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Point-Counterpoint: Digital Book DRM, the Least Worst Solution

Last week my friend and International Digital Publishing Forum board colleague Peter Brantley, Executive Director for the Digital Library Federation, published a thoughtful article on TOC arguing that “digital book DRM is bad bad bad.”

I rashly volunteered to offer a counterpoint. Now, let me say up front that I don’t think ebook DRM is “good good good” any more than I think that of taxation, standing armies, or the proliferation of nuclear technology. But although one may dislike taxation, one may dislike even more the likely consequences of eliminating taxes (diminished schools, roads, law enforcement, …). Peter’s post focused on negative attributes of DRM in isolation. But to me, the important thing is to look at likely outcomes given various scenarios, and to consider what these outcomes would mean for the principal actors involved (authors, publishers, and readers). Not whether something is good or bad but whether it’s better or worse than the likely alternative.

To me, it’s pretty clear that the establishment by the industry of a broadly adopted cross-platform ebook DRM system should lead to a significantly better outcome for all concerned than if no such platform ends up getting established. “DRM” is a somewhat loaded term: to clarify, by “ebook DRM” I mean a relatively lightweight means of limiting and/or discouraging copying and use beyond publisher-permitted limits, intended more to “keep honest people honest” than to totally prevent copying. After all, a book can be scanned and digitized, or even re-keyed, with only a middling level of difficulty — so aiming for “ironclad” DRM is not warranted, even if it were feasible.

Adapting Peter’s numbered list approach — with the same caveat that these points are really more interconnected — here’s some likely outcomes five years out if an interoperable DRM standard (de facto or de jure) does not happen:

  1. While there might be somewhat more DRM-free content, ebook DRM will not go away — instead there will be multiple islands of non-interoperable DRMed ebooks. Users will have to install and use multiple applications, and end up with fragmented bookshelves tied to particular software or devices, in some cases being forced to re-buy content as they move from device to device.

    It seems obvious that this consequence would follow, and I doubt Peter would predict otherwise. While music appears to be moving away from DRM, the music business is in the unique situation of having proliferated a freely copyable digital format. Copy protection remains prevalent among the other major segments of paid content: video, games, PC software, mobile content and applications.

  2. There will be an increased use of online-only reading systems, despite reader preferences to the contrary. For end users, this will reduce usability, control, privacy, and access. “Cloud” applications are not always optimal, as evidenced by Google’s moves into desktop apps and the much higher adoption of client-based iPhone apps over the previous Web-only model. And if ad-supported online reading becomes the only sustainable business model for publishers, region-restricted content will likely increase — if you aren’t in a high-consumption country where ad models pay, you may not have access, at any price.

    Again, the tradeoff between availability of copy-protected downloadable content and controlled-access online reading systems seems relatively obvious. It is interesting that despite Tim’s having established a preference among his readership for downloadable content, four out of the current top 10 O’Reilly best-sellers are available digitally only for online reading via Safari. I have to believe this is at least in part due to concern about piracy of the DRM-free digital editions that O’Reilly is presently distributing.

  3. There will be less digital content available to readers. Due to the lack of a DRM standard, costs in getting digital content distributed will be higher, and authors and publishers will be slower to make premium content available digitally. This implies that certain parts of the world, where paper books are not readily available, will remain information-poor. It also implies continued prevalence of paper, which despite all its positive attributes, is energy- and resource-intensive to make and ship, and highly polluting.

  4. Publishers and authors will experience reduced sales of both digital and print books. Due to a higher level of piracy and consumer adoption of alternative forms of learning and entertainment, the quality and quantity of long-form premium content that gets published will be diminished, and author and publisher revenue will shrink. The book will increasingly be seen as a legacy format.

    The impact of freely-copyable music CDs on recorded music sales supports this likely outcome, as does the trend of free-access Web news leading to reduced coverage by professional journalists employed by newspapers and magazines.

OK, this is overall not a pretty picture. Now, how about the outcomes five years out if as an industry we standardize on a cross-platform ebook DRM solution that gets adopted across devices:

  1. Consumers will be able to read on whatever device they choose, with a single collection of their content that they can search, organize, and annotate. They will even have an increased ability to break their DRM shackles when necessary. With a single DRM scheme, there will be no “security from obscurity,” and as with DVD’s CSS DRM, when push comes to shove, consumers will be able to do what they need to do with the content they acquire.

  2. Online reading systems will be in use, and likely prevalent for short-form digital reading, but consumers will also enjoy the improved usability, control, and privacy of downloadable content for use with client/device-based reading systems.

  3. Everything published commercially will be available digitally, worldwide. There will be DRM-free content available, and it may become the preferred delivery format in certain segments where there is a high degree of trust with readers (K-12 textbooks) and/or where there is an ingrained customer resistance to copy-limiting technology (computer books, perhaps). Publishers will have more options for business models, with lower costs, ultimately resulting in reduced prices to consumers. Paper consumption will decrease more rapidly, leading to lower energy consumption and reduced pollution and carbon emissions.

  4. Publishers and authors will experience higher sales, both digital and print, thanks to reduced piracy and broad availability of digital books. The book will be revitalized as it morphs into a digital-centric format, inclusive of rich media and interactivity as well as text, and will attract a new generation of readers across the globe.

