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A novel approach to going DRM-free

What happens when DRM-free only applies to direct sales?

I had a very enlightening conversation today with a small publisher who shall remain nameless for the time being. More on their secrecy in a moment… They’re thinking of going DRM-free but with a couple of twists.

First of all, they’re thinking of only going DRM-free with their direct sales on their website. They’ll instruct Amazon and all the other retailers to keep using their DRM model. This publisher figures they can use this  as a way to make the direct sale more appealing to customers. They’ll also give direct customers all formats. So the selling proposition is, “Buy from Amazon and be stuck with their DRM limitations; buy direct from us to get all formats for all devices and avoid vendor lock-in.”

Secondly, they plan to include a watermark in those direct sale ebooks that says something like “bought from xyz”, where “xyz” is the name of the publisher. I’m no fan of watermarking but I like the logic they’re using on this. By saying the word “bought” they hope to trigger a reaction from pirates the content and serve as a gentle reminder that this content really isn’t being distributed for free. More importantly, since this watermark will only appear in the direct sales copies they’ll be able to determine whether their DRM-free content is what ultimately winds up in the wild.

Since I’m not naming names you can tell they want to keep a low profile on this for now. My contact at this publishing house told me they’ll reassess this in the coming weeks and they might be willing to share some of their results with us here at TOC.

Stay tuned for more…


Comments: 6

  1. Not the worst idea in the world but chances are good any watermarks would be removed before pirating.

  2. We’ve been doing this since 2000 (without the watermarking bit) and have managed to build a good, loyal, customer base. In our case we offer to bundle print with e-books too, so buy the print and we’ll throw in the e-book or save 30% and we won’t ship the print. We’ve never seen any significant pirating. So good luck to whoever is going to try this!

    Toby Green
    OECD Publishing

  3. Antoine Diamant-Berger

    Not a bad 

  4. Whose to say Amazon and the other retailers won’t just pull the publisher’s titles off their stores. All they’re going to achieve, especially by advertising other retailer’s limitations, is to put their partners offside and potentially risk their revenue channels. Definitely not a thoroughly thought out strategic approach, fine go DRM-free but don’t rub it in their face. 

    • Good point, but what if every publisher took this approach? Would Amazon remove everyone?

      • I’m not sure about this approach but I honestly hope more & more publishers start adopting a DRM-free model. Why not experiment with titles that aren’t hosted on retail stores to allow you to get a gauge of consumer behaviour without risking revenue. 

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