Nearly everyone in the media world in some form or another is grappling with one huge, massive, essential question: what should content cost in the digital era?
On one side you have the freevangelists (TRADEMARKED MUST CREIDT NATHAN BRANSFORD OMG) like Cory Doctorow who see the benefits of free and shared content in terms of building audiences, and believe that the only way forward is to follow what consumers want: online content (sometimes, if not always) for free, and definitely without DRM. Best be brushing up on your ancillary revenue streams. (more on DRM here)
On the other side you have the publishing establishment, who is looking at their P&Ls and concluding that e-books aren’t really that much cheaper to produce than a book when you consider overhead like editing, copyediting, production (cover, typesetting, etc.), marketing, sales, rent, etc. HarperStudio asserts that an e-book is only about $2.00 cheaper to produce than a paper book, and thus, any drastic price cutting for e-books will be eating away at already-slim margins.
I don’t doubt that free is great for the freevangelists like Cory Doctorow and Chris Anderson. They’ve done quite well by building their ancillaries (such as huge blogs) and benefit from the fact that they’ve been able to build a gratified audience base by giving away content. I also am sympathetic to concerns that DRM is completely annoying for the majority of consumers who want to use their content legitimately. And if publishers can make a mass market paperback original profitable when it’s priced at $6.99, surely they can make e-books work under $10.00.
But are we really comfortable with a publishing world where authors and publishers are expected to, essentially, give content away and build revenue instead through ancillary streams?
And in defense of DRM, are you (as writers, not consumers) really comfortable with a theoretical world where a book can be downloaded (cheaply no doubt) and instantly e-mailed to 1,000 of the purchaser’s closest friends? Sure, someone who has too much time on their hands can pirate a book and do precisely the same thing. But particularly when e-books become the main game in town (which is coming), should we really make sharing e-books as easy as 1 2 3? It’s not the same thing as passing around a tattered paperback to one friend at a time.
Count me as someone with my feet firmly stuck in the muck of skepticism about a brave new world of overly cheap and unencrypted books. Maybe it’s coming anyway and at 28-years-old I’m already a dinosaur. Maybe all the free blogs and content out there will make people reluctant to part with $24.95 or even $14.95 for a new book and the model is broken. Maybe DRM needs to be eased, even if it’s not done away with entirely. Better yet, maybe e-book providers can use Peter Olson’s suggestion of demand-based e-book pricing and create a pricing algorithm where a book that’s downloaded 1,000 times a week costs $14.95 and a book that’s downloaded 2 times a week costs $2.95.
I don’t think free (or close to free) works for everyone. But is free inevitable?
Kristin Laughtin says
Re: libraries, surely there’s a difference between sharing a copy of a book one at a time vs. conceivably sharing one book instantaneously with a 1,000 people?
There is. (I work at a library so I had to put my two cents in here.) Besides knowing from personal experience that people (patrons) often buy books they enjoyed reading at the library, I also know that we end up buying multiple copies of books that are consistently checked out. Sure, one could argue that all those patrons could have gone out and bought every book they borrowed on their own, but…come on, we all know the majority of them wouldn’t. But some of them will because they got to read it free first. Libraries totally up book sales.
Re: sharing with 1000 people at once:
As my library is slowly buying more and more e-books, I can tell you that buying the license for multiple users is MUCH more expensive than the single-user model. As it should be.
We buy our e-books on a platform, though–there’s no downloading (although patrons can print out at least a portion of each book, depending on the license) and nothing is stored on our servers. It’s all stored on the vendor’s.
It makes me wonder if an e-book database model would be viable for private consumers in the future? Perhaps, instead of downloading the e-book to our Kindle or Reader, the books could be stored in an online account that we access with our e-reader? We’d still own the books; we just wouldn’t be able to download, and thus distribute, them.
Nathan, if you’re a dinosaur at 28, then I’m a fossil at 32. Free, unencrypted books might be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to think the whole thing a frustrating and unfair-to-the-authors concept.
K. S. Clay makes an excellent point: “mean I don’t see anyone claiming that doctors, lawyers, architects, or even athletes, for instance, should all work for free and should just come up with extra business ventures on the side to make money to feed their families.”
