I recently read the article on BoingBoing about the Hachette publisher being upset that some of it’s authors who were also using the Tor publisher in different territories, would be releasing their works DRM-free.
I also saw some defence that stated that “the Hachette sales strategy with DRM works really well”.
Let me explain why I don’t think that DRM is a long term solution.
If you model this media market against the first days of the ipod/itunes store:
When people buy into the “device and store” idea, they’re ambivalent about DRM because it doesn’t really affect them.”
As commodity devices emerge and people are able to buy ~£30 no name devices that more or less, just work, then the consumers start to find DRM a significant barrier to painlessly consumpting media and may acquire media from “other” sources. (The commodity devices without DRM will be cheaper than commodity devices with DRM).
Once a sizeable market is regularly circumventing the DRM, either with software or acquiring the content from other sources
At the point when a significant audience exists with commodity devices which don’t support DRM who are unable to legitimating consume the media they want, publishers can make a decision about whether the benefits they see in DRM, are worth not monetising the market on commodity devices…
At that point, many publishers will point out that DRM costs them money and inconveniences their consumers.
Unfortunately, from a PR point of view, this means that early adopters of commodity devices are always going to feel the publishers are being obstructive, whilst the publishers go after the largest slice of the market at that point in the emerging market.
In my opinion, the key to DRM-free media, is a large number of people using commodity devices, that don’t support it.
What you’re seeing on Boing Boing is that Tor’s readers are generally early adopters of commodity technology, whilst Hachette’s are still more tied into the “one device, one brand, one store” ideology. I’d guess that, as that changes, so will their stances on DRM.
I want to share a DRM story.
I was in Curry’s in Plymouth a couple of weeks ago. A man was arguing loudly with one of the staff, his ten-year old daughter in tears at his side. From what I could gather, she had saved up her pocket money to buy an iTunes gift card – the songs she’d spent her money on, of course, didn’t work on her mp3 player.
The man wanted a refund for what seemed to him a defective product; the staff member said that if the card had been used they couldn’t give a refund.
The young girl cried and cried and cried.
The altercation went on for at least 15 minutes – the store manager eventually having to call some security chaps to remove him, but not before phoning the police.
So, whose fault was this?
Currys for selling a card without making it clear that some songs downloaded from iTunes wouldn’t work on some (!) mp3 players?
The girl for not understanding the complicated world of DRM?
iTunes for selling DRM music?
The record company for not selling DRM-free music?
The government for not requiring labelling of DRM-crippled products?
Who knows – I’m pretty sure the only person clearly free of blame was
the little girl.
But, perhaps that’s the wrong question – the end result was a stand- p shouting match, someone manhandled out of a store, a staff-member threatened and frightened, and a little girl in tears having spent her pocket money on something that didn’t work.
I thought it was worth sharing this since sometimes we can get bound up thinking about piracy and digital distribution and so on, but these small stories are often missed.
I found this very moving and touching.
This is obviously something that could happen to many people we know.
Do you know someone who is just making their first tentative steps on the computer? Yes that’s the person it’s going to catch out.