Admittedly I perhaps paint an exaggerated picture of the two alternatives, and the actual future is likely in any case to surprise us. But it seems pretty obvious that the first scenario would be significantly worse for authors, publishers, and readers. The primary counter-argument I have heard to this point of view starts with the admission that “well, maybe it will be worse in the short term” but continues hopefully that “in the long run it will lead to all content being free.” I classify this argument with “in the long run, the communist state will wither away.”

A valid concern is whether an industry-wide interoperable DRM system can realistically be achieved within the next several years. Peter’s article implicitly questions this. I say: why not? After all, the movie industry achieved this outcome once (with DVD’s CSS DRM), and is on its way to achieving it a second time (with Blu-ray). The mobile content industry has achieved a wide measure of interoperability of copy-protected ringtones and screen-savers with OMA DRM, which is even supported by Google’s open-source Android platform.

There are many possible roads to Rome. One is “social DRM“: not explicitly limiting copying, but “watermarking” user information into content, visibly (“Ex Libris …”) and/or invisibly. Another is that the industry, perhaps through a body like the IDPF, would adopt a de jure ebook DRM open standard. Lastly, a particular vendor’s solution might become a de facto cross-platform standard, with support across a critical mass of desktops and devices.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Adobe has set a course to establish such a de facto industry standard for ebook DRM. But at Adobe we are also engaged in dialog with authors and publishers about social DRM, and within the IDPF around the potential for a vendor-independent standard. Personally, my goal is to see everything available digitally, for all people worldwide, as soon as possible, with a net positive effect on author and publisher revenue. As a libertarian geek, I in many respects share Peter’s gut feeling that DRM is “bad, bad, bad …”. And at the end of the day, Adobe is more advantaged if the digital market grows most rapidly, and is focused on promoting open standards like ISO 32000 (aka PDF) and EPUB, around which we build a variety of tools and services. DRM is not our central value proposition, by any means. But if a sensible ebook DRM solution, from Adobe or otherwise, can help advance our goals, i.e. lead to better outcomes for readers, publishers, and authors, then I’m all for it. Yeah, and I guess I’m for taxes, too.

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Comments: 30

  1. It is fascinating to follow this thread and note that DRM has become an ideological, even psychological issue.

    To Bill’s list of less than wonderful things like taxation and standing armies, let me add stiff plastic packaging that takes a hacksaw to open.

    Let me also support his notion of standards for DRM which could be used ubiquitously and thus present a common learning curve so that the — at this point tiny, economically speaking, –number of users everywhere could read digital content on any device.

    I also agree with Bill that we don’t know at all what the future of digital content on devices will be. It may be that for a long time, front list books especially, but maybe all still in copyright books will not be easily read on different devices. (I am happily reading on my iPhone books like Joyce’s Ulysees which are in the public domain.)

    Is this an issue to get one’s knickers in a great twist about? Until there’s a real marketplace maybe there are other things to be more productively annoyed by. DRM is not the issue, the issue is we have a very immature product with no significant market demand.

    In any case, Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. boy, with friends like this, it’s no wonder
    that d.r.m. has so many enemies. so bill,
    you really couldn’t come up with anything
    better than “we’re gonna be stuck with it,
    so we might as well make it a standard…”?

    > so aiming for “ironclad” DRM is not
    > warranted, even if it were feasible.

    putting aside all the “is it bad or good,
    or most bad or least bad” arguments,
    as well as any decision about whether
    d.r.m. is “feasible”, let’s do some dialog
    about whether d.r.m. is even _possible_.

    even in the “lightweight” form that
    bill wants us to buy (since he knows
    we won’t be falling for the heavy stuff),
    d.r.m. won’t work. it. will. not. work.

    and steve jobs — the one man who has
    done the most to _make_d.r.m._work_
    — has told the world why it won’t work,
    in his famous letter to music publishers.

    d.r.m. depends on keeping stuff secret,
    and you just can’t keep stuff secret when
    lots of different companies have the keys.

    um, and no, bill, we are _not_ going to let
    adobe have sole access to the secret keys.
    because we no longer trust your company,
    because it is the worst of the monopolists.
    the worst. bar none. but hey, _nice_try_…

    oh, and bill, i got a really good laugh when
    you said the movie industry had attained an
    “industry-wide interoperable d.r.m. system”
    with c.s.s. evidently your memory is _hazy_
    about how that whole scenario went down…

    or maybe you recall it clearly, you fox you…

    perhaps you know full well d.r.m. won’t work,
    you’re just trying to make publishers “believe”,
    so they’ll buy into adobe’s snake oil, which —
    of course — will be compromised very soon,
    but adobe will already have cashed the check,
    and thus extracted a tax from the user-base.

    because, as you have so cheerfully admitted,
    you _do_ believe in taxation, don’t you, bill?

    of course you do, because d.r.m. taxation is
    gonna pay you a nice handsome salary, it is.
    as the car talk guys say, “it’d buy a nice boat.”

    so everybody, _pretend_ d.r.m. is _possible_,
    so the publishers buy in, and then once they
    release all their books, bill (who also believes
    in standing armies) can stand on the deck of
    an aircraft carrier — the u.s.s. acrobat? — and
    proudly announce to us “mission accomplished!”

    then we pull out the crack. voila. free books.

    _that_, my friends (as john mccain, remember?)
    would say, is the best argument for doing d.r.m.


  3. I can see how ebook DRM can be sustained when the only reading software is on proprietary devices, but DRM ePub, where the content is in XHTML and the standard is open, is pointless.