This analogy possesses a flaw that weakens the argument: doctors, lawyers, architects, or even athletes are paid based on one-time services. When you’re sick, you go to see a doctor and pay him or her a one-time fee for the treatment (presuming this isn’t some sort of long-term care arrangement). When an author publishes a book, he or she earns royalties proportionate to the amount of books sold. It’s this difference that makes comparing art-based professions, where the content is easy to mechanically reproduce and distribute, with service-based professions.
Note that I’m not saying artists should give their work away for free. I completely agree with K. S. on this point–I just took issue with that particular analogy. Artists deserve compensation for their work.
I agree with above commenter T. Anne, who said, “We have a unique opportunity to help shape the landscape.” And this makes it a very interesting time to be a writer or anyone involved in publishing. We’ve inherited a centuries-old revenue model, and the adoption of new technologies is rendering it obsolete.
The future of publishing regarding e-books is tied inextricably to the future of the Internet itself. I highly recommend The Future of the Internet, by Jonathan Zittrain–incidentally, you can both buy that book in hard cover and, if you like e-books, you can download it as a PDF for free at https://futureoftheinternet.org/download
I want the Internet to remain generative. For that reason, I don’t like DRM or proprietary, tethered appliances like the iPhone. I don’t mind paying for content–I purchase all of my music (I rejoice at a DRM-free iTunes!). However, the idea that we lock content behind proprietary gates is unattractive to me.
DRM tries to prevent people from “stealing” books, i.e., it stops people who haven’t paid for the book from benefiting from it (reading it, I guess). But when one steals a hardcopy book, one isn’t stealing the content within the book–one is stealing a physical object. Otherwise, borrowing a book from somebody should be a crime, because the act of reading a book one hasn’t purchased for oneself would be theft. E-books are _only_ content. How is sending an e-book to a friend different from letting that friend read the e-book on one’s computer, in one’s own home (i.e., as close to “lending” a book as one can get)? E-books are different from hardcopy books, so you have to treat them differently when looking at earning revenue. Get over it.
Any successful revenue stream, thus, must be predicated upon the notion of an e-book as a single work with multiple subscribers (or “readers” if you prefer). Inevitably, some readers won’t pay for this content (“free” is inevitable in that sense). Yet, some readers will.
In the short term, I don’t see any problem with charging a significant amount for an e-book in order to off-set anticipated losses from free redistribution of that e-book–i.e., $20 instead of $2 or $6. However, this is a short-term solution. We need to think big picture. Do I have a solution? No. I’m not a leader in this revolution. I will glady provide input, but I don’t anticipate having any big ideas of my own.
Why couldn’t I have been the type to be a doctor or a lawyer? :-/
Rick Daley says
You deserve a PhD in Thought Provocation. And since there isn’t really such a thing, it should be instituted immediately just for you. Awesome topic. Again.
The first thing that comes to mind for me is a correlation to music, or lack thereof. Music is easy to pirate, burning copies of cassettes and CD’s, sharing files through Limewire or newsgroups, etc.
There is a big difference, though. Musicians have an edge on writers: the live performance. No matter how good your home theater is, it will never match the experience of going to a concert. The synchronization of lights to music, the bustle of bodies swaying to the groove, that unmistakable smell that permeates the air (I’m thinking about the butane from lighters, what were YOU thinking of???)…
Writers don’t have that same income generating outlet, so I think protecting their works is more important.
It’s late, I just got home from a business trip, and that’s all I have to say for now. Hope some of you found it insightful.
Steve Fuller says
It’s funny how this conversation sounds so similar to what has been said about newspapers for years.
“The feel of a book/newspaper in my hand.” I get what you guys are saying, but it is a new day. News is online and it is free – newspapers are folding all over the country.
Convenience and speed are our gods, and eBooks, Kindle, Sony Reader, etc. are our future. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon.
I, for one, will be ready.
Want to watch something hilarious? Go here:
It is a story from the eighties about getting daily news over your computer. Crazy to look back and realize how far we have come.
As long as rule number one is respected it doesn’t really matter.
Money flows to the writer and not away from her.
