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EBook basics for authors (part 2: DRM, or copy protection)

May 13, 2011

Tags: ebooks, DRM, digital rights management, copy protection

Can authors self-publish eBooks from their own website?
Technically yes. In real life, says Josh Tallent, no. ePub is a great open-source format that several firms use. The problem is DRM (copy protection), for which the bookseller pays a sizable fee. So you can sell your own eBook from your website, but you can’t sell a locked-down copy-controlled version of your eBook.
This is part 1 of a 3-part report on a talk eBook experts Josh Tallent and David Rothman made to the Washington Biography Group, May 2, 2011.

Should you copy-protect your eBook? That depends.
The ePub format is not proprietary, but the DRM (digital rights management) software is. Most commercially published eBooks are “protected” by DRM software, which restricts what readers can do with their eBooks (e.g., you can’t lend it to a friend, the way you can a printed book, unless the DRM allows that, as the NOOK does).

There are three main types of DRM. Amazon Kindle has its own form of DRM, and there are two main types of DRM for the ePub format: Apple and Adobe. iBooks use the Apple format. Adobe eBooks can be read in ePub or PDF formats. Barnes & Noble pays a $10,000 fee to use Adobe’s DRM – which provides that every time someone downloads a book sold with Adobe's DRM a fee is paid to Adobe. (It's a great deal for Adobe!)

(PDF format is used when you want the electronic version to look exactly like the print version — especially in books for which the layout is important (including textbooks)or for printing out at home. If you need to increase the font size, you may end up with a page that’s not easy to read – so you may need to use a zoom feature to get a larger font.)

There will always be proprietary software, says Josh Tallent. Some “Babbitts” love that, but authors who want their works to last may not feel it’s in their best interests. DRM binds content to one publisher.

Do self-published authors need DRM? Until Apple said "You can sell more music without DRM" the music industry insisted on using it. The book industry is grappling with this issue now. On any given title, you have to choose: Do you or not want DRM?

Your eBook does not have to have DRM, say Josh and David. Not having DRM frees the consumer to print the book out and read it on paper or read it on their iPad, or both – they can read the book however they want to. Not having DRM means you can share a book with a friend and also keep it. (Note: Copying an eBook is not acceptable: legally, you are licensing an eBook, not buying it. This is a major issue for authors and readers!)

Neither Josh nor David has DRM on the books they wrote. New authors are less likely to be pirated than to be unknown and to have no following, they say.You can sell books without DRM on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple; Google is a little hardnosed about it.

David is one of many authors who are selling their eBooks for 99 cents a copy (“results before pride,” says Rothman, author of the novel The Solomon Scandals).

If you don’t use DRM, make this message clear: Your rights as a reader are important to me. That’s why I’m not using DRM. You can use a Creative Common license, which says, effectively: You may use this work freely if not for commercial purposes. However, this book is copyrighted. We appreciate it if you buy the book to read it, but please buy it from us.

Read more here on DRM, piracy, and readers' right to privacy.

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on Ebook basics for authors. See also
Part 1: formatting (http://bit.ly/itQwun)
Part 3: Trends, QUA (http://bit.ly/kYt5Lk)

For more insights and opinions about various angles on e-publishing check out this page on Pat’s Writers and Editors site:
eBook Basics and Beyond .