drm.jpgI received an email today from an author who has been networking a little among fledgling backlist self-publishers, and she mentioned a question had come up about DRM. She had made a comment about how most readers hate it, and the question came up: why? Was there a post or blog or article, she wondered, that succinctly explained just what it was about DRM that most readers find so onerous?

Well, there is now! Here are my top six reasons; feel free to add your own in the comments. As you will see, it is not about fleecing authors or getting away with taking advantage of them. It’s about readers simply wanting to be able to enjoy in appropriate ways the books they legally and legitimately purchase. DRM, as it is currently implemented, does nothing to stop ‘piracy’ and it punishes the paying customer with onerous restrictions, and with both complexity—and cost—in usage.

So, what are my top six reasons why readers hate DRM?

1) DRM removes rights that users have with paper books, so they resent paying the same price and getting less. For example, if I have a paper book, I can loan it to someone and if I have an ebook I cannot; I can re-sell the book if I am finished with it and want to get it out of my house; I can read the book as many times as I want and in as many places. With ebooks some of these uses may be limited.

2) DRM creates artificial restrictions that limit the ability of users to exercise their fair, legal enjoyment of content they legally purchase. For example, Adobe DRM limits the user to five devices. If they have more than five devices they have legally bought and paid for, it can be difficult or impossible for them to enjoy the also legally paid for content on them. For example, I have a computer at home, an iPod Touch for on the go, an iPad for work, a Kindle for listening to books via text to speech at the gym and a Kobo for library books and for my mother’s use. That is five devices right there! If I upgrade to a new device, or another technology comes along that I want to benefit from, I might not be able to use my Adobe ebooks on it.

3) DRM can make users pay multiple times for the same content. For example, if I buy an Amazon book and then later buy a Sony, I cannot use the same book on the Sony and have to re-buy it. I had a device once whose on-board store limited the user to using books they purchased only on the device on which is was bought—so if I lost the device, or it got stolen, or if I bought another device—even from them—I would have to re-buy all the books! That is just absurd. If you want the book to be only a rental, you need to charge rental prices, not full hardback ones!

4) DRM can leave users reliant on outside agencies in order to enjoy their books. For example, if using my ebook is reliant on having it validated through an Adobe server and that server is ever down, I cannot use my book. This happened once with mobipocket books—users were locked out of their purchased books for about a week when a downed server prevented them from validating new purchases. I also had a problem earlier in the year where I lost some books in a hard drive crash (most were backed up, but a few had escaped the time machine backup process) and because of new publisher-imposed restrictions which had not been in effect when I had purchased them, the vendor would not let me re-download them and I basically lost the books. This is completely unacceptable.

5) DRM forces users to rely on buggy or difficult software they may not need or want. For example, if my mother wants to read a library book on her Kobo, she cannot use the Kobo software to download it but must use the Adobe Digital Editions software instead. This software is a large download which takes up a lot of space on her computer. Similarly, this software is not available for all operating systems, so Linux users (for example) are simply out of luck and cannot use these books.

6) DRM is an extra cost to the book—there are development and implementation costs to it that are incorporated into the cost of the book and are passed on to the end user. Plus it is not even effective, as every major DRM scheme can be bypassed. So all it does is add cost, complexity and hassle for the legitimate, paying customer while not affecting at all the ‘pirate’ who was not going to pay anyway, or who will pay and then simply bypass the protections in order to use the book as they wish to.

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment! I’ll pass along the link to this article to the author in question so her author friends can read it. Let’s make sure that authors entering into the e-publishing market for the first time have all the information they need to make good choices to help reach their potential readers in the best way.

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. I own and have on shelves over 9000 books (paperback & hardback) – in addition, I have a few hundred audio books (in many cases duplicating my paper books). I object to paying for an eBook when I already own the hardcopy of that same book. DRM forces me to do that if I want the convenience of re-reading an old hardcopy friend in eBook format.

  2. Without DRM or something similar it will not be worth while to publish books anymore because everyone will get it for free and publihsers will have no income to cover their costs or to invest in new titles.They will not be able to pay their authors, editors etc.

    All the inconviniences mentioned above do not answer to this major issue.

  3. Nice article. You summarize very well the main problems with DRM.

    I think though Adobe lets you have your books on 6 devices or PCs and even more, if you ask for it.

