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Content producers must reject the new DRM scheme from Adobe

It’s 2014 and Adobe thinks its going to increase profitability of digital book producers by introducing a  new kind of DRM or digital rights management. DRM is a software lock that binds a digital book you’ve purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble to a specific platform.  A book you’ve purchased at BN can’t be read on a Kindle and vice versa.

I’ve long argued that publishers inability to move away from DRM prevents them from aggressively attacking Amazon’s position and moving toward Direct to Consumer purchases. See here and here. (It should be noted that publishers past hesitancy toward DTC sales is also predicated on not competing directly with its largest accounts such as Barnes & Noble, Target and the like but with B&N faltering and consumer confidence low at Target due the security breach, if there was ever a time for DTC it is now. HarperCollins is going forward with it on a small scale.)

Reiterating these arguments has little value. I simply want to point out what a mistake it would be to move to a platform that has stricter DRM, perhaps even an always on component.

Always on requires you to constantly be connected to the internet in order to access your digital entertainment. This type of DRM has been used increasingly with video games. There was a huge furor in the video game world when SimsCity was released in the spring of 2013 with always on DRM. The always on technology was flawed and users experienced sub optimum levels of enjoyment when game modules were removed, entire cities that users had created disappeared, and many other serious hardware issues.

Learning from this disaster Sims 4 will not be an always online DRM game. Neither will the next release of Metal Gear.  When XBox launched with a 24 hour Internet check in and restrictions against used games, the video game community rose up and voiced its displeasure so ferociously that XBox removed the DRM restriction only 24 hours after the announcement and launch.

Music remains DRM free because that is the industry standard set by Apple.

So why would digital book producers follow down the rabbit hole of extreme customer dissatisfaction through the use of always on DRM? It’s foolhardy at best and potentially disastrous.

DRM has never and will never defeat piracy. There are absolutely no studies that indicate that DRM has reduced piracy. Not one.  For the uninitiated, let me reiterate what DRM does do.

1) It creates platform dependent customers such that if yours is not the popular platform, you’re SOL.

2) It increases the barrier of competitors into the marketplace and enhances monopolistic control of the popular platform (aka Amazon).

3) It pisses off and punishes actual paying customers. That’s right. The only people that DRM affects negatively is the people who’ve actually paid for the product.  How? Because people are stuck with one platform. Or if the platform goes out of business, they lose access to all their purchases. Or because if they lose their mother effing credit card or can’t remember what it is, then they can’t access the book/movie/song they’ve bought.

What does DRM not do?

1) It does not prevent piracy. If piracy were prevented by DRM why would there be such a big piracy problem?

2) Does not reduce casual sharing. This is the big one that I heard a few years back that pub people used to justify DRM. DRM prevents the teen from sending the one book to all her BFFs! Just who do you thinking is hacking the DRM these days? Grandmothers? It was a 17 year old kid who was responsible for the attacks against Target and Neiman Marcus.

DRM is nothing but a hassle for legitimate paying customers. In an industry that is bleeding readers, does it make sense to piss off the current ones? No. I’m not saying this for my own benefit because I’m pretty tech savvy. I’m saying this for all the emails I get from readers who are stumped about why they can’t get X book on their devices.

Adobe undoubtedly is looking for increased revenue from this new DRM but it’s fool’s gold for anyone else.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. library addict
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 04:34:15

    100% agree.

    Plus even though I read a lot on my Nexus now (using Calibre Companion and Mantano Premium) I also still read on my Sony 650 which doesn’t have wifi or 3G. And while I never wanted my reader to have wifi, even if it did I don’t always have good service where I live so being “always on” is not even a viable option.

  2. Julie
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 07:12:18

    The always on component would infuriate me. How would I read on an airplane? Or at dusty, rural fairgrounds where they don’t have internet or wifi service? I don’t even have solid, reliable internet service at my house! That would just push me to purchase from pubs that don’t use these idiotic restrictions, causing those that do to lose yet another paying customer.

  3. AH@badassbookreviews
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 07:52:04

    This wifi on DRM is ridiculous. What if there is a power outage? I can still read on my ereader (until the battery dies). What if I am in an area without wifi (camping trip, whatever)? I can still read until that battery dies.
    I have a wifi enabled Kobo. I keep the wifi off because I don’t like Kobo spying on my reading habits. I also had to turn it off because their badge system (spying) got annoying.
    I agree with you, the paying customers are the ones who are penalized by DRM.

  4. Lisa J
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 07:59:55

    Always on equals never use for me. I never leave my wifi on on my reader. It has the capability, but I sideload all of my books using Calibre after I remove the DRM. I paid for my books and I own them, so yeah, I remove the DRM.

    Always on will send me to Amazon. I’ll buy my ebooks there and then convert them to ePub. If that’s what publishers want, to send people to evil Amazon, then this move is “mission accomplished” in my mind.

  5. Lisa J
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 08:03:00

    To clarify, I don’t think Amazon is evil, but publishers do.

  6. Lynnd
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 08:10:35

    YES and many times yes to everything you said.