    If I implemented DRM in Bookworm, which renders ePub in a web browser, there’s literally nothing I could do to stop people from simply saving all the unencrypted content using the normal browser ‘Save As’ feature. It’s something a lot of users would do naturally without even realizing they were subverting DRM. And that’s assuming I’m not attempting to deliberately break the DRM. If the encryption standard is published then it will be literally hours before someone releases a handy ‘strip DRM’ service.

    If the DRM specification is not open then breaking it will not be so easy, but the whole grand experiment of the IDPF and ePub becomes worthless. We may as well have just “standardized” on Mobipocket.

  4. If publishers insist on DRM for ebooks, the most likely scenario is the emergence of a single vendor solution. I think this is what we’re seeing with the rise of the Kindle. The more popular the Kindle becomes with consumers, the more difficult it becomes for publishers to wrestle control of the underlying DRM away from Amazon. Once that happens it’s iTunes all over again, and I would expect Amazon to take the same stance Apple has taken in refusing to license its DRM to third parties.

    Watermarks seem to be a reasonable middle ground that preserves many of the common fair use scenarios for consumers, allows for interoperability across a wide range of devices, and provides some level of accountability to ensure that individual are held accountable for any widespread piracy from a single source.

    Unfortunately, for many, watermarks aren’t be secure enough. But then, we already know that no other form of DRM is truly secure either.

    Some observations on your worst case scenario:

    “There will be less digital content available to readers”

    I doubt this would be the case. It would probably be more accurate to say there will be less “legal” digital content available to readers. In reality ebooks will be widely available, there just won’t be much of a marketplace for them. Consumers will get their ebooks one way or another, publishers just won’t make any money on the transaction.

    As we’ve learned from the music industry the hardware market and the content market are not always in sync. Cheap portable music players showed up on the scene well before the record labels were prepared to monetize digital content. I suspect the same may happen with cheap ebook readers. Once generic eInk readers hit a certain price point they’ll be adopted by consumers regardless of whether or not publishers are ready to monetize their content. If this happens we’ll see the same cycle of piracy we saw with digital music. In fact, there are already huge libraries of pirated books online, free for the download — a fact that could actually spur demand for cheap ereading devices.

    “The book will increasingly be seen as a legacy format.”

    This may happen anyway. DRM certainly won’t prevent it from happening.

    Some observations on your DRM Utopia scenario:

    “as with DVD’s CSS DRM, when push comes to shove, consumers will be able to do what they need to do with the content they acquire.”

    You seem to be acknowledging that even the perfect DRM of the future will be breakable, and that consumers will actually break DRM as part of using purchased content in ways that they would not otherwise be allowed to. That may be a good way to build a bad relationship with your customers, but I’m not sure that it’s a healthy approach to building a digital marketplace.

    “…consumers will also enjoy the improved usability, control, and privacy of downloadable content for use with client/device-based reading systems.”

    Reading from “the Cloud” isn’t so bad, and I suspect it will get much better over the next few years as mobile devices mature.

    “The book will be revitalized as it morphs into a digital-centric format, inclusive of rich media and interactivity as well as text”

    This has to happen anyway, regardless of what happens with DRM.

  5. Jim Lichtenberg said:
    “Until there’s a real marketplace maybe there are other things to be more productively annoyed by. DRM is not the issue, the issue is we have a very immature product with no significant market demand.”

    That was more or less the opinion of the major record labels around 1996 or so. Publishers need to build the digital marketplace before they see significant consumer demand. Afterwards will be too late, and one of a couple of scenarios will likely occur:

    1) Someone else will build the marketplace. Think iTunes and now Kindle. If you’re happy losing control of your industry this might be an acceptable alternative.

    2) Piracy runs rampant as consumers who can’t purchase digital content turn to pirate networks. Once this happens it’s probably too late to build your marketplace. You’ve effectively trained your customers to be pirates.

  6. You do a great job of laying out both arguments in this rather sticky situation. As you point out, there are no clear solutions, but something must be done before the problem snowballs into something much worse.

  7. ok, so let’s pretend we have perfect d.r.m.

    that file is locked up — good and tight — so
    nobody can make a copy of that file, no sir.

    we put liza’s response, from up above, in it.
    so it’s all protected now, and safe from theft.

    we happily sell our d.r.m. file to a customer.
    the customer displays it on her screen and
    does a screenshot, and she posts it, like this:
    > http://z-m-l.com/misc/liza_daly.jpg

    she does o.c.r. on the screenshot, and there
    — big as day — is the digital text… sweet.

    stolen text. so much for your “protection”.

    yeah, it’s 200 times more work to do that
    for 200 pages. which is why our girl would
    build a tool to automate the whole process.

    the same tool that takes her screenshot also
    turns the page, so it can take the next shot.
    she could code it in 3 hours. in fact i have.

    disable screen shot? yeah, right. she’d just
    take a picture of the screen with her iphone.
    > http://z-m-l.com/misc/liza_daly2.jpg

    (no, i didn’t do that, i just duplicated the file;
    why? would it be more convincing if i had?)

    if i can see it, i can “steal” it. so unless your
    book is something that cannot be seen, you
    are going to have it pirated. it’s unavoidable.

    (don’t go there — i know what you’re thinking;
    “but if we could d.r.m. the customer’s brain…”)


    liza said:
    > If the DRM specification is not open
    > then breaking it will not be so easy,
    > but the whole grand experiment of
    > the IDPF and ePub becomes worthless.

    so nobody told liza that this is exactly how
    microsoft did an “embrace and extinguish”
    to subvert o.e.b. with their ms-lit format…

    that’s good. obviously all of you know how
    to keep “the secret of the snake oil” of d.r.m.

