To DRM or not to DRM – with apologies to Hamlet!

To DRM or not to DRM… that is the question …  

Hopefully Shakespeare’s ghost will forgive me for mangling that line from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy!

(Note: This article has previously been posted on the PenWarriors blog)

A couple of weeks ago when I sent out a tweet announcing that all my eBooks are available in DRM-free editions from Amazon and Smashwords, someone asked for clarification. The subsequent conversation sent me on a hunt for clear descriptions of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) issue as it applies to eBooks. My aim in today’s blog is to give a brief, plain English explanation of Digital Rights Mangement (DRM), with links to more technical information for those who want to learn more.

What is Digital Rights Management?

  • “DRM technologies attempt to control use of digital media [ebooks, digital music files, computer software] by preventing access, copying or conversion to other formats by end users.” Calibre eBook management
  • When you buy an e-book with DRM you don’t really own it but have purchased the permission to use it in a manner dictated to you by the seller. DRM limits what you can do with e-books you have ‘bought’.” Calibre eBook management
  • For those who want the comprehensive, technical definition and history, see Wikipedia

Information About Digital Rights Management

  • Background – software and CDs: In the 1980s and 1990s digital rights technology was used on some computer software and music CDs in an attempt to stop piracy. This technology frequently caused legitimate users to experience computer problems because of the temperamental nature of the DRM control software, and also violated privacy in some instances. The problems experienced by blameless users of select Sony BMG CDs  resulted in the music industry giving up on DRM. The computer software industry also moved away from DRM to a “serial number” and “registration key” model because DRM not only made legitimate users furious, but it was found to be ineffective in stopping piracy.
  • DRM does not stop piracy: As early as 2003, HP Laboratories Cambridge reported “We conclude that given the current and foreseeable state of technology the content protection features of DRM are not effective at combating piracy.”
  • DRM and digital books: Despite the negative experience of the music and computer software industries, many traditional publishers use DRM on eBooks, although there is an increasing body of mainstream information indicating that although costly, it is not effective:

What DRM means to eBook readers

I first began reading eBooks in the 1990s when I purchased a Rocket eBook reader, and have owned a number of electronic reading devices since then. I quickly learned that when I buy a book with DRM technology, I might not be able to read that book on future devices I purchase.

That’s a problem for me. I love to reread favorite books, and I don’t want to have to pay over and over again for the same book. So whenever possible I choose to purchase DRM-Free versions of eBooks.

For more information on digital rights for readers, see

How can you tell if the book you want has DRM technology?

In The Real Cost of Free, Cory Doctorow reports that, “Apple, Audible, Sony and others have stitched up several digital distribution channels with mandatory DRM requirements, so copyright holders don’t get to choose to make their works available on equitable terms.”

However, many eBook sellers do allow copyright holders to choose whether books will be sold with, or without DRM, and a growing number sell only DRM-Free books. I’ve given a list below, and if you know of other sources for DRM-Free books, please comment and I’ll update the list.

Sources for DRM-free books

  • Project Gutenberg –free books in the public domain for multiple formats.
  • Smashwords – over 30,000 books, available in multiple formats – EPUB, Kindle, and others
  • Calibre Open Books – listings for DRM-Free eBooks. Follow links under titles to see formats available. If you are an author or publisher of DRM-Free eBooks and your books are not listed on Calibre’s site, you can add your books to their listings
  • BeWrite Books – all DRM-Free books in multiple formats
  • Baen – speculative fiction DRM-Free eBooks for multiple formats

Sources selling DRM and DRM-Free eBooks. Check to be sure which you’re getting.

  • Fictionwise.com – books labeled “multiformat” are DRM-Free and are available in multiple formats.
  • KoboBooks – see “Download options” in the book description, and look for the words DRM-Free
  • Amazon Kindle books – the method described on this Calibre page for checking if books are DRM-Free no longer works. If anyone knows how to tell if an Amazon book has DRM, please comment and I’ll update this post.

Converting eBooks from one format to another

Calibre’s free eBook library management application is the tool I use to convert DRM-Free books so that I can read them on my iPad AND my Kindle – and any other device I buy in future. It’s also a great program, the price is right (I do donate periodically because Calibre does a great job of updating its library of reading devices and it’s a great free service.) Information on converting is available at Calibre‘s website

A short post … NOT! LOL!

I intended to write a short post, less than 500 words, but I couldn’t manage it! Sorry for the length, but I hope this is useful to eBook readers and authors.

Vanessa

Vanessa Grant books available on Amazon
MultiFormat Vanessa Grant Books on Smashwords

 

 

Yippee! … If You Loved Me

Yesterday I received the almost-ready-to-publish-as-an-ebook file of If You Loved Me, a novel of mine originally published by Zebra Bouquet (Kensington Books).  I love this story and I’m so pumped to know it will soon be available once again!

Originally I wrote it for Mills and Boon Harlequin, but my editor there wanted me to

  1. make the heroine younger (she was in her late thirties), and
  2. change the father of her son to someone else
The whole story was based on the premise that Emma’s son had gone kayaking in the wilderness with a friend, and was now missing. Changing Emma’s age would have made her either a child-mother, or a negligent one for letting her pre-adolescent son head into the wilderness without an adult. In addition, it was unlikely she would have achieved prominence as an orthopaedic surgeon at the ripe old age of twenty-something.
My editor was reasonable about Emma’s age because of the negligent mother issue, but wouldn’t budge on the identity of her son’s father. I decided not to change the identity of the father of Emma’s son, because that would change a crucial decision Emma had made in the past – and my plot would make no sense at all. So I withdrew the novel and went on to write several other books for Harlequin.
A few years later I learned that one of the Kensington editors was looking for 70,000 word stories for their new Bouquet imprint. I decided to submit  If You Loved Me. I would need to add an extra 10-15,000 words, but that would be a pleasure as I’d been challenged to fit it into M&B’s 55-60,000 word limit when I first wrote the novel. I sent off an email query and received a phone call from Kensington within a few days.  If You Loved Me became the first of four novels I wrote for Kensington, and I enjoyed the scope the extra length gave me.
I laughed when my new Kensington editor told me that one of the things she loved about the book was the boy’s parentage – the exact thing that had caused me to withdraw the book from M&B. Go figure!
Last year I applied to get the rights back to my four Kensington novels, and when I received the reversion documents I was thrilled because I could have all four novels available as eBooks for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks before the end of 2011.
So here I am with the “e” equivalent of galleys, ready to start the final edit. Unlike the world of print books, I have the opportunity to make any changes I like before the book goes out to the world – and I get to work with my own cover artist on a design! Kensington does great cover art and I liked the covers of my four Bouquets, but being in on the creation with a cover designer like Angela is a real joy.
So while my husband and I continue east on our road trip across the North American continent, I’ll be enjoying a final read through If You Loved Me before it goes to e-press on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks!