By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From May 10, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
Named a Best Book of 2011: Englewood Review of Books and Hearts & Minds Books
“I read it in three sittings. Then I read it again. It’s a beautiful book, easily my favorite book on writing since Bird by Bird.”
—author Kimberlee Conway Ireton
We want it to be friendly. It’s all about reminding the customer. We don’t believe that readers are pirates.
Hang on. Or as Tarzan would say to a heaving elephant, “Umgawa!” Wonder if saying that to our fine publishing obsesserati could slow them down, too.
Putting our messaging in there where it’s visible reminds them, “You’ve made a binding contract with the publisher, with the author.” It’s in the forefront of the reader experience. It makes them aware, so they won’t share the file.
Kevin Franco of Calgary’s Enthrill Books has come to the Ether, wise man that he is, to announce to you that PackaDRM is going to be made available to publishers and to authors who might be interested in using it.
And we’re packaging “DRM,” but not Digital Rights Management. This is Digital Rights Messaging.
PackaDRM is being developed as part of Enthrill Books, which we wrote about it on the Ether at the end of the year.
Fresh off “Day Against DRM” with Joe Wikert and Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media leading the non-DRM charge, plenty of our colleagues are still driving around with “Death to DRM!” placards in their car trunks.
So let Franco get this much across to you, emphasis mine:
We’re not trying to convert people who are working in strict DRM. And we’re not trying to convert people from no-DRM.
What’s important is that if you’re going to select “social DRM” or watermarking, we’ve come up with the best solution. In watermarking, we think we have a game-changer, the most effective way to use “social DRM.”
To understand what Franco’s doing, think Pottermore. (MorePotterMore is coming up later in the Ether, too, for you Harried ones.)
A part of what’s made Pottermore such a pants-wetting story in publishing is that Jo Rowling’s ebooks are non-DRM. They are watermarked. So what does this mean? This means you can get a non-DRM copy of a Potter book (eight copies for one price, in fact, in P’more’s case) and read each copy of that Harryness on any device you’d like. It’s not locked to a Kindle or a Nook or Kobo or your Android refrigerator door screen. However, the “watermark” encodes information about you as the buyer into the book. So if the copy watermarked to you turns up on a pirate Web site, Hogwarts knows it’s your version that is in illegal hands. You might want a Cloak of Invisibility then.
And this is generally called “social DRM.”
Adobe ebook DRM and similar schemes are a form of Restrictive Access Technology (RAT) in that they restrict end-users from how they can use the ebook they “bought” (technically speaking, licensed).
True DRM restricts how you can use your ebook — by whom and on which device.
Rhomberg goes on, by contrast:
Watermarking…does not restrict access in any way, which is a huge advantage to the reader (a.k.a. buyer/consumer/end-user). Digital fingerprinting (watermarking) is a technology for making usage trackable and hence TRAC is maybe a more descriptive acronym than “social DRM.”
So what Franco is talking about, in Rhombergese, is TRAC. You are not restricted on how you use your ebook. Your copy, however, can be tracked.
If Franco had a chance to breathe Ether with Charlie Redmayne, CEO of all Pottermore, how might he explain the difference in most watermarking (“TRAC”) “social DRM” programs and his PackaDRM?
Well, in addition to the trasaction ID inserted into the ebook — the one that makes your ebook TRAC-able to you if it gets into pirately hands — PackaDRM displays very visible messages to the reader at the beginning and end of the book. Franco:
The message can be customized by the publisher and contain information from the ebook file in combination with the consumer’s information.
Front and back of the book. A special message, complete with the customer’s email address. Here’s an example of the text:
This book is yours to read and it’s registered to you alone — see how we’ve embedded your email address to it? This message serves as a reminder that transferring digital files such as this book to third parties is prohibited by international copyright law. … If you think someone you know would love it (the book in question), recommend it to him or her and let them know where they can pick up their very own. When they are done, you can meet up for a coffee or tea and discuss!
Permission granted: you may discuss.
As I told Franco, this is very Canadian stuff. (One of his own board members said the same thing, it turns out, so I don’t feel too crassly American for making the observation.) It turns out that Canadian cordiality comes in with an expressly respectful tone — exactly what Franco is after here.
That wording took a long time to settle on. We had to get the message across in a firm way, but at the same time, we have to respect the relationship between the reader, the publisher, the author. Respect for the reader — the customer — is terribly important.
If I sound cautiously optimistic, it reflects a sense that the tide has not turned when it comes to the use of DRM or the study of the true impact of piracy. As I’ve covered before, DRM locks publishers and readers into specific platforms. It does not suppress piracy. Linking the two, as many commentors did when Macmillan made the announcement, conflates two different activities.
And others have spoken out this week in various conversations, with a clarification that the DRM issue really doesn’t dovetail well with those who’d like to back the car over Jeff Bezos. As one astute observer puts it: “There are many reasons not to use DRM, but it seems that the dream of dropping DRM and taking down Amazon is highly improbable.”
So why “PackaDRM?”
Franco was with many of us at New York’s Digital Book World Conference in January, when Mike Shatzkin staged Anobii’s Matteo Berlucchi in a major denunciation of DRM. As I wrote then on the Ether: “DRM went from gum on a shoe to a rebel yell once Matteo Berlucchi was given the floor.”
And Franco tells me he remembers exactly how Berlucchi started his presentation to the conference:
Berlucchi said, “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.”
For more info on the PackaDRM in this room, be in touch with Franco. His column, just out with the Ether, on the subject is Packaged Digital Rights Messaging.