    > there’s literally nothing I could do
    > to stop people from simply saving
    > all the unencrypted content using
    > the normal browser ‘Save As’ feature.

    you might not want to put that in writing,
    liza, or say it out loud, especially in public.

    it’s hard to keep a secret if someone keeps
    just blurting it out… especially in public…

    > If the encryption standard is published
    > then it will be literally hours before
    > someone releases a handy ‘strip DRM’ service.

    again, not in public, dear.

    once adobe has enough time to cash the check,
    that’s all the time they need. but until they get
    the check, and run to the bank, keep the secret!

    repeat after me: d.r.m. works fine. d.r.m. will
    protect your property. d.r.m. is the cat’s meow.
    d.r.m. works fine. d.r.m. protects your property.
    d.r.m., it’s the cat’s meow! d.r.m. works fine…


  8. Jim:

    I’m glad you support the concept of a “ubiquitous” DRM standard that can be used across devices. Thanks to having an anti-copying standard built-in, video DVDs have done a much better job of “keeping honest people honest” than music CDs, while still being highly interoperable. That’s the bottom line, and it’s not rocket science.

    As far as relying on public domain content – lacking stats, I’d wager that 98% of the book sales and circulations from libraries are in copyright. You may be fine choosing from the other 2% for occasional iPhone reading, but it’s not really a viable solution for large-scale adoption and access by readers in general.

    And that adoption is starting to happen. The eBook business is still small relative to print, except in a few niches, but the change is beginning. Every time I’m out and about with a Sony Reader or Amazon Kindle I’m peppered with questions – whose tone has changed over the last year from “What the heck is that?” to “I’ve been thinking about getting one of these – what do you think?”. We are experiencing triple-digit growth in eBook sales, and thanks to the magic of compounding, 1% can become 20% in only a few years. And the technology decisions we make (or fail to make) as an industry now are going to be with us for a long time.

  9. Liza:

    Modern DRM systems are based on public-key cryptography and do not fundamentally depend on “security through obscurity”. One could openly publish the specifications, and without access to a user’s private key, one couldn’t decrypt content. Client key management is a weak point but this is implementation-dependent and subject to change over time, so attacks there can be defended against.

    That being said, I still assert that video DVD has done a much better job than music CDs in “keeping honest people honest” even though the relatively weak DVD CSS DRM scheme was cracked early on. Even that minimal level of copy protection has been enough to keep legitimate SW from copying content and enough to ensure that consumers have to know when they are pirating. I am fundamentally just advocating that the digital publishing industry aim for a DVD-like future rather than a CD-like future, relative to the ease of unauthorized copying and expected resulting level of piracy.

    As far as XHTML being part of EPUB and browser-based rendering thereof. It was never an explicit objective of the IDPF working group that EPUB would be directly consumable in web browser. XHTML is a content type, along with a subet of CSS for entity-level styling. But XHTML is used in a variety of file formats, including RSS. And it was an explicit non-goal to support full web pages, with their typical explicit page layouts and tangles of JavaScript. One reason a browser-based solution may not be accceptable to commercial publishers is precisely the easy of copying that you mention. A common workaround for this is to display page-images in the browser, which greatly diminishes readability.

    A broadly adopted DRM solution does not diminish the value of an interoperable standard. Again, DVDs are a good example: you can pick up any DVD from a video store and reliably play it on PCs and devices from thousands of manufacturers. Yet 99.9% of the DVDs in that store are copy protected (we can debate the merits of also using DRM to restrict geographic access via region codes, as is the case with DVDs, but that’s secondary – the fundamental concern is limiting the ease of making copies). And thanks to the standardization at the video codec level, it is easy to author a DVD.

    Re: Mobipocket. Amazon is a member of IDPF and participated in the EPUB working group process. It was never proposed that we adopt Mobi as the reflow-centric standard. Personally I think that would have been not such a good idea, because Mobi as a file format contains significant legacy from its original roots in the PalmOS environment and subsequent incremental evolution. It is also a binary format, not XML-centric. And, EPUB is much more expressive, with capabilities for embedding OpenType fonts and SVG vector graphics, and CSS styles. But this question would better be taken up with Amazon/Mobipocket.

  10. bowerbird,

    Please see the TOC Comment Guidelines: “Feel free to refute someone’s points or offer counter arguments, but please do not engage in name calling.”

    Name calling aside, “counter arguments” does not mean repeating statements like “DRM will not work”, unless you include some constructive analysis or data. For example you could cite studies showing lower piracy rates in the developed world for DRM-free music CDs than for DRM-containing DVDs. What’s that you say? Oops, studies indicate the opposite? Whaddaya know, maybe DRM can actually work…

  11. Bill,

    Your take on DVD protection is interesting. I’m not sure about the idea of “corrosive openness”–that a basically honest person will somehow become dishonest just because no restrictions are placed upon them.

    And on the issue of “cloud computing,” your statements about privacy, control and interface issues are misleading. I’m not someone who gets effusive about the “cloud,” but I do know that it offers benefits that people are increasingly less willing to sacrifice in the name of privacy and control. Add to that the fact that when we talk about “web apps” these days, we’re also including platforms beyond Internet Explorer: standalone browsers and numerous products based on Webkit (like Adobe AIR). These are quickly filling the vacuum between desktop and net. Even Digital Editions relies on an internet connection for its DRM, a website for its catalog, and a web plugin technology at its core. So should we be worried about our privacy while using Adobe products?

