The DRM and Price of eBooks

Published Categorised as News, Publishing, Lifeliner

There has been much discussion between publishers and between pundits about DRM: digital rights management.

DRM allows “copyright holders to prevent unauthorized duplication of their work, either to maintain artistic integrity or to ensure continued revenue streams.” (Wikipedia)

A book with DRM on it controls where an eBook can be read, how many copies — if any — can be made of it, if it can be printed, and if it can be shared. The idea is that the digital nature of eBooks allow books to be widely pirated in a way that old-fashioned print books cannot be (never mind that the inside page of a mass paperback usually had some sort of statement that if the cover was missing, the reader was reading a pirated book), and only DRM prevents that. Only DRM ensures authors — and publishers because this is really about the publishers — earn an income from eBooks.

However, after my experience with the trade paperback and hard cover versions of my book Lifeliner: The Judy Taylor Story, I think DRM is pointless. And I dispute the idea it ensures a continued revenue stream.

The first reason I think it’s pointless is because I have way more readers than purchased print books. After Lifeliner was originally published, what often happened was one person would buy and read one trade paperback version of Lifeliner. That paperback then moved from hand  to hand over and over again. I think one book was passed around to 16 people. If every person who read my book had bought it — something that DRM tries to enforce on the theory that it happens with print books — I may actually have an income. At first, when I discovered this mass sharing, I was shocked, then pissed, now I’m at the Gallic shrug stage. It would be nice if all those readers posted reviews or talked Lifeliner up on social media, but I’ve given up on that idea too. A few have sent me wonderful comments; fewer have helped me spread the word; one reader gave it 4 of 5 stars on Chapters Indigo. And those have made my day.

The second reason: DRM irritates the reader, like one person I follow on Twitter who bought the kobo only to discover her previously purchased eBooks can’t be read on it because of DRM. She owns the books; why can’t she read them on any eReader she wants to? It’s like saying I can read a paperback I purchased as long as I keep it in my bedroom, but if I store it on my kitchen bookshelf, then nope, no reading allowed.

The last reason I think it’s pointless is because I’m quite familiar with computers and know that someone somewhere is going to be able to break it. That person is the real pirate. Or someone rising to a challenge, as things like DRM are red flags to a bull. Or more likely those people who think there should be no copyright, who think that artists live to serve their reading and music needs and those artists ought not to earn a dime from their work but live in noble penury because they’re owed. Or maybe they just think we’re all U2s and Madonnas, Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings, and are so rolling in dough we shouldn’t be demanding people pay for our music or books. I wish. Anyway, the pirates and entitled will always find a way to get a book for free. Meanwhile most readers who have no trouble paying for artistic work will just be annoyed with me, with the DRM, and not purchase my book. And my main goal is to have as many eyeballs on my book as possible, so it’s a bit counter-productive to put DRM on Lifeliner. I also think it’s a lot easier to share a paperback than an eBook. With a print book, you just pick it up and hand it over, with no thoughts of piracy. With an eBook, you got to find the file, attach it to an e-mail or a wireless message of some sort, send it over, etc. etc. Sounds like too much work to me as a reader. It’s way easier to download it from the library or eBookstore and there’s no latent guilt involved. Copyright notices are much more visible on an eBook than on a print book.

Which brings me to the second big discussion about eBooks: price.

Ramryge angels at Gloucester Cathedral, England

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Recently, most big publishers went to war with Amazon to enforce what they call the Agency model of pricing. They have always made their money on hard covers because although those are few in sales numbers, the profit margins are high, and by releasing just the hard cover a few months ahead of the trade or mass paperback and the eBook, they force those who can’t wait to read their favourite author’s books to buy a hard cover. Some people prefer hard covers over any other kind of book, true, but most don’t want to pay the high price and heft the heavy book when reading and so wait. But publishers want to keep this tradition going. As a reader, and as an author who wants to maximize sales, I say bah to that.

Let readers decide which version they want to read: hard cover, paperback, eBook. Let readers decide on which platform they want to read their eBooks on: kobo, computer, Sony Reader, iPod or iPhone, iPad, Kindle. Let the massive marketing push done at the launch of any book benefit sales of every version of a book, not just the hard covers. Once the paperbacks and eBooks come out, months after the hard cover and after the big launch, they can no longer benefit from all the initial publicity. The author is left to ensure the word gets out, and readers are left to remember they were going to buy that book once it came out in paperback and eBook. I find that intensely annoying as a reader, waiting months for a book to come out in paperback so that I can read it.

iUniverse published Lifeliner in hard cover, trade paperback, and eBook (with limited distribution) all at once. Surprise, surprise, several people bought the hard covers even though it was $18 more than the eBook, and more bought the hard cover than the eBook. Meanwhile, I’ve just released a multi-format eBook, which is available much more widely than the iUniverse one, and already people who were happy for me when I published Lifeliner originally yet had not bought it then are buying it now. Why? The only difference between then and now: price and availability.

I’m issuing a limited-time coupon to celebrate this eBook launch, and this eBook is available in any format you can think of with no DRM attached. And even though the coupon — code TX53X at check out, good for 4 more days only, until May 31st — drops the price of the eBook from $4.99 to $1.99, I’m still receiving in royalties almost as much as I would if someone purchased my $16.95 (all prices US) trade paperback on That’s how little authors receive from print books — and I receive higher royalties than if I’d gone the traditional route. That means, to put it crassly, I will earn more from low-priced multi-format, DRM-free eBooks than print books, assuming my marketing campaign works. And, in the end, so what if people share the non-DRM eBooks with their friends and family, co-workers and neighbours? They already do that with the paperbacks.

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