I’m personally getting very, very tired of seeing people online who seem to think writers have no right to be paid for their work, especially anciliary or secondary rights, and who clearly have no idea how little control the writer actually has over what editions of our books get published and where. And who keep telling us it’s wrong to sell foreign rights separately or expect to hold onto our audiobook rights until we’re paid for them or ask that publishers do something to keep our books from being scattered free all over the internet.
I love writing. I love it. But I also need to get paid for it, and if I’m not getting paid for it I could be doing other things. I may not stop, no, but I’m sure not going to push myself.
mary beth says
Joel Hoekstra said:
“I cry no tears for the Music Industry. For years we were forced to purchase albums, most songs unheard (I was about to say “sight unseen” but that doesn’t sound right ;-), perhaps one or two songs of which we MIGHT have heard on the radio beforehand.”
For me, this is at the heart of one of the problems with nearly limitless access, free content; and maybe it’s inevitable, electronic delivery systems like the Kindle seem inevitable. I wonder what will happen to longer, often more complex content when readers and listeners have the capability and the desire to shape it. I don’t want only the most accessible songs or the most accessible books. I want a combination of everything – both complex and accessible. I want cellphone books and David Foster Wallace.
The question of how both complex and accessible art continue to make it to the marketplace is tied somewhat to the Stephen King/Stephenie Meyer discussion. (For the record I love Stephenie Meyer, and thought Stephen King was a little mean, but he also spoke well about the book’s appeal.) Everybody votes with their dollars, but everyone’s opinion is not equal. And while most of us can carry a tune and construct a readable sentence not everyone can be a musician or write a book. The ability to create art is not commonplace, a playlist is not an album.
Convenience as the ultimate virtue seems counterintuitive. If everything is easy and already thought out how does anyone learn how to do anything for themselves?
Maybe the E-books should be available like books at a library or movies at the rental store. Rent them for a certain short time period at a small fee. You want to read them again, either buy the (old-fashioned)hardcopy or rent them again.
ANON 6:25 here again.
Maybe it would be good test waters for publishers and agents to decide whether or not the rest of the public would be interested in buying a paper copy, and base printing off of that. Kind of like seeing a movie at the theater, then it comes out on DVD.
Okay, again, business isn’t my thing, and I apologize if I’m repeating what someone else said. However, the sad fact is that not knowing anything about a subject does not even remotely stop me from voicing an opinion about it.
That said, perhaps we’ll move to a model that is based less on residuals and royalties, and move to a one-price model.
So the author and agent could negotiate a 2 million dollar payment up front, that kind of thing.
That could start bidding wars. That would be fun.
Also, with prices down, there would be an information explosion. So many more books would be available and accessible, which is very, very good news for authors. The money could get spread around abit more.
That also seems like a good thing.
So, that’s my opinion about something I know nothing about.
Although I’ll say one more thing. Problems are interesting. When you look back over history, I believe that solving problems has led to mankind to progress.
Going out on a limb, but I think progress is also a good thing.
So, there you are.
Kourtnie McKenzie says
When I went to the San Diego Writer’s Conference recently, one of the editors of Baen mentioned how they like to offer a few books for free–because yes, the Internet is a free market–but these would be books one and two of series. After that, the reader would have to pay for subsequent books. It was like literary drugs.
I’ve been trying to build a short story blog for “free” content, since I don’t really have books to hand out… but I think offering something for free on the internet from the author would encourage the internet audience to support the author and buy the book.
To which then, the ebooks being purchased shouldn’t be much cheaper than the paperback ones.
Fascinating topic. Will be for some time I expect, since this issue is pretty much in a state of flux, as my limited knowledge views it anyway. Publishing online is a different animal compared to paper. Is there loss of revenue in paper format due to free distribution? Sure, books get loaned out and passed along all the time, but definitely not to the extent inherent within the internet. So, on a money per reader basis, authors and publishers will lose out. Different avenues will have to be pursued, i.e. all this discussion about ancillaries and such. Writers who are savvy in this regard will supplement some of the lost revenue in this way and make their profession viable. Others obviously, will not.
