DRM for Ebook Security, Fight Piracy or Not?

Many Indie authors who sell ebooks directly from websites and blogs ask me, “What’s the best way to ensure ebook protection against piracy? Should I encrypt my files to be DRM protected?” These questions get asked a lot. Since we live in a digital world there is always going to be some degree of electronic piracy; nothing you can do to stop it entirely. My feelings about this topic may surprise you.

DRM stands for digital rights management, an encryption code that Amazon and other retailers use to impose limitations and protect certain products from piracy and unauthorized use, giving authors ebook security. Most ebooks bought traditionally through retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have DRM built in. However, others do not like at Smashwords. (Amazon and other major retailers are now making it an option for the author upon publishing.) While DRM sounds good at face value, there are reasons not to like it, which we’ll cover below. And even though many Indie authors are worried about ebook piracy and illegal downloads, what they really should be worried about is obscurity, or no one reading their words.

no DRMMark Coker is the founder and CEO of Smashwords, a haven for Indie authors to market and sell ebooks as well as a format converter and distributor to all major retailers. What are Mark’s thoughts on DRM? From his free Smashwords Style Guide: All Smashwords books are sold DRM-free, without copy protection or encryption. This means you’re trusting your customers not to pirate your books. In our experience, the vast majority of customers are honest. Yet without proper education and reminders, a well-intentioned customer might feel inclined to share your book with someone else.

Mark further elaborates on his feelings from this blog interview, http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/blog/2009/02/01/interview-mark-coker-founder-of-smashwords/: The problem with DRM is that it treats law-abiding customers like criminals, because it limits how and when and under what circumstances customers can enjoy your book.  The truth about DRM is that it just irritates your customers, and there’s little evidence it slows piracy.  DRM is easily cracked by hackers, and the people who pirate your book are unlikely to pay for it anyway.

Librarians against DRMThink of it like this; if you buy a paper book, you own it. You can lend it to multiple friends afterwards, donate it to the library, or even sell it to a used book store for some of that money back. Your one-time purchase went a long way. But if someone buys an ebook with DRM, she doesn’t actually own it. She can’t even give it to a friend later, and she can’t sell it to a used ebook store. Additionally, DRM sometimes has issues with certain conversions and reading devices that can cause problems for customers to enjoy their purchase. Sometimes buyers cannot access their ebook, and they are typically restricted to one device to view it.

But here’s another argument against DRM (or fear of ebook piracy), and you might not have thought of it before.

Open source DRM freeIf hundreds or thousands of readers across the world were ripping off your ebook and sharing it because it was so wonderful… would that really be a problem? In my opinion, it would not be a problem because more than anything you want to establish a base of readers enjoying and referring it. So if thousands of people were ripping off your ebook and recommending it, then almost certainly thousands of others will buy it legally. Perhaps the more people that rip it off, the more referrals to paying customers will happen. Piracy could be the best thing to ever happen to your ebook!

What should be the real concern for Indie authors selling from their own websites or blogs? Is it ebook security or ebook obscurity? This answer is easy. When it comes to e-publishing, ebook obscurity should be your greatest concern.

Okay then, what can you do to limit the piracy bound to happen to any ebook that people really want?

My advice is to keep your prices reasonable. Most of the people pirating ebooks are targeting the expensive ones, those that are $20, $30, $50 or even more. Some ebooks are ridiculously priced at over $100. No wonder people are ripping them off! Would you want to pay $100 or even $25 for an electronic document? Regardless if the price is justified by the value within, who would want to pay that? Low prices are the best form of ebook security.

That’s why I charge $4.99 for How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free. Many customers have told me the book is worth ten times the price, that they are perplexed as to why it’s so affordable. The reasons are simple: to sell more ebooks faster to happy customers who will refer it, and to reduce the likelihood of illegal sharing.

What should you charge for your ebooks? There’s another ebook pricing post on this blog on that very subject.

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