Paying for what you get

In the 18 months that we have been studying the impact of piracy on paid content sales, I’ve tried to stay close to the data.

As the piracy debate has evolved, I’ve come to see our approach as too narrow. I want the research to be consumed and evaluated, and to have that happen, we have to meet people where they are.

Toward that end, I’ve written recently about an alternate view of what really happened to the music business and provided my take on how the book and music businesses compare.

Much as I have avoided direct evaluation of the music business, I have also pretty much sidestepped the extended debate about digital rights management (DRM) solutions, which many, perhaps most, publishers have used to restrict use of the digital book files they sell.

Wil Johnson, who has been gathering data on pirated titles since the start of our research project, recently posted his own perspective on DRM. In sum: most restrictions can be readily removed before seeding (uploading). The more complex DRM schemes present either a challenge to be solved or an opportunity to scan the printed book.

In announcing Macmillan’s anti-piracy plan, Brian Napack noted that their own research had found “substantial piracy” but no instances of DRM-restricted content posted on file-sharing sites. Napack saw this as evidence of the success of DRM. Wil Johnson sees it as proof that DRM has little or no impact on piracy.

So if DRM doesn’t stop piracy, what does it do? Mike Shatzkin has argued that it keeps people who might casually share digital books from easily doing so. Book publishers think that these restrictions will help preserve marginal sales for their books.

I’ve argued that using DRM to limit use among book publishing’s most frequent readers may also drive down retail price. That argument is not data-driven (yet).

But as publishers (led by Macmillan) fight with major retailing partners to preserve, protect and defend the retail price of e-books, I wonder how much thought they have given to the impact of DRM on the price readers are willing to pay.

A print book can be read, kept, loaned, given away or even resold. A DRM-restricted ebook offers few or none of those features. We pay for what we get, yes?

Brian O'Leary

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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