    The danger of an industry-wide DRM standard spearheaded by Adobe and the IDPF is the same risk that EPUB is taking now: deliberate lock-out of browsers slows down adoption and perpetuates format wars. It is also extremely shortsighted. I’m not for multiple proprietary DRM formats either, which I do think are the alternative, I just think the market will eventually make them obsolete anyway.

  12. Two issues with Bill’s (Adobe’s) position

    #1 Bill seems to be confusing the pros and cons of a standard with the pros and cons of a DRM standard.
    Take his assertion that the lack of a DRM standard will push distribution costs higher. What?
    Has the cost of the AAC codec suddenly dropped to match the one for MP3s?
    That makes no sense.

    #2 Bill skirts the fact that DRM is fundamentally anti-consumer. It is as if his answer is “not with Adobe’s help its not.” Hmm, I suppose. Peter made the excellent point that DRM doesn’t age well. It isn’t future proof. It is only good for the “world at hand.” Customers hate that BTW, but Adobe is here to help, forever. I get that Adobe is simply trying to make everyone happy. But they are also trying to preserve the status quo. In talking about DRM there is often a failure of imagination. Publishing is too big too fail. We can’t imagine a world where readers and writers might not need publishers (and Adobe). Where DRM is anti-consumer it is also by extension anti-author. Authors on the outside can’t get in.

    Is DRM really the issue here or is it control?

    I can’t fault Adobe for doing what its customers — the publishers — want. (Anyone read the Innovators Dilemma?)
    But are the publishers doing what the readers want? No.
    Trying to control your customers is an increasingly risky position to be in.
    In industries where that is the case, things tend to get really messy before they get better.

  13. There has been mention of iTunes, the Kindle, and DVD copy-protection as successful implementations of DRM.

    Don’t forget Audible. I believe they are quietly cornering the audiobook market using proprietary DRM. If that is the case it is remarkable how little customer backlash you hear about.

    I just wanted to add that to the conversation…

  14. bill said:
    > Please see the TOC Comment Guidelines:
    > “Feel free to refute someone’s points or
    > offer counter arguments, but please
    > do not engage in name calling.”

    where — exactly — is it that you think i’ve
    “engaged in name calling”, i’d like to know…

    > Name calling aside,

    no, there was no “name calling”.

    so there is no need to put it “aside”.

    and i’d like you to apologize for making that
    false claim, bill. stick with the debate, please.

    > “counter arguments” does not mean
    > repeating statements like “DRM will not work”,
    > unless you include some constructive analysis

    i offered the “constructive analysis” from steve jobs.

    are you saying he was wrong that a system of d.r.m.
    that relies on lots of people acrosss lots of companies
    is inherently unstable and unworkable? because that
    would be quite an astonishing statement, and i would
    really like to hear some (any!) supporting arguments…

    i’m sure that if adobe is able to ensconce itself as the
    sole provider of a d.r.m. solution to publishing houses,
    it’ll hold the same anti-licensing position as apple does.

    > For example you could cite studies showing
    > lower piracy rates in the developed world for
    > DRM-free music CDs than for DRM-containing DVDs.
    > What’s that you say? Oops, studies indicate the opposite?
    > Whaddaya know, maybe DRM can actually work…

    let me tell you how a pickpocket ring works.

    they just want to distract your attention for a _little_ bit
    — doesn’t take very long, as long as it’s precisely timed —
    and then boom!, your wallet is gone, and you can scream
    all you like, because the ring has already sprung into action
    to cover its tracks, passing the wallet off to other members
    so the guy who actually did the pick can say “search me…”

    and — lest bill try to tell you i have called him a pickpocket —
    let me remind you that a good magician does the same thing.

    the trick is to distract your attention at _just_ the right time,
    and the distraction doesn’t need to last more than an instant.

    same thing with that little feint that a smart runner will do to
    distract the defensive back for the slightest little slice of time,
    as that’s all the runner needs to get by and off to a touchdown.

    precisely timed, doesn’t need to last more than an instant,
    the slightest time slice, all to create a momentary hesitation.

    you don’t have to swallow the hook. if they can get you to
    look at the lure for just a little bit, that’s all they need to do.


    but hey, let me be _very_clear_here_, ok?

    i _want_ the big publishers to buy into the epub format,
    and to buy into d.r.m., and buy into all these stupid things.

    because it will drive their prices up, and their sales down,
    and that means their profits will plummet. and they will
    be all that much easier for nimble newcomers to defeat…


  15. bowerbird: I consider unsupported statements like “the worst of the monopolists… bar none”, “snake oil”, and comparisons with McCain and GWB to be name calling.

    Re: Steve Jobs, my argument is that the eBook industry should experience reduced piracy and increased overall revenues if we do like video rather than like music (which arguably bought itself a DRM-free future by distributing freely copyable digital content on CDs). Citing Jobs doesn’t bear on my thesis since his call to eliminate DRM was specific to *music*. iTunes video sales use DRM, Apple SW requires serial numbers and includes copy protection, etc.

  16. I’m not explicitly refuting it, but comparing DRM in DVDs and CDs isn’t apples-to-apples. Until recently there was no demand for digital movies because of their immense file size. Now that bandwidth and storage is less of an issue, pirated movies are commonplace, despite DRM.

