Monday, December 3, 2007

Some Thoughts on DRM

As I've been reading more and more people's reactions to the Kindle and its DRM issues, something occurred to me: why are publishers so concerned about wrapping up e-books in DRM, when they're willing to let e-journals and e-magazines float around online with no DRM at all?

This occurred to me because I know that, were I to get an e-book reader, I would very rarely pay for content for it—partially because I'm a Pennsylvania Dutch cheapskate, and partially because I can get digital versions of most content I'm interested in for free. Why? Because most of what I read is magazines/journals rather than books.

(Digression: Do not even start with me, a la the periodic NEA reports on the decline of reading for pleasure, on how reading magazines and/or online content isn't "real" reading and only books count. And really REALLY don't start with me on the idea that nonfiction books don't count either and only fiction reading is "real" reading. 1) In terms of any benefit of reading you could possibly name, I'll put one of the Atlantic's 15,000-word essays up against any of the formulaic crime/romance/etc. novels that most people read any day. 2) I do read nonfiction books when I have the time to indulge in them, and normally my #1 complaint about them is that they take what could have been a nice lean 15,000-word essay—in fact, these days, what often started off as a nice lean 15,000-word essay—and expanded it with a lot of filler that doesn't really enhance their point. End digression.)

So, why is so much magazine content so freely available? I'm not just talking about the content that is online free and ad-supported (although there really is a surprising amount of that going on amongst the major magazines), but also the magazines that aren't free online but that are aggregated in half-a-dozen different databases with no significant embargo period and no DRM and that most people can get free access to online without trying too hard. I mean, just using InfoTrac's General OneFile—which absolutely everyone in Michigan has free access to through the State Library—I could load up an e-book reader with PDFs of the latest issues of Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and The Economist and easily keep myself amused for two plane flights and a weeklong vacation, say. And when interesting articles caught my eye I could e-mail them to friends who I thought might be interested in them, print them out and mark them up for typesetting if I thought I could use them in a Greenhaven anthology . . . all the things that the book publishers would be dead set against me doing with any of their content. So why are the magazine/journal publishers so much less concerned about this than the book publishers are?

I don't think it has to do with popularity—The New Yorker, for example, has a circulation of over a million, which handily beats all but the most popular best-selling books. But I really don't know what it is, either. Theories?

3 comments:

alanajoli said...

I suspect it's mostly fear, and that it's probably based on the newspaper industry--which (unlike the magazines you cite) has shown a significant decline. Do I think that fear is merited? Pretty much not--PW's ebooks blogger is pretty anti-DRM, because he thinks that's what's preventing ebooks from reaching a wider market.

I'm more likely to take the gaming industry line. The people who are stealing your books are usually doing it for the sake of stealing them, and aren't your target market anyway. The people who actually understand that sales are what makes it so you can keep creating books will buy your product. That puts a whole lot of faith in the consumer, which maybe isn't merited as far as bestselling novels are concerned. But it might actually help small publishers get ahead. *shrug* We'll have to see.

Kat with a K said...

1) I haven't stopped to really think about this so I'm not sure where I'm going with it, but could the difference have something to do with the underlying assumption that people keep books, but discard magazines as soon as they read them?

2) I am not in any way saying that your reading isn't real reading, but one benefit that I get from fiction that I don't get from most non-fiction (and I read a lot of both, in both book and article form) is a relaxation/escapism thing. Just thought I'd mention. :)

Julia said...

Right, I wasn't saying that reading fiction is pointless. But the NEA reports aren't talking about personal benefits like escapism; they're talking about "educational" benefits like increasing reading speed/comprehension through practice, or increasing one's ability to concentrate, or things like that. Which I still maintain apply equally to fiction and non-fiction reading.