A Campaign to Organize Against DRM

Windwalker 1In a TeleRead piece that I wrote last week, along with a perhaps more interesting exchange of follow-up comments, I began thinking about what it might take to mount an effective organizing campaign against DRM. Starting from some relatively passive speculation that Amazon could well move to diminish or get rid of DRM in the Kindle Store out of its own self-interest, I attempted to challenge readers and commenters to think rigorously about what would be required in terms of strategy and intellectual honesty to mount such a campaign:

“[I]t is important for those who are committed to the anti-DRM fight to realize that the fight does not become a campaign until it has three elements: (1) a clear-eyed sense of the relative support that exists on each side of the question, where it comes from, and the extent to which consumers care or don’t care; (2) total intellectual honesty about the current state of play — for instance, it seems to me that assertions that ePub is the e-book publishing ‘standard’ or that ‘serious e-book-lovers hate DRM’ declare victories that have yet to be won; and (3) [a] strategy [built around the self-interest of the player or players who hold the power to give you what you want].”

My point was to suggest that it is seldom  enough to be right. If we want to change something worth changing, we need to get up off our keisters and organize. There are some interesting models worthy of emulation just now in the Reading Rights Coalition’s text-to-speech advocacy and the Green Press Initiative on publishing materials.

Now, thanks to some important information that Joshua Tallent plays very close to the vest in his new Kindle Formatting book, it turns out that DRM opponents may have just the tactical foot in the door around which to build an effective strategy. The information from Joshua’s book is that, in fact, any Kindle publisher can make his titles DRM-free on the Kindle by using Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) to upload HTML-formatted versions of your titles.

Combine this elegantly simple (and largely unknown) felicity with a little education and specific tactical opportunities provided by Amazon’s customer-driven search architecture, and voila: a direct and potentially powerful campaign strategy begins to emerge. I have fleshed it out a bit below, and I am posting it first here at TeleRead with the hope that TeleReaders, along with some of the subscribers to my free weekly Kindle Nation email newsletter, could be the advance guard in a winning campaign to turn the tide against DRM in e-books. As with any truly interesting coalition, I would not expect this campaign to be monolithic, or to be the pet or possession of any single participant, group, or website.

We won’t win overnight, but we can win by combining an ability to demonstrate increasing levels of consumer understanding of and opposition to DRM, and to bring economic as well as democratic pressure to bear on the book publishing and retailing industries. Here are the basics of a campaign, with specific roles for everyone, for Kindle owners, and for authors and publishers:


· Send an email to kindle-feedback@amazon.com or kindle2-feedback@amazon.com stating your opposition to DRM and urging Amazon to take concrete steps to allow publishers and rightsholders to offer Kindle editions without DRM. Mention any e-reader devices that you own (or might purchase if they they changed their stance on DRM) and CC your email to stand.up.against.drm.in.ebooks@gmail.com.

· Join over 1,000 others who have participated in the Kindle Nation citizen survey – it’s open to anyone, especially people who are interested in ebooks – and be sure to select the appropriate “statements” about DRM. Answering all the questions, of course, will help to make your DRM stand more meaningful. I will post the results on the DRM question here next week.

Kindle Owners

· Search for “DRM-Free” when searching or browsing the Kindle Store. Although it will take a while for Kindle publishers and rightsholders in any significant number to add this descriptor to their e-books, this campaign will seek to influence them to make such titles a significant portion of the Kindle Store’s offerings.

· Use the “tag” feature in the Kindle Store’s search architecture to tag titles as DRM-Free when applicable, and add your DRM-Free tag to titles that already have it.

· Email stand.up.against.drm.in.ebooks@gmail.com whenever you find a title that identifies itself as DRM-Free but is not.

· Protect your DRM-Free titles by copying them from your Kindle to a designated folder on your computer’s hard drive and, if you wish, using a service such as Calibre to convert them to other formats.

Publishers, Authors, and Other Rightsholders

· Publish DRM-free Kindle editions of your books, articles, and other content by using Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) to upload HTML-formatted versions of your titles.

· Identify your DRM-free Kindle editions by typing “DRM-Free” the “Series Title” field on your title’s “Enter Product Details” DTP screen.

· Use the “tag” feature in the Kindle Store’s search architecture to tag your titles as “DRM-Free”, when applicable, on their Kindle Store detail pages.

Let’s see where this goes. I’ll see you at the barricades!