    The only reason they may never reach the same saturation level as pirated digital music is that there are appropriate legal methods to acquire movies on-demand, whether from one’s cable company, my XBox, or TiVo. Only a small percentage of movies are “owned” the way music is — legal and convenient streaming is a perfect distribution method.

  17. > bowerbird: I consider unsupported statements like
    > “the worst of the monopolists… bar none”, “snake oil”,
    > and comparisons with McCain and GWB to be name calling.

    i said that _adobe_ is “the worst of the monopolists”, yes…
    surely your company has a thicker skin than that, doesn’t it?

    and hey, i don’t know, perhaps adobe _isn’t_ the worst of
    the monopolists. microsoft _has_ been tried and convicted,
    so i guess they could lay claim to the title. but considering
    the size of your company, i think it’s doing a _fine_job_ of
    being a monopoly. the latest way you bought a competitor
    — macromedia — and now use their technology — flash —
    as a centerpiece in your products was particularly enjoyable.
    in the past, adobe has just bought its competitors and then
    _shelved_ their technology. so adobe is showing innovation!

    and hey, i’m not knockin’ snake oil either. i’ve read that it
    cured quite a few people of all kinds of ailments. even if it
    was just the placebo effect, i’m glad those people got better.
    (even if it was just the alcohol making them _feel_ better,
    i got no problem with that. i use alcohol to feel better too!)

    and as for george w. bush, well, gee, he was elected president,
    wasn’t he? (no jokes about stealing the first election, please.)
    and then he was _re-elected_ president again, was he not?
    (no jokes about stealing the second election either, please.)

    and he _did_ stand on one of those aircraft carriers in our
    “standing army” — the one you say you approve of — and
    declare “mission accomplished”, did he not? i’m sure he did.

    as for johnny mccain, he’s a war hero, last i heard.

    and you can dance around and reinterpret steve jobs all day,
    if you want, bill, but what about the question i posed for you?

    do you really believe that d.r.m. can work across an industry?

    further, does your company really believe that d.r.m. can work?

    would your company be willing to buy the insurance policy
    that would reimburse the publishing houses for their “losses”
    if their books should find their way onto the pirate’s networks?

    remember, there is a large “analog hole” here, those p-books.
    as long as publishers sell books in hard-copy ink-on-paper,
    there’s no way to disentangle p-book piracy from d.r.m. failure.

    so, is your company willing to buy the insurance policy that
    would protect the publishing houses from “losses” to piracy?
    it’s my understanding — from reading the reports from other
    trade organizations, like the r.i.a.a. — that these “losses” can
    be rather substantial, literally running to the billions of dollars.

    does adobe believe in the efficacy of its d.r.m. enough to
    buy the insurance policy that’s going to protect publishers?


  18. One clarification:

    You said:
    “””It is interesting that despite Tim’s having established a preference among his readership for downloadable content, four out of the current top 10 O’Reilly best-sellers are available digitally only for online reading via Safari. I have to believe this is at least in part due to concern about piracy of the DRM-free digital editions that O’Reilly is presently distributing.”””

    A fair guess on your part, but it isn’t correct. We’ll have all those bestsellers that work in ePub[1] and that we have rights for as soon as we can, perhaps as soon as December. This is just our own slowness rather than an intentional or DRM-influenced choice. In fact, 4 of the top 10 are available in DRM-free ePub, Mobi, and PDF and an additional 2 are available in DRM-free PDF.

    [1] We don’t feel that ePub & ePub readers are advanced enough to give a good reading experience to customers on our Head First titles or books that rely heavily on ancillary DVD content (like the One on One series). For that reason, we won’t be releasing those in other digital versions today, but we’d love to do so in the future.

  19. bowerbird,

    I believe that a massive shipment of FAIL is on its’ way —just accept that you were name calling and eat your humble pie.

    You also keep mentioning RIAA and Steve Jobs. Bill talks about something similar to DVD DRM and has stated so clearly.

    You also keep repeating about how DRM is always crackable. Bill has already stated this before you did, and he has clarified why this does not matter. He even repeated what he said to you —and you just cannot understand it.

    Please, return to SlashDot.

  20. > just accept that you were name calling

    no, i wasn’t. and you can repeat the charge as often as
    you like, and i will still continue to tell you that i wasn’t…

    > and eat your humble pie.

    i prefer pumpkin pie. but i’ve already had enough, thanks. :+)

    > You also keep mentioning RIAA and Steve Jobs.

    right. that’s because it’s relevant, no matter what you say.

    jobs pointed out the main reason why d.r.m. won’t work
    on an industry-wide basis — when a secret is known by
    a number of people, it is bound to get out — and bill has
    _not_ addressed that argument, which applies in this case.

    jobs also pointed out that, when you have an analog hole,
    there is no over-riding benefit to putting d.r.m. on your
    digital product, since the horse is already out of the barn.

    the publishing industry has a huge “analog hole” with the
    ink-on-paper hard-copy physical books that they sell…
    so that caveat also applies — big-time — to this case…

    and if you think hard-copy p-books aren’t being “pirated”,
    you haven’t checked the pirate networks lately… or at all…

    > Bill talks about something similar to DVD DRM
    > and has stated so clearly.

    yes, and that was cracked in an _extremely_ high-profile way.
    basically, the cracker community made d.r.m. a laughing-stock.
    so how does _that_ support his argument that d.r.m. will work?
    it doesn’t. it just makes him look kind of silly.

    listen, i’m not one of the hatfields. so i certainly don’t want to
    get into a feud with bill mccoy. but he gave a poor argument…
    because — as he admits — there are very few good arguments
    for his side of the debate. now maybe you think that means we
    should all just _pretend_ that he gave some good arguments…

    and perhaps you are an admirer of the emperor’s new clothes…

    > Please, return to SlashDot.

    um, yeah… and foljs, if i had a skin as thin as bill and you,
    i might just believe you’re engaging in “name-calling”, but
    as it is, i just think you don’t understand argumentation…

    or you wouldn’t be doing such a poor job of doing it.


