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Thursday 20 March 2008

Overdrive to offer 3000 DRM-free books

Via walking paper scraps, OverDrive Breaks the iPod Barrier for Downloadable Audio - by the end of June 3000 audiobooks will be available in mp3 format with no "digital rights management" (aka "crippling") - so they can be played on Macs, iPods, etc. They're also apparently going to release an "OverDrive Media Console for the Mac" which presumably lets their normal range of audiobooks be played on Macs (but not iPods etc).

This is great news, and hopefully one more sign that DRM might be gradually going out of fashion. It's not just that it's nasty to restrict how a person can listen to something that they've paid for; it's that making it hard for people to listen to your music (or watch your videos or read your books) is a great way to induce them to look for alternatives - like piracy.

And DRM does diddly-squat to prevent piracy. Codes can be, and regularly are, broken; there's free software all over the internet to extract audio and video from 'protected' files, and even if there weren't there's still audio capture and video capture programs (just like screen capture but more so).

So DRM a) doesn't prevent piracy, and b) induces your potential customers to consider turning to piracy. So what was the point again?

Fortunately a lot of people are starting to realise that not only is DRM fairly useless, but giving stuff away entirely free can make you money. In the science-fiction world, for example:
  • the Baen Free Library (Eric Flint writes in 2000, "Dave Weber's On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a 'loss leader' for Baen's for-pay experiment 'Webscriptions' for months now. And — hey, whaddaya know? — over that time it's become Baen's most popular backlist title in paper!");
  • Tor's "Watch the Skies" promotion (sign up! the editors are nice people who won't spam you, and this week they're giving away Jo Walton's Farthing, which is a stunning murder mystery set in a 1940s England where Britain made peace with Hitler. Jo Walton is also nice people, and the book is brilliant. Having a pdf of it is really nice -- and I'm still going to buy it in paperback).
A huge number of books on my bookshelves are there because I first read them in a library; or I first borrowed them from a friend; or I first found a sample chapter or the entire thing free on the internet. I wouldn't have taken the risk on them otherwise. So this is money I paid because -- and only because -- I could use things in ways that DRM actively prevents.

So what was the point of DRM again?