PUBLISHING: To DRM or not to DRM, is that really the question?

I found that many authors, especially the self-publishing authors, are confused by Digital Rights Management, thinking that DRM is necessary in order to prevent your work from being pirated.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Let’s start with putting Digital Right Management into laymen’s terms.
Digital Rights Management is software added to intellectual property in order to limit the user in sharing the property.
Well, that sounds fine, doesn’t it? When the buyer of your e-book downloads the file from the retailer, they can read the e-book on their e-reader, but they won’t be able to give a copy of the book to their friends, who will have to buy their own copies.
Except that it isn’t ‘excellent’. What happens is that producers of content limit legitimate users from using the product across several devices. You can listen to the compact disc on your compact disc players, but you cannot rip the CD to iTunes for listening to the music on your iPod. You can read the e-book on your e-reader, but not on your smartphone, but the smartphone wasn’t registered as an e-reading device by the retailer…
Yes, but at least my book won’t be pirated!
Sure, delude yourself that clunky DRM software will scare off any pirate. Pirating sites have counter software that strips the DRM from your book in a matter of seconds. Thinking that adding DRM to your book will render it safe from piracy is like thinking a home invader will pass on your home because you installed a motion-detector with spotlight on your front door while your backdoor is wide open.
But I don’t want my work to be pirated!
Face it, if someone wants to get their hands on your book and distribute it illegally, there’s not much you can do about it. DRM certainly won’t do the trick, so putting DRM on your book will only annoy your legitimate readers who won’t be able to read your book across multiple devices.
You simply don’t care about getting pirated!
I do. I don’t think it’s fair to steal a book I worked on and hope to sell in order to free up time to write more books. At the same time, I’m a realist. I can’t stop piracy, I can’t force people to pay for my work. Still, you have the consider the following: if your book gets pirated and downloaded a 1000 times, that doesn’t mean you miss out on a 1000 sales. Readers who frequent pirate sites to get their hands on your books are not the kind of upstanding citizens who would go to a retailer and pay for your book.
They are not your readers. Your readers are the ones who go to Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Nook, iBooks, wherever, to legitimately download your book. They do so, because they hope you will write more books for them to enjoy, and they know that you need to get paid for your work, or you’ll have to get a job that actually pays the bills but cuts into your writing time, thus resulting in less frequent publications for them to enjoy.
What’s more, while the people who frequent pirate sites might not be your readers now, they might become your readers in the future.
While that sounds paradoxical, think about loss-leaders.
Whenever you go to a supermarket and someone offers you a sample of a new product, they do that with the express purpose to get you hooked on their product, hoping the sample will get you to buy the product at full price.
Like many authors, I’ve put out some work for free or almost free, with only one purpose in mind – to get readers hooked on my work. Readers like free stuff, but if they really like the free stuff and they get interested in what the author offers, they are more than willing to spend money on keeping that writer to put out more of the stuff they enjoy.
So don’t worry too much about your books getting pirated. Sure, it sucks that someone tries to profit from your hard work, but it won’t harm your actual sales, and the free downloads might actually engage a reader who realizes that you’re being screwed out of your money, and get that reader to support you by eschewing pirate sites and legitimately downloading your work.
I have a contract with my readers. At less than the price of a cinema ticket, I will tell them a story, giving them the opportunity to go on an adventure with me for a couple of hours, make them think, give them characters who will live in their minds, give them stories that will thrill and excite them. And I will keep on doing that for as long as I’m able, whether I can live on the proceeds of my work or not.
But if I can’t live from selling my work, I will have to find other means of income, which will cut into the time I can spend writing my stories.
So, dear reader, if you really enjoy an author’s work, honor the contract and pay them for their hard work, so they can continue to entertain you.
The only way pirate sites are going to disappear is when readers simply won’t download pirated works anymore.

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2 Comments on “PUBLISHING: To DRM or not to DRM, is that really the question?”

  1. Martin Mackay says:


    I found this very interesting as it is a matter that I have found to be extremely frustrating since I got my first ebook. Using a Kobo I have purchased a number of books but I can only ever use with a Kobo should I want to change to a Kindle I would have to re purchase all of those books if I wanted to read again. I could be open to correction but I can think of no other area that if you purchase something you are restricted to how you access it.

    Early last year my original Kobo was broken and did consider buying a Kindle but knew I would lose all of my previously purchased books so essentially was tied into replacing with another Kobo. Although not something I have experienced yet but I understand there is a limit to the number of times you can download a book again if you purchase a product it should be yours for life.

    Sadly as in many areas it is the consumer who loses out.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Martin.

      The Kobo vs. Kindle argument has to do with different file formats, not with DRM. Amazon e-books are in a proprietary format called ‘Mobi’. Kindles don’t ‘read’ an ePub e-book file.

      When I publish my stories, I have to make three files for e-books: Mobi (for uploading to Amazon), ePub (for uploading to Kobo and Draft2Digital, who distribute my e-books to Barnes & Noble, Nook, Scribd, Page Foundry, et cetera), and a separate ePub without the cover to upload to the Apple iBookstore through iTunesProducer (because embedded covers cause problems with their software).

      An e-book bought through Kobo without DRM can also be read on a Nook, because it’s basically the same ePub file.

      When people buy my books straight from me, they get both the ePub and the Mobi version, so they can read the books regardless of the device.

      When you buy e-books through Kobo and you lose your Kobo e-reader (or you want to switch to a Nook), you need to have the Kobo ePubs backed-up on your computer (a good practice regardless of the device you’re using). If you connect a Nook to your computer, you can upload the ePubs.

      If you have your ePubs stored on your computer, you can download free software called Calibre, that can convert ePubs to Mobi (and vice versa), but (and this is relevant to the article) only if the ePub is DRM-free. If not, you’d have to strip the DRM before you can convert the file.


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