eMusic audiobook deal killed: Victim of Penguin’s DRM love

penguinbooks Wouldn't you know it? Just as the Holtzbrinck interests are insisting on encryption for Jeff Gomez's terrific, DRM-skeptical book, Penguin's top bosses are stubbornly demanding that the technology keep infesting Penguin audio books. Penguin Audio Ends EMusic Deal is the headline in today's New York Times, and, yes, DRM is the villain. The bosses overruled the clueful guys below them. "At this moment we're not going to have our titles on eMusic or with anyone else who sells non-DRM until the landscape shakes out and we feel very comfortable and confident that our titles will not be pirated," the Times quotes Dick Heffernan, publisher of Penguin Audio. Hello, Penguin? The very same Times article report that a piracy monitoring firm has not found a problem with Random House audiobooks from eMusic being pirated. What's more, eMusic is said to be selling more than 500 audio books a day, twice expectations.

Mightn’t Penguin be costing its shareholders a pretty penny, long term, while letting rivals get the upper hand at this key time for audio books?Now, what about e-books? How soon until Random wises up about DRM at Holtzbrinck’s expense?

What’s truly, truly irrational is that the big book publishers are not even undertaking small-scale experimentation right now with a DRM-free approach or with social DRM. Must ideology come ahead of business?

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5 Comments on eMusic audiobook deal killed: Victim of Penguin’s DRM love

  1. Septimus Severus // October 22, 2007 at 2:59 pm //

    Penguin currently releases audiobooks in CD format and cassette format. These formats do not have DRM and are used by “pirates” to create MP3 audiobooks. The CD format is treasured by pirates because it can be “ripped” to create pirate editions at a wide variety of quality levels, e.g., bitrates. Sadly some powerful Penguin executives appear to be technologically illiterate and thus are unaware that they are already releasing their audiobooks in a format that is ideal for pirates.

    Penguin also provides audiobooks to Audible, an online company that does use DRM. For example, the new audiobook by Steven Pinker is available for download at Audible. However, the DRM protections on this book have already been broken and a pirate version of the audiobook is available now. Thus using DRM did not help prevent piracy.

    The New York Times article says “Madeline McIntosh, publisher of Random House Audio, part of Bertelsmann, said that a piracy monitoring firm has so far found no pirated eMusic copies of her company’s titles on file-sharing sites.” This may be true but it is misleading. Unquestionably Random House audiobooks are being pirated now. For example the Random House Audiobook by Margaret Atwood concerning genetics is available at eMusic. Yet it has also been available for years through pirate systems. It was probably created from CDs or cassettes. Pirated audiobooks derived from eMusic copies are likely to appear eventually. Historically, popular audiobooks in all formats have been pirated.

  2. I’m sure many have heard this before, but it bears repeating: most so called piracy does not result in diminished sales. Most of the people with pirated copies of something would not have purchased the item anyway. In many cases, a pirated copy has actually resulted in a sale, after the pirated copy was used as a “demo”. Actually, this “demo” effect happens quite a lot with music and software.

    This is not to say that piracy has no impact on sales. It just isn’t nearly as large as some people want us to believe.

    I believe that one of the real reasons for DRM and such is to actually keep the price of the item artificially high. However, this is counterproductive. Isn’t it better to sell millions of something at a smaller profit and have millions of satisfied customers, instead of selling thousands of something at a high profit and only have thousands of grudgingly content customers?

  3. On other fact about DRM I forgot to mention: DRM in many cases actually results in lost sales. I know this because I refuse to buy either music or ebooks with DRM, except for extremely rare instances. I am not alone in feeling this way. This sentiment is becoming more widespread even among the general public, who supposedly don’t understand what DRM is (they’re learning quickly).

    The recent changes at iTunes, the long-standing sales of DRM-free music at places like e-music, the fact that non-DRMed ebooks consistently outsell DRMed ones at Fictionwise, etc. These are only some examples that show you don’t have to treat the customer like a thief. I think some of the people running the pro-DRM companies forget that those same customers are responsible for their paychecks and stock dividends.

  4. You might be right, there. Penguin executives have the technological literary of , well, penguins, by the sound of it.

    Make sure we aren’t pirated = sell CDs?

    lol.

    Never seen a double cassette deck?

    What do they have in their houses, eight tracks and gramophones?

  5. And of course I have never been able to sell/give away/ lend any Pbook in my collection? How come the book industry has survived for years with a product that is so “transferable”?
    I will simply not buy any DRM’d music or books any more – it’s called voting with your wallet and is the most effective way of dealing with people who want to take your money and give as little as possible in return.
    If the Penguin executives want to try DRM free – why not release a whole swag of books published more than 10 years ago? They have probably repaid their initial costs and if not they might get some extra mileage out of them.

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