files would be good enough, but nope, that's just plain not how it works.

    Which is why, frankly, despite actually loving to put money into the hands of artists and writers, we *frequently* end up pirating content. Why? Because we can't USE the content we've purchased legally — and once that happens, we're never going to purchase your content again. Anyone remember those Sony CDs with the rootkit installs? Yeah. No thanks.

    Whether you're a fan of DRM or not, you've gotta admit that keeping people from being able to, say, play a video they've PURCHASED (oops, wrong region! oops, too many devices authorized! oops, wrong OS! oops, you haven't installed our special DRM-player!) is just plain ridiculous.

  43. Nathan Bransford


    I don't know, have to say I'm not really swayed by that and don't think it's a justification for piracy. If you're really sharing across that many devices you're getting way, way more use and portability out of a digital file than you would plausibly get out of a physical copy. So does the fact that you can't instantly share a physical book across two locations with your husband mean you steal the second book?

    I get that DRM can be annoying in many cases, but I also think there has to be a reasonable standard on the part of readers too. Maybe six isn't quite enough, but I don't think we should all just run out and pirate because we can't sync across every device under the sun at the same time.

  44. Graham Clements

    I was doing some research on what Aussie publishers charge for an ebook and found there were major differences in prices due to format. Apple ibooks was consistently $6 above Kindle. Some publishers had an ebook out on ibooks, others didn't, nearly all had their ebooks on Amazon's Kindle. Very few publishers placed them on Google ebooks. It's all a bit of a mess really.

  45. Anonymous

    I'm tech challenged, admittedly. But I buy all e-books on Kobo and have epub. I have three e-reading devices and Kobo apps for all…plus my PC. I can sync my Kobo library to all devices, and not all are Kobo devices. What I'm trying to say, and not well, is that I can read e-books on more than one device. Maybe you are talking about Amazon? Or Apple products? And I buy everything. I don't pirate.

  46. Anonymous

    One way DRM hurts honest people is when those honest people have disabilities such as visual impairments that require then to break the digital locks if they are to run the book through their reader software. Perhaps you intended this to be covered under "the right to transfer your library," but I think it's important to note the was DRM, as currently implemented, generally renders print media quite inaccessible.

    My other note is that DRM is dangerous when it, rather than copyright violation, becomes the focus of discussion, especially in legal circles. The talk of writing DRM protections into copyright law is as ludicrous as passing a law that prohibits breaking physical locks. It creates a false sense of faith in the wrong thing (technological protections) that eliminates the perceived need to have copyright policy that works well.

  47. Natalie Aguirre

    I like your ideas. I don't have an e-reader yet. One reason is that I like to buy books to give away on my blog. So I don't want to buy e-books because I can't give them away. Your idea is perfect.

  48. DJ

    Nathan – I agree in general with what you're saying. It needs to start with a few basic principles :
    1) Jobs' contention in the music business is that 80% of people would obtain their music files honestly if they have that option.
    2) Having the current restrictions incents people to be dishonest – why would you pay for an e-book that you can't transfer between your devices ?
    3) It's too easy to apply the model of the open access system of music files to book files. Money is being made still but not as much – successful musicians now make a ton of their income from concerts, not itunes sales. I doubt anyone is going to pay $200 for front row seats at a reading, plus T-shirts, plus posters …

    In the long run, publishers and authors need a common format, principles and process for sharing content. Protectionism is only ever a short term solution. A consortium of publishers and providers (and agents?) needs to work it out or it will continue to be a mess and piracy will just get worse.

  49. Emma Cunningham

    I think you're absolutely on the right track here. I'd love to try out a Kindle but am unwilling to abandon my 300+ epubs to do so. But I would never pirate. It's unfortunate that pirates make such normal things impossible for the rest of us.

  50. Anonymous

    "I like your ideas. I don't have an e-reader yet. One reason is that I like to buy books to give away on my blog. So I don't want to buy e-books because I can't give them away. Your idea is perfect."

    If you want to have free give-aways with e-books, you can contact authors and ask for digital ARCs. Digital first authors give e-books away all the time. And I don't know many authors who would turn down requests for free give-aways.