It will be harder to find good reading material, since anyone under the sun will be able to put out their work for the masses to read. There will be a lot of finagling of the system over the next few years in this regard, I believe. Consumers want decent return on their investment, whether it be in time or money. I think the frustration levels of the reading public will grow as the ebook world expands and proliferates. How the hell do you find something decent to read amongst the sheer volume of crap put out there? Ebooks are suppose to be about convenience. Nobody is going to want to pay much if they only get one decent read out of ten in their downloads. Even if it was free, this will be a huge deterrent.
Things will really begin to sort themselves out more with all of this I think, when the readers become cheap enough to garner consumers on a mass level. When the Kindles and Sony’s of the reader market get under $100, and they’re being bought for kid’s birthdays, xmas presents, stocking stuffers, etc., the real mad scramble to develop an effective mode of publication and distribution will get sorted out.
I think the future is heading toward if not free, then cheaper forms of ebooks. Royalties for authors are going to get tanked, which means some other format is going to have to develop for the non-bestselling authors. More money up front? More royalties per book? It’s difficult to see what the future will bring in that regard, but the point is, many good authors will stop writing if they can’t make a reasonable income from it.
More money will be available for those who expand beyond the novel. As technology develops with these readers making them cheaper and better, it will make the diversity of content more available. Will you pay more for an ebook that comes with author interviews/discussions and artwork? I suspect the reading public will. There are likely all sorts of creative options that will be available to ‘include’ with the download. So perhaps basic downloads will be free, or come along with a subscription, with bonus material costing more. There might be premium downloads versus basic ones or basic subscriptions versus premium ones.
I honestly think there are a lot of possibilities heading our way in this new world of epublishing. Writers are going to have to be willing to venture into areas beyond the writing itself in order to achieve success here. Does that mean book tours and speaking and such. No, I don’t think it will, but we will have to start thinking of ways (and publishers too) to develop value-added content to make the reading experience stand out. For example, what fantasy reader wouldn’t love to be able to pull up maps, historical notes, character bios, and the like at the push of a couple buttons on their reader? I would. I’d pay more for something like that.
Ebooks in general do not have the value that paper ones do to the general consumer. We think differently about content gained from the internet. It’s not suppose to cost as much as the same thing in the physical world. Publishers are not going to be able to overcome that mentality. Ebooks are going to have to be more, have to provide more, if they want to maintain similar pricing as the beloved paper version. No amount of convenience or ease of access will overcome that. Not in my mind anyway.
Kudos again Nathan, for posting something intriguing to discuss and read.
Maya Reynolds says
Nathan: Thanks so much for the link to Bob Miller’s blog. I’m wayyyy behind in my blog reading.
Frankly, I was astounded that Bob would make such an assertion. After all, his HarperStudio is based on the assumption that the returns system is strangling the industry.
He neatly avoids mentioning the distribution, warehousing, returns and pulping cost in his $2 book binding figure.
All of those costs are PRECISELY why HarperStudio was created in the first place and now he is saying they are $2?????
I have no words . . . or at least none that I am willing to say out loud. My mother taught me better than that.
jimnduncan said, “we will have to start thinking of ways (and publishers too) to develop value-added content to make the reading experience stand out”
I really hate this short of talk. The *reading experience itself* is the valuable part of a book, not DVD-style extras.
I don’t want author interviews, or interactive maps and animation and music and dancing f**king elves or whatever. I just want a good book. And I want my authors to be able to spend their time writing good books, not having to waste time thinking up (let’s face it) stupid aftermarket accessories for the ebook.
I find the concern for property rights sort of amusing. “I must be able to lend it to a friend!” Our culture is overflowing with our need to enforce our Rights, to the smallest and most personally beneficial degree. And yet as a culture we seem so often to ignore the flipside of that coin. Responsibility has become a dirty word. And we, as a culture, prove it endlessly via things like piracy. Protection for content is merely a company (or society, etc.) enforcing our responsibilities for us (which we’ve proven incapable of doing on our own – if we had not failed at this, there would be no need for such protections).
If you want a just society, why turn a blind eye? If you want a fair jury system, why skip jury duty? Responsibilities are good things, people. Embrace them. You’ll feel better.
