Thursday, October 4, 2012

DRM Part 2

In the previous post, I talked a little about DRM vs DRM-free.  More and more publishers are giving up on DRM in 2012.  A good article about this can be found here.  Some may talk about altruism, but I have my doubts.

Whatever they may say, publishers and booksellers want DRM.  The only reason they would give it up is because the choices that are available are so unpleasing to users that you end up without sales, or end up incentivizing people to copy and share (cheat).  Better to have some "unlocked" sales, rather than no "locked" sales. 

At DEC Publishing, we use the BookOnPublish system to create our digital books.  These are multimedia, interactive, digital books, with DRM.  The BookOn system (created by MediaTechnics Corp... MTC) has been in use since 1997, by millions of users (primarily University students) around the world.  Now that's a track record!  Have some students not purchased the book and gotten away with it?  I don't know, but I would have to assume that someone has at least tried (and succeeded).  But MTC has been very profitable for all these years simply because the system created was the most flexible one for students, which took away "easy copying/sharing" (which is the problem with PDFs and ePubs) and made it less intuitive to cheat.

Here is how it works:
  • The book can be easily copied and shared by anyone, at any time.
  • However, only the first pages are accessible and the rest is locked until activated with a keycode.
  • The purchased keycode is 1 of 4 variables needed to unlock a book.  First name, last name, and email address* are also required.
  • The unique (to each user) keycode binds that user to that book.  This means that the book will carry the name of the user with it (personalized).  It only needs to be activated once.
  • If it is a textbook (which most previous books have been), it probably includes some sort of testing or self-assessment.  These results can be tracked and used as performance markers.  These test results will be tracked back to the instructor (or institution) in the book owner's name.**
 * Email address.  This address is not used at all (not retained or used for mailings).  It is simply needed as a unique identifier as no two people have the same email address.  
** Tracking.  Tracking results are locked to the purchaser of the book.  So if Bob buys the book and figures out a way to make a copy and gives that to Mary, neither of them gains from this exchange.  Mary will get no credit for any of the tests she has done.  Bob will be saddled with Mary's (potentially) bad test results.  Neither has any incentive to copy and share the book.

Is this perfect?  We don't presume it to be.  If the Pentagon can be hacked, we would hardly suggest that this is a more robust solution.  However, although copying & sharing may be possible, it is hardly easy nor intuitive (unlike a PDF) and would require some real investigation.  If testing and tracking is included, there is no way around the system (that I know of... and we have had a decade and a half to figure that one out!).

It is unobtrusive and non-restrictive.  And since the BookOn system allows for books to be made very quickly and economically, pricing can remain low, making it easy for users to "do the right thing."

A Few Words on DRM

There is plenty  of talk about DRM (Digital Rights Management) these days, and for good reason.  Everyone wants to be fairly compensated for their work, and on the buyer's side, people want fair value for a purchased product, without undo restraints or restrictions. 

DRM used up to this point has often been restrictive.  You buy the product, but can only use it on 1 device.  This is not fair and people have every right to be upset.  Top that off with a higher price point, and you have a recipe for cheating. 

Everything should be DRM-free.  This seems to me to be a direct reaction to the problems with DRM, from above.  If you use a poorly created DRM system and it doesn't work, then your answer should not be to scrap DRM altogether.  Just use something better.  But that is my opinion.  Others will cite Louis CK.

American (everyman) comedian, Louis CK followed the idea first offered by the band Radiohead.  They made their 2007 album, In Rainbows, available online and allowed buyers to name their own price.  This was a success.  Louis CK followed this up in 2011 by producing his own concert video and making it available for only $5.00.  Important to this is that Louis also made a personal plea to buyers to "do the right thing."  By doing this, and by keeping the price low, Louis was able to remove the incentive to cheat.  To learn more, read this.

Before deciding that the "Louis CK model is best", we need to consider that his is a very unique position.  He is well known (has a following), but hardly an out-of-touch multimillionaire.  He has an everyman quality, which is a very significant part of his act.  As a fan, you want to support him.  And he charges 5 bucks!

On the flip side, JK Rowling and Bloomsbury have made billions of dollars with the Harry Potter series, they have restrictions on their books (can't buy in certain countries, books are watermarked, etc...) and they are selling simple, plain-text ebooks for $8, and audiobooks for $30.  No doubt, they need to be compensated for their work, but, you can see why people may want to circumvent their locking system.

So what is the solution?  Read about our philosophy with regards to DRM in the next segment... DRM Part 2.