  51. Anonymous

    I think DRM is a bad idea. At the end of the day, it only penalizes the person paying for the media, not the pirate. A person is better off pirating to avoid DRM than to pay for the file. They end up in a better place.

    In other words, don't hurt the hand that feeds.

  52. Matthew MacNish

    This is the kind of conversation I would have to have face to face, mostly because I've got too much to say, but also because some of my opinions about piracy and DRM are not popular.

    Anyway, before I get any more cryptic, I'll just say that you make some excellent points, Nathan. I don't personally think DRM is the answer, but I do think you nailed it when you said reasonable is the key.

  53. Jessica Lemmon

    AGREED ON ALL COUNTS!!! …now who do we write/call to make this happen?

  54. TheSFReader

    (Copy from my blog)
    DRM stands for "Digital Rights Management". It's a way by which publishers try and control the way the books (content) is used by customers after having being bought.
    What it does, is attach the book the customer receives to his account, so that copies sent to someone not having access to the account won't be readable.

    Problem is : the DRMs schemes are "cracked" as soon as implemented, and once cracked become inefficient for "determined" people.
    It suffices that One person cracks a DRM method and discloses the crack for everybody knowing where to look to find the Crack.
    It suffices that One person have access to the Crack and an ebook to rid the ebook copy of it's DRM.
    It suffices that One person rids the copy of DRMs and puts it on the dark sides of the Net for the book to be "pirated".
    Basically, against pirates, DRMs don't stand a chance.
    Where they work is against "casual" copying : sending a copy to a friend (or a list of friends) or family member, making a "safety" copy…

    Other than its inefficience against determined people, they have a few other drawbacks :
    – It has a "hidden cost", as it needs dedicated software to be managed.
    – DRMs forbid conversion to a different format, hence will disable readers not using a "format compatible" ereader to convert and read the book on their chosen software/hardware.
    – Sometimes, due to software problems, legitimate customers loose access to the "protected" books they've bought.
    – Sometimes, the DRM scheme depends on a service, and if that service is stopped, the customer looses his content. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_rights_management#Obsolescence)
    – Sometimes, the a DRM is not attached to a user account, but also to a specific hardware, and in case of hardware failure, loose access to the content.
    – Some customers choose (either due to past bad experience, or to ideological reasons) to not buy DRMed books, or at least use the DRMed status when deciding to buy or pass.
    And the list goes on.

    Some indie authors don't know about these drawbacks or think that enforcing their copyright is worth it, and that not many customers know about DRMs or care about it. These authors choose, as is their right, to enable DRMs.

    Other authors think that casual copyright is benign enough or ensures visibility, or take into account some that DRMs are viewed by some customers as a drawback, and choose to disable DRMs.

    It seems to me most indie/self-published authors have decided to not use DRMs, but again this decision seems to me completely personal or business.

  55. A Journey to Balance

    I actually agree with leaving DRM in place. If I buy a physical book then I am paying 2-3X more for the book and with that additional money that is coming out of my pocket grants me the right to sell it to a friend or transfer ownership as I see fit. Since I am getting the same information much cheaper, then I have to be willing to agree with some of the restrictions that go along with it. If I want to transfer from Kindle to Nook, I fork out another $3.00. Come on.

  56. Anonymous

    I live overseas and I've noticed that DRM enforces geographical restrictions and people who can't legitimately buy a book are likely to pirate it, creating a culture of piracy and low prices which is hard to eradicate later.

    Many people I know don't see pirating a book or film they can't buy as theft. The author lost the sale before the pirate copy was downloaded.

  57. James Duckett

    You are correct on all counts. DRM protects nobody. Pirates (yaaarrrr) will get what they want and DRM only imposses restrictions on those doing the right thing.

  58. Kirby

    I agree with your recommendations for e-books, but I am not sure recent court decisions are that reasonable. They seem to be pointing to eliminating restrictions and eroding copyright. It's quite possible we will lose control of printed books, which can be digitized, and e-books, which can be hacked and copied. This year or next may show whether authors will suffer the way musicians have. It may be up to publishers to figure this one out. Individual authors don't seem to have much power.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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