Friday, February 12, 2010

DRM, Price Points, Licenses, and Copyright

This collection of copyright-related articles concerns Digital Rights Management (DRM). Personally, I won't buy DRM-protected books, music, or movies, especially if the DRM interferes with my ability to protect the content I've purchased by periodically backing it up to another device. DRM kept me from using the iTunes store, although I have a Mac mini and I like the iTunes software--I ripped all my traditional instrumental CD's to my Mac, and now I have my musical library in a searchable, cross-referenced format. (I can find all six versions of "The Blackbird" set dance, and play them consecutively to compare styles.)

I'm even less likely to buy DRM-protected books, given the variety of DRM's and incompatible formats in the marketplace. Plus, the eBook price point doesn't make sense to me. Why should I pay as much for a DRM'ed data file as a new print book? If I'm patient, I can find a used hardcover for less than half the price of an eBook I can only read on an approved device.

Making books available electronically has such marvelous potential to connect people to knowledge and ideas--it's sad that the endeavor is thoroughly bogged down in the intellectual property quagmire.

  • How to Destroy the Book, by Cory Doctorow. (Dec 14, 2009)
    The anti-copyright activists have no respect for our copyright and our books. They say that when you buy an ebook or an audiobook that's delivered digitally, you are demoted from an owner to a licensor. From a reader to a mere user. These thieves deliver our digital books and our audiobooks wrapped in license agreements and technologies that might as well be designed to destroy the emotional connection that readers have with their books.
  • Some Kindle books have secret caps on the number of times you can download them.
    It turns out that there's an undocumented restriction on Kindle books -- if you download them "too many" (where "too many" is a secret number) times to your Kindle or iPhone or whatever, you run out of downloads and can't get copies anymore.
  • Kindle's DRM Rears Its Ugly Head...And It IS Ugly. A Kindle user discovers the how many downloads is too many for his book collection.
  • Amazon vs. Apple: What Should E-Book Prices Be?:

    The iPad is exciting not as a way to sell or read books as they currently exist but as a tool for reinventing them as multimedia. The book angle also helps generate good press, since journalists are desperate for any evidence that writing will pay in the future. Apple doesn't need to maximize book sales. It simply needs to keep publishers happy enough to maintain an impressive sounding inventory of titles while waiting for entirely new forms of publishing to develop. After all, as Steve Jobs famously put it, "people don't read anymore."

  • The Amazon-Macmillan book saga heralds publishing's progress

    It will still be years before e-book technology matures and a sustainable business model emerges for the publishing industry. In the meantime, you'll hear lots of moaning and groaning about how the quality of writing and editing will decline, browsing for books will become a lost art, authors and their agents will be forced into poverty, and consumers will get hosed. Don't believe any of it for a minute.

    While markets have their flaws, over the long run they are good at executing these technological transformations. My guess is that in the not-so-distant future, best-selling authors such as John Grisham and Malcolm Gladwell -- along with unknown authors peddling their first books -- will publish their own works, contracting with independent editors and marketers and selling directly to consumers as much as possible. Other authors will turn to smaller, more specialized publishing houses that will offer smaller advances but bigger royalties and will be built, as they once were, around great editors....

    ...But at the end of the process, there will be fewer people who will be paid higher incomes to produce a wider array of products at lower prices. There's a word for that -- progress -- and it's exciting to see it unfold right in front of us.

  • Kindle, iPad, MacMillan, and the Death of a Business Model:

    What Apple and MacMillan and the others are doing is trying to preserve their existing business model by forcing the price of e-books to be high enough to not cut too badly into the physical book market. What Bezos and Amazon are doing is trying to cut the price of e-books to encourage adoption.

    Who is going to win? Bet on Bezos. The mainstream publishers can hold on for a while, based on reputation and while e-readers aren't widely available; there's still some prestige to being published by a reputable publisher like MacMillan. But eventually, some publisher will realize that a book that would have sold for $29.95 in a physical edition can be sold for the cost of the royalty, plus a small markup for production and administration. Our $29.95 novel would sell instead for $3.95. When that happens, except for coffee table books and an occasional print-on-demand hard copy, the physical book is dead.

    This weekend kerfuffle is really the death throes of a business model--traditional book publishers trying to preserve their traditional publishing methods for a little longer.

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