BY NICO VREELAND
I’ve noticed a mini-trend in the past week or two. First, in the Millions, I saw Confessions of a Book Pirate, an interview with a real, live ebook pirate, code-named “The Real Caterpillar.”
He does a little defense of piracy, which I’ll leave alone in this post, and he also has a few interesting things to say about DRM. Most importantly, he says he would pay more for an ebook without DRM and, when asked what would make him stop pirating books, he says:
I guess if every book was available in electronic format with no DRM for reasonable prices ($10 max for new/bestseller/omnibus, scaling downwards for popularity and value) it just wouldn’t be worth the time, effort, and risk to find, download, convert and load the book when the same thing could be accomplished with a single click on your Kindle.
Caterpillar also lays out the excruciating process he goes through to upload a single book, a process that involves scanning a hard copy page by page, and then proofing the scan by hand, which can take “5 to 40 hours.” Damn.
So, for pirates like Caterpillar, DRM has no stopping effect on their piracy (Caterpillar started years ago, when he couldn’t find digital copies of the books he wanted, so he’s used to scanning), and instead it’s actually a reason to keep doing it, because publishers still don’t offer “clean” copies.
And Caterpillar isn’t the only one who scans. In this summary of a panel at Digital Book World, Peter Balis says the majority of pirated ebooks are scanned galleys, manuscripts, or hard copies. This means DRM is powerless to stop widespread piracy.
From other corners, there have come cries of falling sky, from Macmillan president Brian Napack (and we all know Macmillan isn’t afraid to go to the mattresses), and from music industry group IFPI, whose latest report claims “95% of music is pirated.” That’s a grossly misleading stat, since IFPI also says that the industry has shrunk by only 30% since 2004. Evidently IFPI means 95% of albums are pirated by at least one person—and they don’t seem to know how much revenue loss piracy actually causes. Ars Technica does a pretty thorough examination/dehyperbolizing of the report here.
Still, piracy is a problem. So stipulated. But, as I’ve said for a long time, DRM is not a solution, and providing media in DRM-free formats is actually an incentive to buy it and not pirate it. The argument against DRM-free is that piracy will be easier and more widespread since pirates won’t even have to scan the books. That may be, or it may not (it didn’t happen with DRM-free music). But one thing’s for sure: DRM does not help paying customers in any way. With the iPad coming out soon—along with a whole new slew of DRM headaches—it’s a good time to remember that lesson.
If publishers (and content distributors) continue to fear a potential future threat more than they care about their present, spending, legal customers, I’m afraid I’m not going to shed many tears when major houses tell sob stories about lost revenue.