    “What is the maximum number of computers and devices that I can authorize?
    You can activate up to six computers and six devices . If you reach the limit, contact Customer Service to increase your allowable activations.”
    ADE – faq

  4. Well said Joanna. Writers and publishers look at DRM though filtered spectacles where their only focus is on the dreaded Piracy and Torrent sites. They don’t look at it from the reader’s perspective that you set out above, and hence they don’t get the perspective that there is a balance between copyright power and reader price.

    When readers are offered a product at a fair price they will pay it and have no interest in Piracy. This is the overwhelming experience of the music industry.

    When prices are unfair, readers will be seduced by the temptation of Piracy and feel wholly justified.

  5. Personally i fell that the fundamental reason which supersedes everything else is that drm is the ebook prison and readers have a moral obligation to free them. This does not mean share them with all and sundry of course, but it emans that once you acquire legitametly an ebook, you shopuld be able to have it forever, your children should be able to have it and son; with reasonable precautions like backups and converison to the latest format, there is no reason not to.

    Anyway the trend is toward the “universal” library that google and others envision and drm is something that will seem quaint sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, there is the moral duty to free the ebooks

  6. “not affecting at all the ‘pirate’ who was not going to pay anyway, or who will pay and then simply bypass the protections in order to use the book as they wish to.”

    While the user who doesn’t pay can be considered a pirate, the one who removes DRM for personal use only is not a pirate. It may be illegal (depending on where you live), but it cannot possibly be considered piracy (until sold or traded).

  7. In the meantime,I could accept DRM as a fact of life, but the way of how they implement the technology frustrates me. Recently, I bought a new laptop, and when I installed Adobe Digital Edition I forgot the username and password; bummer, I have to re-download every epub from Kobo and Sony website.

  8. Amazon, B&N, and the other retail outlets are particularly to blame for this mess, since their billing process means they know the real names of their customers. That means that social DRM would be easy to implement. All they’d have to do is attach the purchaser’s name (and perhaps a one-time, internal tracing number) to an ebook in a way that’d be visible and hard to remove.

    The result would be an ebook that would not be restricted to a particular device and that could be loaned to a spouse or perhaps a close friend just like a physical book. It still wouldn’t have the ‘just one copy’ limitations of a physical book, but the fear of having your book becoming the official copy of a bit-torrent and distributed in the thousands would mean that most people would tell that friend, “Just you can use this. Don’t under any circumstances loan it to anyone else.”

    Having copies loaned that way, or even having two people taking advantage of one purchase might not be perfect, but it would be much better than a system so clumsy and frustrating it drives people to get bootlegged copies just because they don’t come with a DRM hassle.

  9. “Without DRM or something similar it will not be worth while to publish books anymore because everyone will get it for free and publihsers will have no income to cover their costs or to invest in new titles.They will not be able to pay their authors, editors etc.”

    Sorry, I disagree. I purchase and download my music from Amazon DRM-free. It’s not worth the effort to pirate it from somewhere else.

    Frankly, I have non-Kindle ebooks for Adobe Digital Editions, and magazines for Zinio that I never read because I only read on my Kindle or physical books. If I could convert those to a Kindle format, I would happily read them. I also have free books from B&N that I can’t read for the same reason. Maybe if B&N would also sell the Kindle format, or non-DRMed ePub, I would purchase books from them as well as from Amazon, like I used to for physical books.

    Another pet peeve are DRMed free books. Before my daughter had Kindle for PC, I downloaded some free YA books but now I can’t transfer them to her. Of course, they’re no longer free either. So it’s like me obtaining a book as a gift and not being able to give it as a gift. Really dumb.

    There are other ebook stores that I can’t buy from because they don’t offer the Kindle format, every format they do offer is DRMed. So they are losing sales to me.

    It’s really short-sighted of them, didn’t they learn from the music industry? Those that want to steal will find a way while honest people will just lose out, as will publishers, authors and ebook stores.

    One thing I find interesting are the people working to make book scanners faster and cheaper. I look forward to the day when I can scan my physical books and make my own ebooks, just like I can rip my CDs and make my own MP3s.

  10. If an author who wants to self-publish has to ask why readers hate DRM, said author needs to do a lot more hands-on research with ebooks. You shouldn’t try to sell technology you have no experience with.

  11. I should add that I Do Not Buy DRM’ed ebooks. I’d love to have a Kindle and start getting away from paper books (space issues) but I won’t make that kind of investment until I’m assured that I can back up my books. My take away from DRM is this: your ebook library can disappear in a split second.

    I’ve also heard of terrible problems installing and using Adobe Digital Editions. I don’t want to deal with that. I just want to read.

