Theory v. practice

At mediabistro’s recent e-book summit, Steve Haber, president of Sony’s Digital Reading Business Division, defended the use of DRM, saying:

“You need an orderly process to sell books and DRM makes that possible, mainly because it allows content creators and distributors to make money from that content.”

For a while, I tried hard to stay away from debates about DRM and its effectiveness, but data-light claims like this one have pulled me out of the closet. DRM is not free; it’s a cost-benefit proposition for publishers. And it is certainly not a business model.

There are books for which DRM may make financial sense. They would likely be high-priced (over $100) titles with intrinsically small markets (12,000 to 15,000 units). I didn’t say this. Sanford Bingham, president of FileOpen, provided the analysis on a panel at the Book Business virtual conference in October.

By comparison, David Pogue, who has long been concerned with the impact of piracy, worked with his publisher (O’Reilly Media) to test the effect of an unrestricted PDF on paid content sales. After a year, Pogue found “many” pirated copies of his book available on the web. He also found that his paid sales increased over that time.

One data point, yes, but look to the end of his column to see what he recommends: “publishers should try an experiment like mine.” I couldn’t agree more.

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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