Monday, October 7, 2013

DRM Bandwagon

Aspects of Independent Publishing: Part Four - DRM

DRM Bandwagon

Spoiler Alert: I'm about to get on my soapbox.

Uh-oh, Shel. You’re moving into a political debate. You feeling okay?

I’m fine, thanks for asking. And just so we’re clear, I’m not looking to start a fight here. I’m not asking anyone to do what I say nor am I even trying to say that I’m right and everyone else is wrong. DRM is a controversial topic that at some point in your writing career, you will need to make a decision on how you want DRM to effect you. I just happen to have an opinion. I personally don’t support DRM, but my readers understand by now that I don’t generally support anything that restricts freedom and makes criminals out of law-abiding citizens.

Wait, we thought you were talking about DRM?
Why are you discussing freedom infringement?

Because, don’t let Big Brother fool you. DRM isn't about protecting rights, especially not the rights of the individual. It's about money: who has it, who wants it, and who’s making it. It’s about restricting consumers’ rights for monetary gain.

This is a good place to discuss what DRM actually is. Digital Rights Management – or in some circles Digital Restrictions Management - is a policy, technology, software, app, or other digital doohickey designed to deter or circumvent copyright violations. 

That sounds relatively harmless, right? 

Part of the problem is that for each digital platform available, DRM takes on a different set of rules and operates under a different set of restrictions. You can do a Google Search and see for yourself. There is no universal guideline, no blanket “DRM means this and that”, and any policy left open to that much interpretation is bound to see abuse.

The companies benefit. The governments benefit. The determined criminal still breaks the law. In each frustrating scenario, no matter how you look at it, the consumer - the one spending actual money - loses.

We saw it happen to the music industry. MP3s were downloaded faster than anyone could say MP3 on file sharing sites. Then the government stepped in as an outcry was raised in the producers' homes. What were the producers so angry about? Exposure? No. Publicity. Nope, not that either. They were upset because they weren't getting any money from it. They saw a potential goldmine there and wanted their share. 

Don't get me wrong. As a business, as an author, I can certainly understand the desire to limit exposure to potential wrongdoers and turn a profit off of those who are looking to do things the honest way. This is, after all, America, and who doesn’t want to be rich and famous? I understand why we beg our readers Please, please, if you enjoy our work, please don’t download our stories willy-nilly and pass them out to your friends. Buy a new license for each article you pass along. Respect how we make our living.

As an end-user, this gets stuck in my teeth and becomes hard to chew. If I buy a stand-mixer, it’s mine. I own it. I can use it to make cupcakes and I can give those cupcakes to my friends. Or I can sell those cupcakes at a church social bazaar to help raise money for the local bobsled team. The Stand-Mixer company isn’t going to slap a cease and desist on me for using the product in a way that allowed other people to benefit from it without cost. As a matter of fact, the Stand-Mixer Company may prefer I invited my church over to my kitchen and allow each parishioner to use the mixer to make cupcakes to sell at the bazaar. The parishioners will all see how wonderful a product the Stand-Mixer Company makes and maybe go purchase one of their own.

That’s free publicity. That’s free marketing. That’s 20 sales the company didn’t have before the bobsled fundraiser happened. I’m happy I made cupcakes. The parishioners are happy they made cupcakes. The bobsled team is happy they got to eat cupcakes. The company is happy because they have more money and they can pay for health-care for their employees.

Aunt Edna will refuse to buy a brand new stand mixer and insist on purchasing one from the goodwill, one that the Stand-Mixer Company has already earned their $4k on. It’s okay. It’s Aunt Edna. Aunt Edna also refuses to turn her air conditioner on in the summertime because she’s cheap and doesn’t want to pay for a high electric bill. So she has a heart-attack because she’s dehydrated and…this parable is getting away from me, sorry.

But, Shel, you can hardly compare a kitchen small appliance to a book.

Can’t I?