  7. Mike Cane
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 08:45:36

    >>>Does not reduce casual sharing.

    Let’s not forget that several people can share an account and that Amazon at least allows Kindle book lending. Anyone looking to scoop up *every* possible penny should get out of books and maybe into making Heisenberg meth.

  8. donna ann
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 08:59:04

    the new DRM could help promote the sale of paperbacks & the small press ebooks that don’t DRM. It’s bad enough that half one’s rights to a book one purchases is lost when it’s an ebook, take away a few more. could also mean more of those TBR mountains we all have actually have a chance at getting read since we won’t be buying as much new

  9. Amanda
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 09:18:28

    You are so right on all this. People who are a part of piracy will continue to do it, DRM’s don’t and won’t stop it. They just make it harder for people who actually buy the eBooks. So many people who have BOUGHT Adobe DRMed eBooks have at least one horror story because of it. Its like they are pushing us into Amazon’s arms and they don’t even realize it.

  10. @mostlybree
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 09:32:30

    I hate DRM enough all on its own but Always On makes me froth-at-the-mouth-RAAAAAGE. Not everyone has unlimited internet freely available. And your $5 book is not so valuable you should get to monitor me FOREVER over it. Especially since Super Evil Amazon’s the only one who made it feel valuable to me to begin with by making it sync across every device I’ve ever considered owning.

    I do not understand what is so difficult about the concept that convenience adds value for a lot of digital users. Why ruin that?

  11. hapax
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 09:47:46

    Yes, yes, yes, to everything everybody has said here.

    We have gone so far in turning books back into a luxury product, unavailable to the poor, the rural population, the non-technically equipped. There are huge areas around where I live that don’t even have dialup access, let alone wifi. They come to the library to check their email, apply for jobs, and yes, to do their online shopping — including books.

    Why should they bother to buy ebooks — or even check the out of the library — if they can’t read them once they get home?

  12. Liz H.
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 10:04:15

    I’ve got a few questions about this that hopefully someone can answer-
    Always-on is not definitely included in the new DRM is it? I understood Jane’s article to just be using it as an example of the bad effects of DRM…

    I know that Adobe’s DRM is used when you buy a ‘locked’ PDF format of a book. I thought that it was also incorporated into Kindle and Nook files. Is that correct? Therefore readers can’t purchase at one of those retailers and then convert to another format, because they will still be locked? So this is in effect, locking readers to the retailer whose device they own.

    I can’t imagine Apple wants to use Adobe tools if they can avoid it. Do they have their own DRM?

    Last but not least, have any publishers or retailers (B&N, Amazon, Google, etc.) commented on Adobe’s announcement? Are they likely to?

  13. Chris Dickman
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 10:28:26

    Can you provide link to this new Adobe DRM policy?



  14. Jane Davitt
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 10:33:41

    @Lisa J:

    That’s exactly what I do too. Wifi on and the battery dies and I don’t need badges and congrats on reading a book at midnight or whatever. Pfui. Calibre has my vote all the way. Lets me read Amazon purchases on my Kobo.

  15. Lynn M
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 10:58:10

    Not to mention how DRM really discourages me from purchasing any one e-book seller’s hardware. I currently own both a Nook and a Kindle (my daughter’s) but when either and/or both of them die, I will not purchase a replacement since I can’t cross read books I buy via either seller. Rather, I’ll just use my iPad and the associated apps to read that way.

    Question: if you download book purchase onto a flash drive without stripping off the DRM, does that allow you permanent access in the case of a seller going out of business or if something happens to your credit card? My big fear is that the couple hundred of B&N/Nook e-books that I own are going to go up in a poof of vapor should B&N close down shop. I’m at the point where I will only buy books for my Nook if they are really cheap (less than $2) or significantly cheaper than Amazon, which NEVER happens.

  16. Lostshadows
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 12:05:40

    I just bought an ereader. The packaging talks about how long the battery lasts, using a figure that assumes the wifi is off. Even in an area with reliable wifi, why would I want to run my battery down faster just to read books?

  17. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 12:26:40

    @Chris Dickman Here’s Adobe’s FAQ on Adobe Digital Editions 3.0. If you click the 6th question down (“How is 3.0 different from 2.0?”), it says, “Version 3.0 includes the latest reader mobile technology with a more secure DRM scheme, better support for vertical text, and CSS text properties.” (bold is mine)

  18. Milly
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 17:49:43

    Hmm… so always on tech means must be connected to internet which means for “data usage” which means even more money to ISP’s. Just another cost gouge to me. For the record… I like to buy my books, music etc because I think artists deserve a fair wage BUT if I purchase something I want to listen/read/watch it any way I want on any device I have. Simple as that.

  19. Kaetrin
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 17:56:16

    @Liz H.: Amazon have a different type of DRM to Adobe Digital Editions. Adobe DE is mainly used for a DRMd ePub and PDF books. iBooks has a different DRM again and, as I understand it, the Nook DRM is slightly different to other ePub DRM. I don’t know much about the DRM from B&N because we don’t have them over here.

