Digital Rights Management (DRM) has stunted my love affair of the ebook.
If I buy a book, or an album, or a movie, I will do what I believe most people will do with such items: enjoy them and then pass them on in some manner. Sometimes I am an impulse buyer of books (not that any of you all have ever suffered from this) and I will pick up a hardback or paperback because I like the cover, the sound of the author’s name, the genre, or because it is the perfect size for my remaining empty pocket in my bookbag.
However, I have not had this impulse with ebooks, mostly because they are difficult to share. Once I’ve read a book, I like to have options. A few remain on my shelves forever, but most get passed on to friends, coworkers, neighbors, my favorite library and a few get sold or traded in for bookstore credit.
Let me be clear: I do not condone ebook piracy. I believe DRM was created to protect the authors and publishers, who deserve to get paid for their work. However, by and large, this has backfired. This is primarily for two reasons: 1) Those who wish to circumvent the law for nefarious reasons will always find a way – DRM or not, they will exploit your electronic material; 2) Those who want to respect the reasons behind the DRM are constrained by it because DRM reduces the number of things I can legally do with MY property (lending it out for a lengthy time, selling it, donating it) – DRM makes it hard to justify buying a book I can’t pass on, especially one by an author I haven’t read before.
If the publishers are going to ‘lawfully’ reduce the uses of my property, then the product needs to be damn good – no typos, perfect formatting, multiple fonts, maps, color, ability to use on multiple devices, coverart, linked table of contents and indices. In short, your ebook needs to meet the highest quality if you expect me to pay good money for an item that I and I alone will get to enjoy. If such quality was rampant throughout the ebook market (which it is currently not), I would buy a few more a year. However, that still leaves the issue of lack of versatility.
The great thing about hardbacks and paperbacks is they keep selling the author. They circulate around in used bookstores, left at hotels, passed from friend to friend. Some of my greatest book love affairs started this way – Jacqueline Carey, Jim Butcher, Guy Gavriel Kay. They were all used paper books that were passed to me and now I own nearly every book they have published. They sit on my forever shelf. Ebooks could act the same way.
Last year, a friend of mine gave me an ecopy of his ebook Warchild by Karrin Lowachee, an author I had never heard of but whose book he had greatly enjoyed. Another book love affair was born. Now I own all her books in paper version and they are the latest addition to my Eternal Bookshelf. Did my friend break the DRM to provide a single copy to me? Probably. Did he profit from doing that? No, other than stimulating conversation over a shared book. Did the author and publisher profit? Yes! Twice over – I bought the paper books, read them, raved about them, and my friend went on to by the rest of her books also.
I read a lot – perhaps 150-200 books per year. I have two ereaders because I like the ease of transporting a minilibrary around with me. Most of those ebooks are from copyright free sites, like Project Gutenberg. With TOR’s announcement this past week of going DRM free, I can see a near future where my ereaders will have more mainstream ebooks. I have noticed other publishers going DRM free and Kindle started their lending program this year also. Perhaps impulse ebook buying will soon be acceptable.