If I buy a physical, dead-tree book, I have purchased the book. It’s mine. I own it. I read it. I enjoyed it. The royalties are dispersed by the publishing company and maybe the author gets his 20 cents. I loan the book to 20 parishioners, telling each of them Oh My Go-er-Heavens, you HAVE to read THIS book by THIS author. And out of those parishioners, 15 of them say eh, we’d rather have cupcakes, but the other 5. The other 5 parishioners say Oh My Go-er-Heavens, you’re absolutely right. I must read THIS book by this AUTHOR. Oh, and all the AUTHOR’s other books too. So each of the 5 goes out and buys the next three in the series. That’s 15 sales the author didn’t have before. It’s marketing. It’s advertisement. The publisher didn’t have to finance another campaign from the marketing department, but there’s enough money to buy health insurance for their employees now. And, it’s a whopping $3.00 the author gets after royalties are dispersed.

And Aunt Edna goes to the library and checks out all the books, books for which the royalties - $0.80 - have already been paid.

How is my dead-tree book-loaning any different from the library lending in this scenario? Everyone benefits. Everyone is happy.

Except maybe the author, because he only has $4.00 when the publisher made $4k. Honestly though, that’s between him and his Big 6 5 publisher.

Ah, but Shel, digital copies make it so much easier for criminals to criminate.
Something has to be in place to protect the author.

As far as I’m concerned, they already took care of that, those digital companies, in the most restrictive way possible. I buy a digital copy of a book. I read it, I enjoy it. I do not own it. It’s not mine. I can’t will it to my first-born non-existent son. I just paid a fee to rent it for my lifetime, or rather, for the lifetime of my terms and agreements with my digital reader company, subject to change without notice. If I decide I no longer want to use Banana’s reader and now I want to use Spark’s reader, I cannot just up and transfer my library. And unless I pay for rental space somewhere in the sky, if my reader/computer/digital device experiences the blue screen of death brought about by the four horsemen of the apocalypse, I’ve lost all the reading material I was saving up in case I wanted to on vacation when the apocalypse happened. My insurance company will replace my house and reader, but not my pumpkin patch, or my digital books.

It’s the end-user that suffers. The end-user that has to make the sacrifice. Because Banana, Sparks, and Bricks & Snowball are going to force the end-user to repurchase something he never actually owned to begin with, making more money off of the misery of the end-user just fighting to be whole again. And the New 3 keep dangling that 70% royalty check in front of the author’s nose to keep him complacent. Because hey, at least the author’s making way more with the New 3 than he ever did with the Big 6 5.

Come on, Shel, it’s way more complicated than that.
There are protocols and the like, and if you had ever been a victim of piracy, then you would understand the need to keep it from ever happening to anyone ever again.

You’re probably right. If I ever experience someone stealing my work and claiming ownership, or distributing said work illegally and making a profit on it, I would probably feel pretty stung. I might even pack up all of my cupcakes and refuse to sell them at the church bazaar for the bobsled team fundraiser. You may even find a public recanting linked to this very post where I scream I WAS SO DUMB!

Nevertheless, I would like for you to think about what's at the conception point of all this paranoia. The author is a business, a small one, but a business nonetheless. The publisher is a business, small or large, but a business nonetheless. DRM is the government and big business, small business way of maintaining their ability to make money, plain and simple. In order for businesses to have rights, consumers have to pay for the privilege of sacrificing their own. .

I am but one person. I can hardly write more than one novel a year. There are laws already in place for me to exact justice against those who abuse me. The end-consumer, my target audience, is anywhere from 2 (Thanks Mom and Dad!) to 2 gazillion (Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?). As an author, I do not fear my audience, I fear never being discovered. Why would I intentionally sabotage my potential for exposure?

So far, on all the platforms I have published to, all that have given me the choice if I want DRM, I check the box to opt out of the DRM. A determined pirate is going to violate me anyway, if he decides that’s what he wants to do. Criminals break laws. That’s why they’re criminals. I’d rather empower my law-abiding audience with the right to choose what to do with their purchase than tell them they can only read my stories on Wednesdays at the gym, or displayed on roasted banana flavored bricks because there are pirates in these here waters.

And as flippant as I’m sure this post sounds, I did not come to this opinion/decision without a hefty bit of research. I have come to the conclusion that I want to treat others the way I want to be treated. I choose to trust others the way I want to be trusted. Is it risky? Yeah, sure, but so is crossing the street.

I told you at the beginning that this foray into the independent publishing journey was going to be more soapbox than substance. I want to reiterate that I neither insist that you follow my lead, nor do I believe that everyone should feel the same way I do. 

Because I believe in the individual freedom of expression and the rights to both dish out and ignore advice. That’s just how I roll. 

If you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

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