Publishers, E-Books, and DRM

2012-02-18: Updat­ed the post with trans­la­tions from the orig­i­nal let­ter.

I’m an Addison-Wesley author and just received a let­ter from Pear­son, the own­er of Addison-Wesley, inform­ing me about their thoughts and steps towards e-books and the dig­i­tal age. The let­ter is writ­ten as an open let­ter with no appar­ent secrets, so I’m mak­ing it avail­able here for any­one inter­est­ed to read and to com­ment on it.

In gen­er­al, I have sym­pa­thies with com­pa­nies try­ing to sus­tain their rev­enue streams. I do expect them, how­ev­er, to under­stand that change is inevitable and to flex­i­bly react to and to lead that change for their cus­tomers’ sake and not just their share­hold­ers’ sake. As an author, I’m nat­u­ral­ly in a sim­i­lar or at least relat­ed sit­u­a­tion.

The PDF is marked up with num­bers. The fol­low­ing list relates to what the (Ger­man) let­ter says on the respec­tive issues:

  1. Let­ter: “The e-book is enter­ing main­stream […]” — I’m glad to see Pear­son real­ized that e-books are inevitable. While some may argue that’s hard­ly news I’m well aware of many pub­lish­ers still fight­ing this devel­op­ment.
  2. Let­ter: “It is impor­tant to main­tain price con­trol […]” — I can also under­stand that dis­tri­b­u­tion part­ners are try­ing to take their share of the rev­enue and that this is a major strug­gle for pub­lish­ers who missed out on cre­at­ing their own effec­tive chan­nels.
  3. Let­ter: “We believe in the val­ue of con­tent you entrust to us […]” — Nat­u­ral­ly, as an author, I believe in the val­ue of my books. I also hope that this val­ue can be enhanced through e-books and ancil­lary ser­vices! I don’t agree that this nat­u­ral­ly leads to DRM (Dig­i­tal Rights Man­age­ment) as a pri­ma­ry con­trol mech­a­nism. There may be rea­sons for and uses of DRM, but not as a gen­er­al approach to e-books. Here is my think­ing:
    • DRM is a nuis­sance and typ­i­cal­ly locks me into a plat­form. As a buy­er, I don’t get the full free­dom of use that I’m used from trad. books. Per­son­al­ly, I hate this. It is the pri­ma­ry rea­son why I nev­er bought any­thing on iTunes and will keep a safe dis­tance to all things Apple and pro­pri­etary lock-in.
    • DRM may be an inter­me­di­ary solu­tion until pub­lish­ers fig­ure out a bet­ter busi­ness mod­el. As such, DRM is fight­ing pro­gress, try­ing to keep us locked into “old ways of doing things”, thus reduc­ing the poten­tial for inno­va­tion and mak­ing us all worse off.
  4. Let­ter: “[…] we use DRM to pro­tect your con­tent […]” — I don’t like sug­ges­tive sen­tences like “it is impor­tant for authors to have their con­tent pro­tect­ed” — who said that? Nobody says you should naive­ly dump all works onto the net; the smart pub­lish­er uses the net for exper­i­men­ta­tion with new busi­ness mod­els rather than try­ing to main­tain the sta­tus quo.
  5. Let­ter: “[…] Rough Cuts gives read­ers a pre-release ver­sion of a book […]” — I’m reas­sur­ing pub­lish­ers that inno­va­tion will hap­pen, like this exam­ple given by Pear­son here. So, pub­lish­ers need to improve their abil­i­ty to inno­vate, more rapid­ly. How to feature-differentiate? How to enhance val­ue? How to provide com­ple­men­tary ser­vices? That’s Busi­ness 101.
  6. Let­ter: “[…] how to con­sume books will be an impor­tant issue […]” — So it is obvi­ous to me that the pub­lish­ing prod­ucts of the future will be much more than just “books” as still sug­gest­ed by much of this let­ter.

The good news? Inno­va­tion can open up new rev­enue streams. I actu­al­ly believe that well-done e-books should cost more than the paper copy. If DRM didn’t get in the way, that is. I cer­tain­ly would be will­ing to pay more for the added flex­i­bil­i­ty and ben­e­fits, and the main rea­son why I’m not doing it today is that I can’t stand the restric­tions of being locked into some ran­dom plat­form try­ing to dic­tate my usage pat­terns.

As an author, shouldn’t I sim­ply be behind Pear­son sup­port­ing them in any way I can? After all, I’ll be get­ting more roy­al­ty pay­ments if Pear­son is mak­ing more mon­ey? The answer is obvi­ous­ly no, not just out of prin­ci­ple, but also because not push­ing ahead with inno­va­tion is rob­bing me of addi­tion­al rev­enues.

4 thoughts on “Publishers, E-Books, and DRM

  1. Eugene Wallingford

    When they say, “It is impor­tant for authors to have their con­tent pro­tect­ed,” I think they mean, “It is impor­tant for _us_ to have authors’ con­tent pro­tect­ed”.

  2. Pingback: Dirk Riehle über DRM und E-Books « the business web

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