Sunday, 16 December 2012

DRM – The Great Misnomer

There is a lot of rubbish written about DRM and to be frank, we all know it doesn’t work for those who are determined to hack it. However for the majority of readers who are legal, law abiding citizens, they don’t care and probably don’t even know or care what DRM is or does let alone if it is DRM free. Why don’t they care, because unlike music, games and movies most readers keep their book collection on a single machine to read and for those that don’t, five machines is ample enough to move a book between. The great misnomer is believing all the hype about DRM, how it affects the poor reader. This is total crap. The average reader consumes his or her books without anything inhibiting their enjoyment of their books. So we then have to address the other issue; are some publishers lofting themselves on white chargers and slapping themselves on their own pious backs as champions of DRM free titles. The answer to this is sadly, yes.

In reality DRM doesn’t actually do anything except maybe stop kids who are too lazy or too untech savvy to crack it, so it does offer some protection from exploitation at a basic level. As mentioned, those who wish to crack it can do so easily. The average reader who now outnumbers the early and vocal adopters of ebooks (These are the people who believe that all eBooks should be free) is willing to actually pay for their books and read them (generally) on the machine they purchased them on.

As the eBook market has matured with the number of readers increasing (These are now the people willing to pay for books and keep a library in the cloud) the issue of DRM either pro or anti will diminish. This is because the majority of people are honest and feel that the content they purchase belongs to them regardless. How many machines does the average reader want his/her content on? What has happened here is that the industry has become so fixated on the argument of piracy by comparing it with the music industry that no one has stopped to compare what is two distinctly different sets of consumers. The music industry is mostly driven by a much younger audience who have little interest in paying for content. Lets examine how they perceive this. They hear music on the radio for free, they tune into MTV and a host of other TV music channels for free, music is short and relies on repetitive plays/listens for it to become popular and many artists/record labels release their content to platforms such as YouTube to be consumed for free. So this audience has been educated to believe that they shouldn’t have to pay for music. Therefore it is perfectly reasonable (their view not mine) to upload/download, swap, share and generally pass around for free.

The book industry seems to have got so caught up with not making the same mistakes as the music industry that it has assumed the audience is the same. The fact is that it is no longer the same audience. It was at first, when the early adopter was kids looking for more free content (regardless of whether they would actually read it) but now the uptake is a more mature market where the thought of sharing files the way music files are shared is not part of their psyche.

Without generalising too much, the biggest threat to file sharing from the younger generation is going to be academic books. They are too busy watching movies, listening to music and playing online games to spend hours reading other than their school and university obligations. So the whole debate about DRM is a bit of a misnomer. Of course I am not discounting professional thieves, conmen and rogues who will exploit any loopholes in content security, these people are so determined they will crack whatever is placed in front of them. The fact is that with the book industry, the market is actually far more limited than the music, movies and games industry.

The book industry and its majority of consumers are happy purchasing their digital content and reading it on a single machine (Though even with DRM they have the ability to use this on 5 machines – how many do they do they need in reality?). The industry has indeed changed but I think publishers have so got caught up in a spurious argument that it has failed to see that its core audience has changed as it has grown and developed from the early adopters. Even this does a miss-service to younger consumers, many of whom are also prepared to pay for content. 

So the next time you see a publisher boldly shouting ‘Our titles are DRM free’ ask yourself a question as to what they are really saying or understand about the current market and if it is no more than an attempt to make themselves look good while not actually conceding anything. 

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