  21. Mac Slocum may have covered this elsewhere, but I’m working with O’Reilly and a consumer (trade) publisher on a project to measure the sales lost from digital distribution and/or piracy. The results will be based on an analysis of sales performance for titles whose content has been distributed freely or pirated. Preliminary results will be part of the TOC program, Andrew Savikas willing.

    The early returns suggest that free distribution does not hurt sales and may help books get discovered and purchased. That’s early, though. When it comes to piracy, I do think there are a lot of differences between books and music CDs (that would be worth exploring), and I also have found that there is a range of opinions about the extent to which piracy really hurt the music business.

    One thing that Bill (and maybe others; I kind of lost the thread here) seem to do is equate piracy with lost sales. There is no evidence to my knowledge that such a relationship has been established for the book business. If it has been done, I’d love to include it in our review.

    Separately, you might lighten up with respect to bowerbird. He has been a critic of some aspects of the “Start with XML” project we are developing with O’Reilly, and while I don’t always agree with him, I have found his contributions valid. Also, he’s not the only person in the universe critical of Adobe, even if he is the only one willing to put it in print here.

  22. > Also, he’s not the only person in the universe critical of Adobe,
    > even if he is the only one willing to put it in print here.

    others are willing to “put it in print” at other places, like here:
    > http://www.teleread.org/blog/2008/11/24/adobes-bill-mccoy-on-e-book-drm-the-least-worst-solution/#comment-971122

    a real-life user — lynne b. — recounts the experience with
    some books that were “protected” by adobe’s d.r.m. system.

    if you lose that link, you can find it by searching google for this:
    > DRM — and the people who made it into the
    > consumer nightmare that it is — can rot in Hell.

    if you read the story, you can tell why lynne b. feels this way…


    anyway, it’s funny how, once you’ve asked the correct question,
    the deafening silence in return speaks volumes…


  23. By “correct question”, I’m assuming you mean, “Have we established whether pirated content has hurt book sales?” It’s a busy time of year, so it might take some time to marshal responses on that.

    On other fronts, I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend your right to say it. Not quite to the death, though. I have college tuition bills to consider…

  24. Brian,

    I’m encouraged to hear that “early returns suggest that free distribution does not hurt sales and may help books get discovered and purchased”. I don’t think DRM should be blindly applied and as a consumer, the less DRM the better. I look forward to hearing about the results at TOC!

    However, it’s still super early days for eBooks, and the tradeoffs for “Long Tail” content, and content where there’s a particularly strong trust level between a publisher and its readership, may be quite different than for best-sellers.

    So far, I stand by my analogy with video DVD vs. music CDs: lightweight copy-limiting DRM that helps “keep honest people honest” should be a win overall, for publishers and (based on resulting increased content availability and more favorable pricing) consumers. If DVD DRM is a barrier to sales, especially in light of the fact that that the basic DVD CSS DRM has been “cracked”, any video producer is free to omit it. Yet, essentially all commercial DVDs distributed have the copy-limiting DRM. That implies that, at least in that business, it is perceived to be a net win. And, if any book publisher were asked to choose between a future most similar to music publishers, game publishers, software publishers, or video publishers – they would definitely NOT choose the music publisher door. That’s the only industry that has chosen to distribute its premium paid content digitally, without any copy protection, and it’s the only one whose revenues have been shrinking, rather than growing.

    Cory Doctorow said “all complex ecosystems develop parasites”, as part of an attack on DRM. But his analogy was flawed – all complex ecosystems also develop defense mechanisms to keep parasites in check. They are doomed to be less than perfect – true – but the inability to *eliminate* parasites doesn’t dimish the argument that mechanisms to *limit* parasitism are essential for a healthy organism/ecosystem. Audio CDs are like organisms without any immune system whatsoever. There’s nichese where that’s OK, but for most organisms, antibodies really come in handy.

  25. Bowerbird,

    when you stick to facts and supportable statements I have no problem with you articulating your opinions, pro- or con-Adobe.

    And you’ve made your perspective clear, you are an enemy of established publishers:

    “i _want_ the big publishers to … be all that much easier for nimble newcomers to defeat…”

    I respect this perspective, in the sense that one could imagine it to be in the interests of readers, authors and/or “nimble newcomers” (maybe you hope to be such, I don’t know or care). I don’t share this POV at all, but defend your right to express it, ideally sans flame-tinged rhetoric on forums like TOC that aren’t suited to such.

    But since you’ve stated you want publishers to fail, clearly you have little or no credibility around the question of what is or is not in their best interests. As a result comments from you around this are probably not going to get any response from me.

  26. bill, i want _stupidity_ to fail. and _greed_ too.
    likewise _unnecessary_complexity_. and _b.s._.

    to the extent that all of those things include
    “the big publishers”, i do hope that they fail.

    and the sooner, the better.

    now — so brian knows — is adobe willing to
    purchase an insurance policy to protect those
    “big publishers” in the event that adobe d.r.m.
    fails to protect all their content from privacy?

    because that’s the kind of thing that would
    convince them of the efficacy of your d.r.m.

    i’m sorry if that question hurts your feelings…

    i’m also sorry about adobe’s recent 700 layoffs.


