Unless you are Apple or Amazon and want a captive market, DRM (Digital Rights Management) is useless. In fact they are chasing a lost cause because:
DRM is easily removed and therefore pointless, costly and a barrier to sale.
DRM does not stop piracy, it is restrictive and therefore it promotes piracy.
These reasons are counter-intuitive, which is why it took the music industry a while to work it out.
Adobe, Kindle and Apple’s DRM are very easily removed from a downloaded ebook. You don’t have to be an adept (ha ha) to do it, or so I have been informed by people who have iPhones or iPads but want books Apple don't sell. A well structured Google search can apparently point the way.
I believe that the vast majority of people who remove DRM do it because they want to read the ebook on a device that does not support the original DRM of the ebook they purchased. For example, an iPad user wanting to read an ebook protected by Adobe DRM.
Importantly, these people are unlikely to want to share the ebook with the wider world; after all they paid good money for it. However, these same people feel penalised by DRM as it restricts how and when they can read their ebooks.
But for those who are uncomfortable or unable to work out how to do this, what options have they got?
Be trapped, for now, in an Amazon or Apple DRM captive market? Lots already are.
Battle with an imperfect Adobe DRM delivery method? Many do.
Have one version of an ebook for their Kindle and another for their iPhone? Yeah right… with the paperback on their bookshelf too…
Download pirated non-DRM versions? You betcha…
People will download Pirate ebooks if they are given too many good excuses or reasons including, but not restricted to:
1. The ebook is priced above paperback levels, worse still if they already own a physical copy.*
2. They are not allowed to buy the ebook in the country they live. **
3. Their reader device won’t accept DRM on ebooks or is locked to one type of DRM.
4. They can’t get DRM delivery method to work, for whatever reason, and give up.
* Ebook pricing needs to be sorted out; it is really not in a good place and makes a mockery of customer expectations. The Agency Model only makes this worse, unless it is also applied to physical books and the Big Boys play the game.
** Who loses out if a retailer sells a book to a territory it is not supposed to be sold to? As far as I can see the customer and retailer do. Am I missing something?
The book industry is going to suffer from piracy, but not as much as the music industry did and much less so if it acts now. There are no facts or figures to prove this for the book industry, but it is logical and was a scenario played out with the music industry.
Moral and practical arguments against ebook piracy are stronger with ebooks than with music. Authors tend not to be as rich as musicians or have lucrative alternative revenue sources such as concerts or gigs. A badly pirated ebook, missing pages or badly scanned, is much worse than a song at a lower sample rate or missing the first or last few seconds.
Imagine if buying a physical book was as complex, slapdash and restricted as buying an ebook, there would be photocopying mayhem. Buying digital music is actually easier than buying physical music, why should ebooks be the opposite?
So, DRM is a waste of time and money; it will always be cracked and will always cause problems for customers.
I have a soft spot for Defective by Design, who highlight some of the more unsavoury implications of DRM and captive markets.
Having weathered the Music DRM storm in a previous life, I am unsurprised at the large number of customer service enquiries and complaints we have to deal with when DRM goes wrong or is too complex to be dealt with by Joe Public, which is very often. When coupled with a 3 download limit the problem is intensified and we, the small retailer, end up refunding and praying that we will get a credit back. We also end up playing first line support for Digital Editions and offering technical support, which is a real pain, but always done with a smile.
As an independent ebook retailer, small, lacking of resource and clout; the removal of DRM would obviously save a lot of customer service time and cost.
Apple and Amazon would very quickly lose any current advantage they have by locking in their customers to their particular DRM and delivery method. It would open the market up and we would all get a fairer stab at the pie.