DRM Doesn't Prevent Piracy, Business Models Do

So Charlie Stross posted an interesting "PSA" on his blog about why the middle book of his six(!) book series "The Merchants War" isn't available in an e-book edition like the other five. He points to a three year gap between Tor's first and second attempts to enter the digital book market, caused by their parent company.

Quick aside - I own half of this series in the tree pulp version, and am a huge Stross fan. It's so great to read SF books where the science is IT, and I can actually follow it. Most of SF-dom involves theoretical physics and advanced math requirements, which I figured out 20 years ago I could happily live without, and I'll skim pages of that crap to stick with the story.

I have my own theory on how Tor's gap happened, and here's what I posted:

My guess is "internal policy reasons... of Tor's parent corporate multinational" was an objection to e-book prices that properly reflected production costs compared to paperbacks and hardbacks.

Amazon deserves huge credit for getting the delivery model perfected after years of industry failure (including Apple) so that e-books and e-readers finally took off. Tor.com has provided us with the highest quality and most active SF site for readers I've seen. But Baen has the only really customer-friendly business model for e-books from a "big" SF publishing house.

With Webscription, lower production costs = lower retail price = more sales, and everyone wins. Hate DRM? Once you've purchased an e-book from Baen, assuming the digital rights don't expire or aren't withdrawn (looking at you Tor), you can re-download in a new format compatible with your new device. I've moved from Palm to HP to Nokia to my current iPhone and Kindle with no issues.

E-books haven't been popular long enough for everyone to really notice one more benefit - there's no economic reason for e-books to fall out of publication. One of the posters a few weeks back referred to Heinlein's "Take Back Your Government", which is out of print publication. No "photocopy" needed, go get the e-book on Baen. It only sells 10 copies this month? Who cares - the cost to maintain that database entry on the website is negligible.

How do you compete with "free" in a digital world? Content quality with value-adds (such as an instant delivery method) at prices that compare favorably with the labor required to pirate. DRM in e-book publishing is simply a technological effort by a naturally conservative industry to artificially maintain historical retail price levels in a digital system with drastically reduced real production costs. (Say that 3 times fast!) As the cost, ease, and availability of the technological tools to "rip" your own e-books proliferate, the publishing industry had better wake up to the lessons of the music industry. DRM doesn't prevent piracy, business models do.

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