Thursday, October 10, 2013

Three Reasons Why DRM is Your Enemy

There’s no avoiding the subject of Digital Rights Management (DRM).  If you’re an author who has a book being published by a traditional publisher you’ll often get told whether your e-book will have DRM.  You may be asked if you want your book to have it.  If you self-publish, you’ll have to decide at the front end whether you want it.  Kindle Direct Publishing asks you to make that choice as part of your set-up, as do many other platforms.  So what is DRM? DRM is a range of technologies that restrict what consumers can do with your electronic book (or product) once they buy it.  There are different types of DRM, the most common being restriction on copying, sharing, and printing purchased books.  This may involve encryption of the material, password protection, limits on format changes, and other ways to lock the data.  If you’re the author of copyrighted material, this may seem like a good idea – limiting illegal downloads and keeping your work secure.  However, at the end of the day, the real losers in DRM are the authors and readers. Here are three reasons why: 
1.      It’s not at all hard to break the DRM code, rendering your books unprotected.  There are a whole bunch of DRM codebreaking apps, tools, and scripts that can remove DRM. Of course your average honest reader isn’t going to bother with these tools – it’s just not worth the time when there are so many good books available that are DRM free.  But for those who really want to pirate your content, print and sell your book (good luck with that), or give a copy illegally to someone, DRM won’t make a bit of difference. 
2.       DRM is expensive. It costs more to produce an e-book with DRM. So royalties to authors from books with DRM are often lower. Costs to reader are often higher. Because DRM is complex to manage from the reader’s point of view, there are often much higher support costs as readers attempt to make books work on their readers.  All those costs become part of what it takes to get your book out. 
3.       DRM is a pain in the neck for legitimate readers. This is the biggest problem with DRM.  DRM is almost always specific to e-reader and format. A Kindle book with DRM can only be read on a Kindle.  If you buy a book for your Sony e-reader but get a Kindle for Christmas and want to read it on that, forget it.  If you’re a book reviewer like me and want to read a DRM book on your Kindle but refer to a copy in .pdf on your PC when you're writing the review, forget it.  Often a DRM book can’t be read on an upgraded e-reader of the same make. The different formats make moving from device to device difficult enough – you don’t want to make it any harder for readers to get at your wonderful words. Of course readers can crack the code if they want to (see point #1), but your average reader is not going to want to spend time cracking technological code (I know I don't) when they could be reading a DRM-free book.
I know that it’s a scary world out there and no one wants their content stolen, but as the great marketer Seth Godin famously said, the enemy is not piracy, but obscurity.  If you make it hard for readers to read your books on the variety of devices that we all like to use, you won’t minimise the risk of piracy, but you will certainly increase your chances of obscurity.  DRM counters sharing (the most important driver of fame), it impedes reading, and it limits the value of your ebooks.  In this flooded market where getting your book into readers’ hands is the name of the game, DRM is to be avoided at all costs. 

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at


  1. GREAT, Maggie! I did not know this. Very good tip. There is so much to learn in this rapidly changing publisher world.

    1. It surely is a changing world, Heidi. I've only recently noticed Amazon giving authors the option to go DRM free, but it's a big improvement.

  2. Maggie, this is great explanation as to why DRM may not be the best way to go.

  3. Really an important article, Maggie. I did a big Google Plus putsch on this one. It fits so well with what I preach (do I do that? ) in The Frugal Book Promoter! BTW, I need to check to see if the poetry chapbooks in our Celebration series are DRM protected. Yikes! (-:

  4. In total agreement on all points, Maggie. I use several e-readers, an android tablet and my laptop and it is remarkably irritating to find a format which is not transferrable between them. It also often stops me judging certain e-book award categories when the books are in a format I can only read on one of my devices.

  5. Thanks for this, Maggie. I have been advised to use DRM on my e-books so it's good to read the other side of the topic.

  6. Interesting post Maggie. It's definitely a side of the story I hadn't thought about.

  7. Very interesting information, thanks for that, Maggie. I loved the quote about obscurity being the enemy not piracy.


We would love to know your thoughts on this post!

Forget Book Sales: Think Career Building

 It Isn't About Book Sales: It's About Career Building By Carolyn Howard-Johnson Adapted from the multi award-winning flagship...