When I tell other bloggers that I don’t use DRM on my e-books, they look at me as if I’m insane. If you’re not familiar with DRM, DRM is Digital Rights Management, and it’s basically copyright protection for your books. It works by using software to block unauthorized access to content, often by forcing you to use a specific ebook-reader.
In the case of my book, The Mostly Mathless Guide To TensorFlow Machine Learning, if I had applied DRM onto my ebook, it would mean that you’d have to login through Amazon’s services in order to read the book, and that you’d have to use their specific ebook reader. As you can see, DRM allows you to protect your books from piracy, but my book doesn’t have any DRM at all. But why?
The first thing to recognize is that there are three core assumptions that are being made here:
- The assumption that all consumers will pirate your book if given the chance, instead of buying it legally.
- The assumption that DRM is effective at protecting your ebooks and will boost sales.
- The assumption that DRM is not harmful to your readers.
With that begin said, let’s analyze each of these one at a time.
Are Consumers Just Evil Pirates?
A lot of people are under the impression that if people can obtain an ebook illegally, then they will. Fortunately, this misconception is the easiest one to debunk with statistics, as this one isn’t even remotely true. According to a study of about 35,000 individuals, only “5% said that they currently pirate books”. If we assume that consumers will just pirate everything, then we also run the risk of pessimistically assuming that consumers are immoral and will illegally steal from authors if given the chance.
However, you might be thinking that 5% is still a significant number of pirates, and you would be right. If we only looked at this single point, then any normal person would conclude that adding DRM to your books would give a slight boost to sales.
So what does this mean? That DRM is the way to go, and that it’ll really protect your book from piracy and boost your sales? Well, not exactly.
Is DRM Effective At Protecting Your Ebooks, And Will It Boost Sales?
If you’re reading this blog, then you’re probably a programmer or computer scientist. If so, then you already know the answer to this question. DRM is a complete joke, and almost every tech-savvy person knows how easy it is to bypass DRM protections. In the case of my ebook, The Mostly Mathless Guide To TensorFlow Machine Learning, there’s basically no point in adding DRM protection, because my target audience is tech-savvy programmers. If they wanted to crack the DRM, they could easily do so.
Even Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly Media, hates DRM. And it should be noted that O’Reilly Media, one of the largest and most famous programming/technology book publisher in the United States, doesn’t use any DRM for any of its books. This is already a huge red flag for DRM.
In fact, DRM is so ineffective that the music industry doesn’t even use DRM to protect its audio files anymore, and removing DRM from their music actually boosts sales by 10%! It turns out that people who pirate music actually end up spreading the word about said music, causing an increase in popularity and sales. And people who pirate music may eventually even become future, paying consumers. Less popular albums even managed to increase their sales by a whopping 30%, just by removing DRM from their audio files.
Is DRM Harmful To Your Readers?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is also yes, because it inhibits innovation, research, and is blatantly against the principles of fair use.
Suppose you were to purchase a physical book from a store. You are now free to do whatever you want with that book. You could burn it, resell it, store it away in a box, share it with your friends, or use and reproduce it for research, analytical, or educational purposes. Now suppose a team of researchers wanted to use a single chapter from your book as a source. Due to fair use, there is no issue in passing the book around, and printing out paper copies of that chapter, as long as the book is used for a limited period of time and is used strictly for research purposes.
Now what if that same team of researchers had bought a DRM protected ebook? Well, they’re out of luck, because DRM prevents them from sending a copy of the ebook to their peers, and it also prevents them from printing out a physical copy of the ebook. If that team of researchers wanted to read through this book in parallel, they would need to buy three copies of the ebook, even though this situation should clearly fall under fair use laws.
Most notably, if you’re reviewing a DRM-protected ebook (eg; if you’re a professional book reviewer), you aren’t even allowed to share that DRM-protected ebook to your work colleagues, because the DRM literally prevents you from doing so.
Not only that, when you use DRM on your ebooks, you are forcing your reader into using a specific platform or software to read that ebook. Suppose a reader wants to use their own personal ebook reader, instead of the one that the platform is forcing them to use. Unfortunately, they can’t do that. And this is especially a problem for some demographics, like blind readers, who need additional accessibility features to read the book that only a specific ebook reader can provide.
Perhaps the most annoying part about DRM is that many ebook readers, like Adobe, don’t allow you to copy and paste anything from the protected ebook. Suppose you want to copy a long quote? You can’t. You need to manually write it out, or crack the DRM so that you can copy and paste it. This alone is already enough justification to not use DRM, especially in programming books where copying and pasting code from the book is generally much more preferable to typing out each and every single character on your own.
DRM causes massive headaches for your readers, not only because they force you to use a specific ebook reader, but also because these ebook readers often lack a lot of features, or prevent you from using certain features (eg; copy and pasting/printing). Furthermore, DRM is incredibly easy to crack, so having DRM isn’t even an effective method of protecting your books from piracy.
Not only that, but DRM protection hurts researchers and educational institutions that want to use your book, because fair use laws don’t properly apply when it comes to DRM-protected books.
Additionally, it turns out that DRM protection even hurts your net profit, as removing DRM protection can actually cause up to a 10% increase in profits!
If you want to maximize profit, maximize morality, and maximize convenience, then the obvious action is to leave your ebooks DRM-free. There are simply no good reasons for why you should publish a DRM-protected book. Let your readers enjoy your book, with their preferred e-book reader, without all of the extra nonsense and complexity that DRM protection adds. The music industry has already given up on DRM, and the ebook industry is likely soon to follow. Authors should give their readers the best reading experience possible.
Think about all the times you struggled to set up accounts and click on confirmation emails, just to read a single DRM-protected ebook, or when you wanted to copy and paste an excerpt from a book, but couldn’t because of the DRM-protection. Is that really the kind of experience you want to give your readers?