Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing 101: All About DRM

If you've self-published on Amazon, you know you have the option for checking a little box that allows you to add DRM protection to your books. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and many authors read Amazon's brief description and decide to check the box. After all, it protects your rights as the author. What you may not realize is that it also makes things difficult for your readers. As a self-published author, that might be something you just can't afford. 

Why Use DRM? 

Digital Rights Management is included in most movies and music you download online -- at least, the stuff you download legally (like through iTunes and such). It's a sort of encryption that's embedded into the file, and it makes it exceedingly difficult for you to copy these digital files -- like in case you want to give them to your friends or re-sell them. And DRM is commonly used in ebooks as well, to prevent ebook piracy. There's no question that ebook piracy happens...but this might not be enough reason for you to add DRM to your ebooks. 

What's Wrong With It? 

You worked really hard on all your books, and you definitely don't want someone to get ahold of them and start re-selling them, or begin marketing them as their own, or take to giving a whole lot of them away for free. You don't deserve that, and plus you won't be able to keep a reasonable count on your book sales if this is happening. 

So DRM is totally great, right? Wrong. Visit the Amazon Kindle forums sometime, and you'll find people complaining about DRM. The program isn't perfect, and sometimes bugs appear. Many readers are forced to delete books because they cannot open them, or they lose their books because they can't be transferred when they upgrade their Kindles.

Bugs in the system create a lot of frustration. Suppose one of your books is buggy for your buyers? If they can't read it, they aren't going to review it. They aren't going to buy more of your books. They're going to move on, and forget all about you and your damned buggy books. 

Maybe your DRM-protected books work perfectly. Maybe there's nothing wrong with them at all. But even when DRM works perfectly, it frustrates readers. I like to read books on my Kindle sometimes, and on my phone sometimes. Maybe I'll even pull one up on my laptop, because I need to double-check something or make notes for a review. But if I bought a book with DRM protection, I might not be able to do that. DRM also creates sharing problems between devices, meaning I might find it impossible to open up the same book on my phone, my ereader, my tablet (in this scenario, I have a tablet) and my laptop. If I can't access your book whenever I want, I'm going to get frustrated. I'm going to read a book I can access anytime, anywhere. I'm going to forget about reading you.

I also can't turn your book into an audio book if you added DRM, or back it up to prevent loss and safeguard against hardware crashes. I can't print it out, and put it on paper if that's how I'd rather read it.

And to make matters worse, DRM doesn't really work, anyway. 

Picking Your Battles

Book piracy happens, and it happens in spite of DRM. You could be frustrating your readers for no reason whatsoever. DRM does make it a little bit more difficult for people to illegally acquire books, but people who have the skills can remove the protection when they want. Chances are very high that no one is pirating your book even when you don't have DRM protection in place. And when you do have it in place, you're taking a chance on pissing off your readers and even turning some away. Some book buyers so passionately hate DRM, they won't even buy books that have it.

You chose self-publishing so you could make the decisions, and now you've got one to make. Are you going to use DRM, or aren't you?

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