We must not stand

With cap in hand:

We must demand!

(This is just a beginning, and we need your ideas. Suggest other tactics and strategies as comments to this article and email them to stand.up.against.drm.in.ebooks@gmail.com. Particularly useful are ideas for industry contacts who could play a pivotal role in the gathering momentum to remove DRM from e-books. Although it is essential to focus some of this effort on Amazon and the Kindle, other digital content distributors, ebook manufacturers, publishers, and authors are also essential focal points. Feel free, of course, to add your concerns about related issues such as publishing standards to the mix.)

Stephen Windwalker, publisher of Kindle Nation

8 Comments on A Campaign to Organize Against DRM

  1. The information from Joshua’s book is that, in fact, any Kindle publisher can make his titles DRM-free on the Kindle by using Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) to upload HTML-formatted versions of your titles.

    This is news?

    *looking bewildered*

  2. Great idea, Stephen! The fight to make content DRM-free is going to be a long one, but with the large number of independent authors and small publishers out there, I think taking a grassroots approach makes sense.

    To clarify and update the information in my book: The DTP will honor the DRM settings on any file you upload. Essentially, if you do want DRM on your book, you have to upload a Mobipocket file with the DRM setting set. Otherwise, the DTP will publish the book DRM-free. That applies to books in the Mobipocket format, which is what I suggest everyone actually upload to the DTP.

    – Joshua

  3. I personally think it is a waste of time and effort to go up against a company like Amazon. They seem to have no interest in what the consumer or suppliers want. The fact that when you buy a DRMed book, they make no guarentee that you will able to use the purchase in the future. If they suspend your account, and they can whenever they like, you no longer can read the books you purchased. For me this fact is worth a boycott of amazon. Post a bad review or opinion, ask for too many refunds or warrany claims and they decide your not the type of customer they need, and they may cancel your account with no appeal available to you. Why would anyone even buy a DRMed ebook from them is beyond me. Of course this is all just my personal opinion.

  4. Thanks for the update, Joshua. Of course there are also a lot of authors and small publishers using Macs, as I do, so Mobipocket Creator is off the table there. I’ve been using SeaMonkey to create HTML files, since the Microsoft Word-to-HTML automatic conversion process is, at best, a trick-or-treat experience.

    It will be fun to see how this develops.

  5. I think it’s a good idea. I think the ONLY way to get the attention of the publishers is to change our spending habits. If people stop buying drm ebooks, they’ll get a clue. Eventually. Can you get enough people to follow through? Beats me. A lot of people are awfully attached to their bestsellers.

    This plan as outlined in this post is far too kindle-centric. News flash – lots of us didn’t buy a kindle (and I for one am glad I didn’t – much as my cybook grieves me on occasion it’s still better than being owned by a megacorp). On the other hand, maybe if Amazon changes, the world will follow suit. Does Amazon rule the ebook world?

    I went on strike against drm ebooks on Dec. 16, 2008, not that I expect anyone has noticed. They’d notice if enough people joined in.

  6. The statement in Joshua’s book, is, in fact, wrong. Only publishers with a US postal address, a US bank account, and a US tax ID can use Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP). So however much I want to provide DRM-Free Kindle ebooks through Amazon.com, I cannot unless I move my business from the UK to the USA.

    Wherever possible, all Mushroom eBooks titles are sold without DRM in Kindle and Mobipocket format (and all the other formats available) through Fictionwise. I humbly suggest that if a title is available from Fictionwise in multi-format non-DRM’d format, that we all purchase that title from there until Amazon change their policies.

  7. Thanks for commenting, Christine. Point taken and agreed with, and no news flash needed, as noted in the last paragraph. I think we’d all welcome ideas on who else to influence and how to influence them.

    I don’t think Amazon “rule[s] the ebook world,” but it is probably the elephant in the room, and is likely to have the most sway with publishers, who are, after all, the ultimate decision-makers in that they always have the right to vote with their feet, or to opt for DRM-free options, both those in the Kindle Store and those that exist elsewhere.

  8. I’ve just realized that the Kindle Nation Citizen Survey link that I included in my Tuesday post was incorrect, which would have the effect of disenfranchising a large number of TeleRead subscribers who have definite points of view on the survey’s questions about DRM, ebook pricing. Over 1,200 people have participated and nearly 1,000 have completed the entire survey. Please join them at http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e2i0n12xft79yzbo/start


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