    @Lynn M: they won’t be readable. The only way to make sure your legally purchased books remain yours is to strip the DRM and back them up.

  20. Anne
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 18:25:56

    I am with everyone else. I believe I should have the unrestricted use of an ebook that I have purchased, just as I have unrestricted use of a hard copy of a book. I do not have an ereader, but read on my desktop computer, tablet & mobile. I do not always have good Internet or wifi coverage in remote areas, including at my family’s recreational property. If DRM becomes even more restrictive, I will either not buy ebooks available only in that format, or learn to strip off the DRM, Which I’ve not done until now.

  21. David H. Rothman
    Jan 27, 2014 @ 08:53:09

    Excellent post, Jane. Without doubt, this is a consumer protection issue. The traditional kind of DRM on books should be legally banned with exceptions such as library-related applications. Social DRM could still be permitted as a compromise since it doesn’t restrict consumer choices or endanger future accessibility.

    Perhaps you should start a petition to the White House to encourage Obama to speak up on this issue. The same document could also be directed at Congress.

    Granted, the publishing industry will lobby seriously for the continuation of DRM on books, but if enough voters speak out, maybe democracy can prevail despite all the campaign contributions from the copyright interests to our politicians.

    Needless to say, I also have issues with DRM on other media, but by focusing on books, the petition wouldn’t invite quite as vigorous a response as otherwise from Hollywood. What’s more, people are accustomed to the idea of owning paper books forever, while Hollywood and the electronics industry have changed formats over the years.

    Perhaps, by focusing new attention on DRM and future accessibility, that horrible new technology from Adobe will actually do our cause a service.


  22. Lada
    Jan 27, 2014 @ 12:55:10

    Thank you, Jane, for continuing to be a voice of reason in this mad, mad world.

  23. Lynnd
    Jan 27, 2014 @ 14:17:43

    @donna ann: I doubt that I would go back to paperbacks if this type of DRM came into effect; however, I do have enough books on my virtual TBR pile to last for about three + years should publishers decide to do something stupid and use this always online DRM. Maybe my ebook hoarding isn’t so dumb after all…

    Any idea why Apple hasn’t taken any moves to get publishers to drop DRM altogether as they did with music?

  24. Castiron
    Jan 27, 2014 @ 15:55:47

    @Lynnd: At a broad guess, e-books aren’t nearly as important to the sales of Apple’s hardware as music was. Plus, if I’m remembering the timeline correctly, Apple didn’t sell DRM-free MP3s first — Amazon did.

  25. Jane
    Jan 27, 2014 @ 19:18:35

    @Castiron: No, it was Apple that led the anti DRM charge. Steve Jobs specifically.

    @Lynnd: Just not important to them.

  26. ShellBell
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 01:52:57

    Prior to enforcement of geographical restrictions several years ago 98% of my eBook purchases were from the big publishers. With the enforcement of geographical restrictions this was reduced to about 40% from the big publishers and 60% from those publishers that were DRM-free. With Adobe’s latest version of DRM I can see that I won’t be buying any eBooks from the big publishers. I will either borrow the books from my local library or simply say goodbye to the few remaining big publisher authors that I still read. I won’t buy the print versions, and I won’t buy from Amazon.

  27. CIndy
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 07:02:37

    Always on doesn’t work for me either. I live in an apartment, outside of most service areas, with cable wiring from the 80’s. Yes. 80’s. And the box starts at the other end of my building which means I have multiple drop outs during the day. I have been informed the apt. co. needs to update the wiring which they won’t do. They can have as crappy of service as they can and still claim in ads that cable is available. We have tv hook ups in both bedrooms and living room and the tech said most people here can’t even use more than one tv.

  28. Bob
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 09:52:06

    Why publishers should drop DRM immediately, made simple:

    I read about 150 books a year and purchase more than that. I can remove DRM, fix metadata, and convert between the two major formats. I thus have the freedom to buy books wherever I want – because I know that as soon as I buy them and strip the DRM, nobody can take them away from me. I can back them up onto a flash drive and toss it into a safe if I feel like it; they’re MINE in the same way that paper books in a box or on a shelf are MINE. That freedom encourages me to buy more books.

    By contrast, if I find a format I can’t read or a form of DRM that I can’t remove, I won’t buy it. If all the big publishers switch to such a system, I will either switch back to paper (as much as I’d hate to), skip the book completely, or delay my purchase until someone finds a way to remove the DRM. I have no problem paying a reasonable price for ebooks, but I refuse to sit on Damocles’ throne with the sword of Planned Obsolescence hanging above.

    Baen, Angry Robot, Tor, and most indie authors have seen the light and sell DRM-free ebooks. It hasn’t hurt their sales. It’s time for the Major Publishers to get on board, stop paying the Adobe tax, and make life easier on their customers. If they don’t…well, I’ve got reading material for years yet, and I don’t foresee a siege outlasting *that* TBR pile. The only people I’ll feel sorry for are the authors caught in the middle, bound by contracts to publishers who don’t want to sell their books.

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