by Laurie K.
Tor/Forge announced today that they intend their ebooks to be completely DRM-free by July of this year. Upon hearing this, all of the tech heads and ebook early adopters did the Dance of Joy. The rest of the Internet went, "Uh, wut?" and wondered why we were rejoicing.
I'm here to break it down for you.
My friend Kim bought a book the other day. More precisely, she bought an iBook from Apple via the iTunes store, hoping to read it on her Mac Book. She thought, most sensibly, that if she bought it via iTunes, she could read it via iTunes and all would be well. Strangely, she couldn't make it work. When her husband told me about this, I was like, "Pshaw, this is surely user error!" (I expect both of them to shank me for that, by the way.) You can install iBook on your Mac, right? Uh, no, you can't, and don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. She doesn't own an iPad or an iPod. She does have an iPhone but she didn't want to read it on that device.
For all practical purposes, Kim had purchased a book she could not read.
In a DRM-free world, Kim would be able to purchase her book on iTunes, and read it anywhere. Want to read on the Mac Book? Go for it. Need to switch to your Samsung Tablet? Copy that bad boy over. Can't put it down but have to pretend to pay attention to a meeting? Put it on your Windows phone and keep on trucking while pretending to take notes. Without DRM, that digital book you bought becomes something you can read on any device anywhere at any time. Which means you are consuming the content in the way you choose, which ultimately leads to you consuming more content. The easier things are, the more we do them.
Whenever this subject comes up, the other side of the coin inevitably gets brought up. What about piracy? Without DRM on our files, they will be distributed in torrents! No one will ever buy our books because everyone can just get them for free!
Here's a pro-tip: DRM has never stopped piracy. In fact, if you show your fancy new DRM algorithm to a pirate, he simply says, "Har!" and burns it to the ground. He's also likely to dance by the fire and paint his face with the ashes. I have never seen a user community more gleeful than when there's new DRM to bust. The more 'unbreakable' this DRM is purported to be, the happier it makes them to show The Man just how breakable it is. What's more, they then provide this break in an easily digestible format for less technical users. Right now, today, anyone can break the DRM on an ebook with minimal effort and simple, follow-the-numbers instructions.
As I've said before, there are two types of pirates: Those who wouldn't have paid for a product no matter what, and those who would love to buy a product but can't get it in a way they can easily consume it. In the case of the former, that's no sale lost - they never intended to buy a damn thing. In the case of the latter, this new policy translates to sales gained. I know a ton of those second types who are thrilled at this change. There's a sense of, "Hey, now that I won't be locked into a specific device or retailer, I can get in on this ebook thing!"
Rather than deterring piracy, DRM locks you into specific devices and screws the honest users like my buddy Kim. She bought a book and wants to read it on the device she prefers. If you make that easy for her, she'll buy more books and read them. More books bought equals more money spent which translates into more ability to fund book publishing and paying authors and all of that good stuff. If you make it hard for her to get the books on the device she prefers, she won't pirate things but she will buy less books. Less books bought equals less money spent which translates into less ability to fund book publishing and paying authors and all of that good stuff. Ultimately, less DRM is more money. It's nice to see one of the big dogs finally doing the proper math.