  12. Racheli, just an FYI that iTunes has sold over a billion downloads, even though people can listen for free on the radio, YouTube, Internet streams etc. And these are legal uses, never mind torrents and kimewire. But iTunes has made it easy, convenient and affordable for people to get them legitimately, so they do. I don’t agree that remove g barriers such as drm will ruin e industry. Far from it! People are more likely to pay for things they can use naturally and easily. Right now, drm restrictions prevent some people from buying in the first place…

  13. “Without DRM or something similar it will not be worth while to publish books anymore because everyone will get it for free and publihsers will have no income to cover their costs or to invest in new titles.They will not be able to pay their authors, editors etc.”

    Apparently, Baen went bankrupt and failed to notice it.

    In regards to the six points about DRM–they pretty much cover it, but I’d push the “buggy or difficult software” point a bit harder. It’s not just “must use software;” it’s often “must use *different* software for *each type of ebook*”… in order to shop at 6 ebookstores, you may need to install six different programs. (Microsoft’s reader, Mobipocket, ADE, B&N’s reader, Kindle-for-PC, whatever the comic-book sites use…) You can’t just buy “a book;” you have to buy “A [program]-compatible book.” You can’t have “a digital bookshelf,” where you browse through your collection; you need multiple shelves: one per DRM format.

    I got tired of trying to remember which books I had in what format when I wanted to re-read them. When I upgraded my computer, I gave up on DRM; I don’t have any DRM software at the moment, and I limit my family’s buying to non-DRM’d ebooks.

  14. Users only care about DRM when it stops them from doing something they want to do. This is why the original Apple DRM worked so well 99% of users never noticed it was there.

    Or Users dislike DRM in the same way they dislike Transfats, they don’t know exactly why but they have heard it’s bad.

    Finally, there have never, ever, been a study or accurate statistic that shows that piracy causes lost sales. In fact every reputable study has piracy had about the same effect as advertising or offering a sample/tria version.

  15. “DRM removes rights that users have with paper books, so they resent paying the same price and getting less. For example, if I have a paper book, I can loan it to someone and if I have an ebook I cannot…”

    This is actually not true. If you have a print book, and you loan it to your neighbor, you no longer have the book. If you want to read it again, you need to get it back first. If you want to loan it again, you need to get it back first. This is, if you will, the PRM (Physical Rights Management) inherent in the very nature of print books.

    With an ebook, you do not loan it, even if it doesn’t have DRM. You give the recipient a free copy. And perhaps another recipient. And another. The mindset of a thief isn’t required, and no one is saying that DRM will prevent these things from being done by those who have that mindset, but as has been said here (and elsewhere) unless and until honest readers can be kept from giving art away in the guise of loaning it, electronic publishing is a fast slide to a world where all art is free.

    Believe me, I wish this was not the case, because I simply can’t see anything at all that keeps electronic publishing from being the norm of the future (and I believe it should be that norm).

    We need some form of rights management that is as simple, as innocuous, and as solid as the PRM of print (which, by the way, also did nothing to stop those who possessed the mindset of the thief).

  16. “Finally, there have never, ever, been a study or accurate statistic that shows that piracy causes lost sales. In fact every reputable study has piracy had about the same effect as advertising or offering a sample/tria version.”

    You are so right Christian. I have written about my personal experiences on discussion groups many times. About five or seven years ago or so I spoke to about ten of my son’s friends. They were all about 17 to 25 yo. They had downloaded MASSES of music ! But it came out clearly in our chats that a) they only actually listened to a TINY fraction of it, the rest was about ego and competition with friends b) they still bought and valued original CDs. c) The biggest downloaders spent more on original CDs than anyone else, and a lot more than me ! I was amazed at how much they spent.
    The whole torrent download piracy controversy is one that has been completely concocted by the Music Industry to hide falling sales due to over pricing, poor bands and a history of easy money and bloated organisations.

  17. Baen books are DRM-free. I make it an absolute *point* to never share these files. Their strategy must work, otherwise why are they still in business. I bought a lot of ereader.com’s .pdb books and am waiting for the ax to fall on that store. Now I’ve gone to Amazon, and *** SURPRISE *** find I’m rebuying books I already purchased twice (once for paper, once for ereader before agency day).

    Short version: DRM is govno.

  18. I have bought a couple of books from Whitcoulls for my Kobo. The annoying part was that it locked you into a particular format. It didn’t fill the screen and was 1.5 line spaces. I am not sure if this was a DRM issue or an issue with the Kobo, but it forced me to break the DRM just so I could “fix” the CSS.