And Things come with their own values, their own inherent systems of use. If I buy a hamburger, do I get angry that after I eat it I can’t share it with a friend? Single consumption is inherent in my purchase of a hamburger (my property). Same goes for e-books. You don’t think it’s a good value to buy an e-book that can’t have its ownership transferred? Don’t buy it. Buy a paper book and support the tree plantations (think of all those fallow fields once e-books take over…)
We live in a Capitalist society. It’s a world of products. If we think a product is worth its listed value we buy. If not, we don’t. It’s fairly simple, and it governs everything. A world of entirely free content won’t happen because our society doesn’t work that way. Our content (our creative output across all fields) has led to our incredible technological progress, which in turn has led to an increasingly mechanized world, which in turn has led to a continual hemorrhage of blue collar jobs (physical work). Free content? There go the white collar jobs. How will society function when labour has been co-opted and our creative output devalued?
What will an architect do when blueprints are freely distributed? What will any expert do when their expertise is freely distributed? What will a writer do?
Look around. If you like the Recession, you’ll really love a world of free content. If, however, you like the idea of jobs and of people supporting their families it will be a bit of a bummer. Unless, of course, you have natural skills as a panhandler.
j h woodyatt says
Grrr. This continuing conflation of the creative commons and anticorporatism is really freaking tiresome. It’s really not that hard to figure out how to make money publishing digital content.
Software companies have been doing it for decades.
Some large software publishers have even discovered that DRM systems really only need to be intrusive enough to keep honest people from being exposed to corrupting temptation. They don’t even need to prevent any actual copying, c.f. iTunes Plus, which has no technical limits on copying, only legal ones.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the possibility of too much free content. Look at it this way: now EVERYONE can read the world’s slushpile.
Sooner or later, publishers are going to understand deep in their bones what makes people willing to pay money for a copy of a string of binary digits: it’s easier and more convenient to pay for them than it is to go to all the hassle of figuring out where to find the bits in the free pile. Not to mention how to be sure the bits you got are exactly the bits you intended to get without any errors. When publishers pull their thumbs out of their methane ports and start thinking for themselves again, we’ll see publishers turning into branded portals for downloading books electronically. They’ll charge tiered prices and their costs for each edition will be almost entirely non-recurring, i.e. they’ll be software companies.
Nathan Bransford says
If you’re going to accuse publishers of having their fingers in their methane ports… how is what you’re describing (essentially tiered pricing via DRM-encrypted eBooks) any different than what publishers are already doing via the Kindle and Sony Reader?
My experience is that different people tend to place more value on an idea while others place more value on the expression of the idea. To use a historical example this would mean that some Victorian aged people would have seen the value in Edison’s idea of the light bulb and would have been willing to pay him something for the value he brought to the glass bulb with a wire inside. On the other hand there were people that looked at the cost of the bulb and the wire and decide that was what it was worth.
Now to make a very big generalization: Today society seems to be shifting from valuing the ideas into valuing the expression of the idea. This subtle shift is important. In a world saturated with music, what is more valuable the music player or any single song? What is more valuable a big screen TV or any single movie? The paper that makes up the book or the words on the page?
To bring it full circle I would ask you a question Nathan. If I brought you the next Iliad, a book with such brilliance that it would still be read in 2,000 years, could you get me more per copy than if I brought you a book that will be forgotten in 2 years? For your calculation you can assume both are 90,000 words with no illustrations.
Nathan Bransford says
I tend to leave the “what will be read in 2,000 years” questions to the historians.
We did a presentation at ToC called “Smart Women Read Ebooks”, presenting the results of a survey of 750 female ebook readers. DRM — as implemented by the publishing industry (and music, though that wasn’t part of the survey) — is almost universally loathed. These readers don’t object to the protection of rights, but they strongly object to the fact that DRM prevents them from reading in the manner they choose.
In another session, Brian O’Leary of Magellan presented interesting results relating to the impact of free content. He’s going to be publishing the conclusions of this major survey soon, but the impact of free on sales seems to be a positive thing. Obviously, I’m not saying that the Cory Doctorow route will work for everyone, but there is positive benefit in free. It depends upon what your goals are and how you think it best to achieve them. Cory’s approach clearly works for him; would it work for me? I’m doubting it.