  27. Bowerbird,

    I think you and I agree that eBook DRM will, at best, be a “speed bump” relative to piracy. After all you can digitize or even re-key a paper book, and DRM systems have inherent weaknesses. DVDs can in most cases still be relatively easily copied, if you knowingly install and use illicit software. Books will continue to be pirated, one way or another.

    So your question didn’t hurt my feelings, it was just a red herring.

    It would be silly for a publisher to expect any DRM provider to insure “all their content” against any piracy. To return to my immune-system analogy, it would be like the maker of an immunization insuring against any incidence of the indicated disease. That’s not reality – almost all vaccinations are less than 100% effective. “Efficacy” is relative, not absolute.

    Now it’s true some in Hollywood seem to be trying hard to achieve “ironclad DRM” wrt hi-def movies – but it’s a different situation (Be Kind Rewind notwithstanding, consumers can’t “re-key” movies). I am not responsible for Adobe’s video solutions, but I personally think Hollywood is going to fail. Anyway, no one is asking us for this level of protection for eBooks.

  28. bill-

    you say “speed bump”, i say “bridge to nowhere.”
    let’s call the whole thing off. :+)

    oh, and i might as well take the opportunity to say
    that i would like to make it _perfectly_clear_ that
    i do indeed think corporate publishers are _stupid_
    (even about something as important — to them —
    as maximizing their profit in the coming bad times),
    and i think they’re _greedy_ (d’oh), and they’d like to
    harness the competition with unnecessary complexity,
    _and_ (to top it all off) i think d.r.m. is b.s.

    thus, i _want_ the corporate publishers to use d.r.m.

    (and since you’ve been so sweet to me, bill, i’d prefer
    that they used _adobe_ d.r.m., not just any old brand.)

    that’s right, i _want_ corporate publishers to use d.r.m.

    because i can’t conceive of a quicker path to extinction
    of those dinosaurs than to saddle their sales with d.r.m.

    d.r.m. hitting the marketplace will be like the comet
    that hit the earth and stirred up a huge cloud of dust,
    which blotted out the sun and wiped out the dinosaurs.

    already, more than enough people have firmly pledged
    they will never ever never buy a book with d.r.m. on it
    to snatch critical mass from most possible best-sellers.

    and as more and more honest customers get stung by it,
    the kiss of death of d.r.m. will become even more deadly.

    exhibit a recent exhibit:
    > http://www.teleread.org/blog/2008/11/24/adobes-bill-mccoy-on-e-book-drm-the-least-worst-solution/#comment-971122

    the sweet part of this whole experience — for me, that is,
    a dedicated corporation hater — the big publishing houses
    have no other options here. they simply _must_ use d.r.m.
    with a mindset of scarcity, you’re forced to lock content up.
    there is no other choice. so this decision is already made…

    ok, there’s one other choice: procrastination. foot-drags.
    delaying decisions. delaying the inevitable. delaying dinner.

    the corporations have been doing the delay a lot too, and it
    is another path to extinction — albeit it a much slower one.

    either way, though, it’s just a matter of time.

    at least a choice to go extinct via d.r.m. is _active_, not the
    passive _wait_until_we_get_eaten_alive_ they’re doing now…


  29. As an author of two business books (The Prediction Trap, and Thinking for Results – Success Strategies) and a consumer of books, I have started to get really excited about ebooks. I bought my wife a Sony reader for Christmas, and I have bought several books for myself and am reading them on my Windows mobile phone.
    As a user, the three big advantages are:
    -portability (my phone and hence books are always with me)
    -portable library for reference whenever I want
    -annotations I can search (huge advantage)

    As an author, I am not ready to release my books without DRM. I think even “honest” people need some encouragement. Most importantly, once the genie is out of the bottle, and onto the Internet, it can’t be put back. I work on making more people aware of my books. Will my books ever be read by tens or hundreds of thousands? Maybe not, but if they were, and they were being read for free, I would be kicking myself pretty hard.

    So I will have them prepared in several DRM formats, which these days is not a big deal.

    As a user it would be nicer if all my books could be in one library, rather than some in Mobi, some in Adobe, some in something else, but that is a minor nuisance. (If this situation keeps up, some enterprising programmer will write a shell that can keep track of my multiple format books.)

    Believe me, compared to physical books, publishing e-books – even in multiple formats – is a breeze.

    Randy Park

  30. I have a list. It is called my “defecation roster”. If a company sells me a defective product and fails to make good on the warranty, implied or otherwise, they are added to my list. I do believe that companies have the absolute right to chase customers from their door in any fashion they wish. I also believe it is my right to not deal with them if I so choose. I don’t buy DVDs because they DO NOT work on all my players. Ditto DRM, although for that I will make an exception if I really want the book and would have to resort to piracy to get a copy that works on my devices. I will also accept a DRM crippled copy of a book if the price is zero because that is exactly my perceived value. There are enough non-DRM e-books out there to keep me reading for a long time. Amazon does not have a monopoly on e-books. I will accept “social DRM” where my name in embedded into the book, because I have no intention of selling it to anybody anyway. I think companies, authors, publishers and distributors would be better serviced if they paid attention to their customers. Make enough of us angry and we will turn elsewhere. I guess I can now remove Circuit City from my roster and make room for others.