  19. I can live with DRM. In fact I read ebooks on a Palm Tungsten for several years with DRM without a problem. Then I got a Kobo and used EPUB. I found a variety of ebook layouts; some used fixed font sizes, line spacing and margins varied, white space sometimes predominated. Every publisher appeared to have a different idea about how an ebook should look. Then I found Calibre (with it’s Kobo settings) and found how to re-format ebooks to an optimum and consistent layout. But to do that you need a DRM-free format. So out goes buying from Whitcoulls (the New Zealand supplier of the Kobo) and in comes Bean and Fictionwise Multi-format. Even better are those authors that sell directly from their sites or provide ‘donate’ buttons.

  20. I agree with all the reasons given. It’s not about ripping off authors. The piracy sites I’ve seen are people that are actually scanning the books and posting them on sharing sites. They are not even buying one version of the ebook.
    I only recently bought an ereader. So buying and then reading on my laptop meant I had to download reader software from every book selling site just to read my book on my computer. I can’t keep all the books in one place in one format because they all download to their own software.

  21. Obviously, many readers dislike DRM intensely but I suspect that there’s more to it than meets the eye. Thwarting copyright infringement is the socially acceptable reason for publishers to give but it may not be the whole truth. DRM is also being used as a weapon in the struggle for market survival. It locks-in the customer and eliminates the secondary market.

  22. Authors need to think about the Harry Potter books. They are not currently available as legal ebooks due to the J.K. Rowling fearing piracy. So isn’t it ironic that they are all easily obtainable on the darknet. Not only that, many were out on the internet before they were ever released in the stores. If she would have authorized ebooks years ago, she would have sold many, many ebooks. DRM does not protect your books from piracy, it just annoys your paying customers.

  23. I really have no issue with DRM. It hasn’t affected my enjoyment of purchases from Amazon for my Kindle or Kobobooks for my Kobo. I feel no loss that ebooks are treated differently than pbooks … because, well, they are different.

    So, in my world, essentially ALL of your points are spurious. The complaints stem from expecting DRM to behave differently than it does. If you want multiple copies to give away, nothing stops you from buying them directly for your object of affection. DRM doesn’t force anyone to do anything — buying an e-book is a choice of each consumer and it is what it is. You can walk away and spend your money elsewhere.

    That said, nothing is wrong with lobbying the industry to change the rules. But DRM isn’t a problem per se — it delivers exactly what it promises before you hand over your nickel. And for me — a hundred or so books from a half dozen vendors — everyone has so far delivered what I paid for.

  24. @Alexander – you make very little sense. You claim that DRM hasn’t affected your enjoyment of purchases because you simply use a kindle for amazon and a kobo for kobo. Well, you are a marketer’s dream consumer – they have brainwashed you into purchasing 2 of the exact same devices with only a different DRM schema, gui, and plastic shell. It’s like buying 2 different lawnmowers, one for the back yard and one for the front yard, or even having four different cars, one for sunny warm days, one for sunny cold days, one for rainy days, and one for snowy days.

    For the rest of us that enjoy using one eink type of device and desire to have our books in formats easily accessible no matter what device we use (now or in the future, DRM is defective by design.

  25. Alexander – a very silly argument imho. The problems with DRM have been set out clearly and sensibly and are clear and evident. Just dismissing them as spurious doesn’t cut it.

    Frank – I believe you are probably on the money with your interpretation of one of the reasons behind DRM. The amazing thing is that these Publishers probably actually believe that DRM is a positive marketing tool. They don’t appear to grasp that protecting a small corner of the playground means they are sacrificing access to the rest. This way of thinking is symptomatic of the way Publishers and writers are approaching the marketplace evidenced by their other bizarre marketing attitudes that have been well documented here. I can excuse some writers on the basis of simple factual ignorance. But not the Publishers who have had years and years of advance notice to learn how this works from the Music industry’s experience.

    jes1 – It is sad to see such an accomplished writer as Rowling restrict her BILLION dollar book because she might lose some money to pirating. For me the only possible explanation is a total personal ignorance of the technology and the marketplace. Of course we have to remember she came to extraordinary success from a very humble background and must be receiving her ‘education’ on the subject from her agents and publishers. This should act as a warning to other writers – they need to educate themselves about the real eBook world instead of relying on help from their agent and publishers who all have their own vested interests.

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