Most of the conference presentations are online at the Tools of Change site, if anyone is interested in either session. I think one thing that keeps getting missed in all this discussion is the fact that consumers are happy to pay for their entertainment media and other kinds of content (look at the success of Publisher’s Marketplace) as long as they see the value and receive a level of respect from the publisher — they’re paying *you* the money, shouldn’t you treat them like a valued customer?
I’m glad this debate is spreading far and wide!
A thought just occurred to me: maybe the novel isn’t destined to survive the transition to e-books.
Maybe instead what we’ll see is a more serial form of distribution of stories, much like Dickens’ novels. Rather than seeing a year between releases like we sometimes have now, the new model will be, “Release more, release often.”
The quality of the writing doesn’t have to suffer. Writers can still do what they do now–write the entire manuscript, edit it, and then work on the next manuscript while this one’s released in serial form. But this format seems to lend itself better to the Web than novels, since the Web is all about frequent updates–just look at blogs.
In this form, you literally can have a subscriber-based e-book model. Some of the readers hooked on a serial are going to purchase it the moment it comes out rather than wait to pirate it. Some will still pirate (and this is going to be inevitable in any model). Some will hook their friends on it.
Furthermore, this model is more compatible with the short attention spans becoming increasingly common in our immersed, connective society. How many of your friends aren’t as avid a reader as you, simply because they “don’t have the time” to read an entire novel? Now how many of those friends watch an episodic TV show–even one with a complicated story arc, like Lost? Releasing e-books as bite-sized chunks of stories rather than whole novels may appeal to a wider audience and actually increase readership.
Ah, yes. Serialization. I forgot all about that little bit of publishing. This format may lend itself very well to the impatient, digital consumer. If you can generate enough hype and interest in something ahead of time (or you’re a best-selling author already), I can easily see people paying for stories in an almost episodic format. I would think it would have appeal to those who read their digital content in bits and pieces, in small chunks of time throught the day or week. I can also see how this format might change how people write, i.e. no need to be cutting content to squeeze the novel into a specified word count to assuage the publisher’s worry about printing costs.
I think the trick here is that the vast majority of people prefer paper books, and despite being an electronic-only published writer so far, I think that’s going to remain true for a very long time. From what I’ve read, even Cory Doctorow makes most of his money from book sales, but he sees free electronic copies as sales tools. The idea is that someone will read an e-book for free, and if they like it enough, they’ll buy a paper copy of that same book to keep. I’ve heard other writers say they’ve experienced the same thing — Mercedes Lackey, as an example, said she saw sales of her backlist go up significantly when her older books were made available online for free.
I haven’t heard anyone in the larger debate saying that every writer has to give away everything they write for free, for always, period. That’s a straw man.
The idea, rather, is that 20,000 free reads of your book might generate 2000 sales of the paper version. Or maybe 10,000. Or maybe 500; it depends on the book and how well people like it, of course. But there are folks out there now who say they’re extremely reluctant to buy a new-to-them writer unless they can try them out for free first. Sure, libraries would surve that purpose. But if the person isn’t going to spend any money anyway, then why not a free e-copy? Especially if they have to go to Author Chris’s web site to get it?
Free e-books are a marketing tool, and a way of generating mass awareness and good will among the readers. Sounds like a decent idea to me. Sure, there are details which make it a more effective tool for a writer who already has a certain amount of name recognition, but that doesn’t make it a useless tool.
About DRM, I am (again, despite being an e-published writer) pretty rabidly anti-DRM. The trick, as others have said, is that it doesn’t work. Period. At all. No pirate has ever been stopped by DRM — not on e-books, not on computer games, not on music or movies, never. The only people inconvenience (thwarted, pissed off, insulted) by DRM are the honest customers who paid money for the product.
And in defense of DRM, are you (as writers, not consumers) really comfortable with a theoretical world where a book can be downloaded (cheaply no doubt) and instantly e-mailed to 1,000 of the purchaser’s closest friends?
