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The two-edged sword of DRM


As an aspiring writer, I have fond hope that one day my trite, banal scribblings will be worth enough money to justify a copyright, so I have more than a passing interest in Digital Rights Management (DRM). That said, sci-fi writers like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross are giving away free electronic versions of their books in the hopes of driving tangible book sales. It sounds crazy, but since reports show that illegal music downloaders actually buy more legal music than the average guy, maybe not.

First, there's the simple issue of promotion. Most writers not named Grisham, King, or Rowling lose more money from poor promotion than they do piracy. Better to give away samples in an inferior form factor than limit access to the material. And yes, e-books and ripped MP3s are inferior form factors. Second, there's the whole notion fo secondary resale markets, which DRM painfully stifles.

Techdirt and boingboing both have tackled the subject of writers screeching about Amazon offering new and used book sales side by side. This is nuts. Used resale value is a major driving factor of many significant purchases. Only an idiot or a millionaire buys a car without considering how well it will hold its value for trade-in or resale. Same with buying a house. Knowing what the used value of a new item will likely be drives up the value of the new item. That's basic economics.

The fact that I can sell a used hardcover book for two-thirds the outrageous new retail price makes me more willing to pay the outrageous retail price, because the cost to me is actually only the third (should I decide not to keep the book for my collection), which is a premium I'm willing to pay to buy a book in mint condition as soon as its released. Imagine how much more willing I'd be to download legal music or buy the latest software if I knew I could downsell it at a discount when I was done with it.

Maybe I should start giving my stories away for free. That was actually part of a Web site business model idea I had a few weeks back. Maybe I'll blog about that later. In the mean time, let's all decry clumsy DRM.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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