Mere mortals

At the end of last week, New York Times technology columnist David Pogue reflected on what we've learned (and not learned) from Macmillan's move to drop DRM from the digital books sold by its Tor imprint. Announced in January 2012, the decision took effect a year ago, affording Pogue an anniversary assessment.

Digital versions of Pogue's books have always been released without DRM. In fact, his publisher partnered with Pogue in 2008 and 2009 to see if the absence of protection cost Pogue sales. At the time, Pogue reported that he had found "many" pirated copies of one of his books, but he also found that his paid sales increased during the year he monitored them.

In his most recent piece, Pogue walks through "what people say about piracy", offering a set of arguments to battle these straw-man claims. While this technique is used a bit too often for my taste, I put it aside here to focus on his concluding paragraphs:

Even though we don’t know for sure, there’s mounting evidence that e-books are more like music files than DVD movies: removing copy protection doesn’t hurt and might help. And there’s very little evidence that copy protection is stopping piracy.

That doesn’t mean the issue is settled either way. The point is, there’s very little evidence. More publishers in more categories should perform more experiments like Tor’s. Let’s quit opining about what will happen, and find out.

This is a point of view he offered in 2009, as well, when he wrote that "publishers should try an experiment like mine." It parallels an argument I made in earlier work designed to establish "the impact of piracy".

Around the time Tor started publishing its DRM-free digital editions, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) put on its annual "Making Information Pay" (MIP) conference. The theme for the day was alternately "big data" and "using data well". One of the speakers was Peter Collingridge, who offered a talk that paralleled "The Surprising Power of Little Data", his contribution to Book: A Futurist's Manifesto.

Soon after, Collingridge gave up his day-to-day work on Bookseer, the data-analysis tool he had tried selling to publishers, and took up a senior role at Safari Books Online. While Bookseer persists, it is in maintenance mode, pending greater interest among potential customers.

On Wednesday, BISG  returns with another MIP whose themes include the power of data (Hilary Mason, chief scientist at, will offer "Data gives us superpowers" as a keynote.) I'm optimistic that a greater focus on data will help publishers better understand the changing competitive environment, but I'm less sure that it will be adopted quickly enough to matter.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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