You’re missing the point. DRM won’t prevent that. It only takes one cracker who sees sawing the chain off of your or my or anyone’s little e-book as an interesting challenge to fill up a spare fifteen minutes, and there you go — there are your thousand copies spread all over the web. From that point, anyone can download a copy of one of those copies and spread another thousand copies around, and it’ll take off geometrically. Once the first cracked copy is posted online, it won’t matter who cracked it or who posted it or whether there was no DRM to crack and the unlocked version was posted straight up.
You can’t stop it. You can’t even annoy the pirates. All you can do is piss off the people who are handing you money.
Bowing to the truly, honestly inevitable, on the other hand, shows your readers that you care about their experience, that you’re not out to take that same $6.95 out of their pocket every time they upgrade their device, that you’re not going to treat them like presumed criminals on zero evidence. It creates good will, and people who have good will toward you are more likely to buy legitimate copies of your books, whether that means e-books or hardcopies.
You can rail at the storm all you want, and all you’ll get is wet. Or you can dig some irrigation trenches and let the rain water your crops. Yes, most of it will run off, and some of it will leak into your house. But you can’t stop that either, and getting some benefit from the storm is better than grousing about how someone should figure out a way to prevent rain.
Angie, who’s feeling metaphorical this morning
Nathan Bransford says
I think it’s an exaggeration to say that no one has ever been deterred by DRM, and also an exaggeration on the other side to say that someone who is motivated can pirate anything, DRM or no, so the whole thing is pointless. It’s clear that no one is really going to be able to stop pirating entirely, and yeah, it doesn’t take a great deal of technical know-how to strip a file of its DRM. But I don’t think that’s any reason for content providers to stop being vigilant.
I think the organizing principle of DRM is that people are lazy and not terribly tech savvy. If it’s easier to get something for free, legal or illegal, they’ll do that. If it’s easier to pay for something, they’ll do that. It’s why virtually all of the popularity of Napster has been assumed by iTunes. It’s just as easy, and most people don’t mind paying.
DRM is about encouraging the right choices in the vast majority of users, not about stopping all piracy. It’s about making it incrementally more difficult to pirate. I agree that it needs to be unobtrusive, but not endlessly so. Just because some people are inevitably going to find their way around it doesn’t invalidate the efforts.
One possible option is to make digital content *eventually* free, but have people pay for immediate gratification. I think this model has a lot of potential, but then I’m a person who needs immediate gratificatin. 😉 I hope that when I get my steampunk novel published, the publisher allows me to experiment with this.
Free is also a great way to revitalize the backlist.
Unfortunately, your blog is so popular that I don’t have time to read all the comments, but I read a few. I apologize if I’m repeating other people’s words.
I see a lot of “person X did thus-and-such, and person Y did this-and-that.” While those who don’t study history may be doomed to repeat it, the past is actually a very poor predictor of the future. For example, someone who gave away lots of free content in 2006 and who is making bank today is exploiting a quirk of today’s model, during the transition period. That does not necessarily mean the model will hold ten, five, or even two years from now.
The other important point to note is that quite a few of us already give content away for free. Many of us go for pub credits through short stories in literary journals or contests, and most of those pay a few contributor copies, sometimes a small bounty (which then the author returns to the journal in the form of a paid subscription).
I don’t have any idea how many successful models will emerge in the future. I think paper children’s books will persist for quite some time, though distribution will change. Ebook content may follow a shareware model, or an NPR model, a sponsorship model (this book brought to you by Starbucks), a traditional publisher model, an ancillary revenue model, or a performance model. Or something else entirely. iTunes, for example, is pretty much a shareware model–try ten seconds of the song, buy it for a buck if you like what you hear. But it’s hardly the only way musicians and labels make money. I think we’ll see a combination of all of them, depending on the product, the market, and a number of other factors. How that shakes up the author-agent-editor-publicist chain… no clue.
Nobilis Reed says
Your "defense" of DRM is no defense:
"…But particularly when e-books become the main game in town (which is coming), should we really make sharing e-books as easy as 1 2 3?"
Whether an ebook has DRM or not, sharing it is always as easy as 1 2 3. Any time a new DRM system comes out, a crack is available within days, and DRM-stripped versions of the books appear shortly thereafter.
DRM stands for Digital Reader Miffery.