Peter Glaskowsky – Another Clueless DRM Defender

Peter Glaskowsky has an analysis of DRM over at CNET that essentially makes the following claim about DRM — Kindle owners and iTunes store users don’t have a problem with DRMed e-books/music, therefore DRM “is commercially practical and acceptable to consumers.” Ugh.

Glaskowsky oversells how willing consumers are to buy DRMed music. Obviously if there were no problem at all with DRMed music, then Amazon itself would not be in the business of selling DRM-free MP3s. In fact, Amazon’s tagline on its MP3 downloads area is “Play Anywhere, DRM-Free Downloads.”

But, of course, when it comes to the Kindle, when you buy a book for Amazon’s e-book reader you are essentially not buying the book but rather simply renting it until Amazon decides to stop supporting the platform. I’m not surprised that Glaskowsky’s anecodtal evidence tells him that no one really minds this. That’s because the evil nature of DRM schemes really don’t come into play until the user wants to leave for another platform and finds out that’s impossible.

This happened with the Rocket eBook, of course. Lots of book fans paid the outrageous price for that e-book reader and then bought lots of content for it, only to find themselves lock out of the books they thought they had bought when Rocket went belly up. Not to mention those suckers customers who paid for Mobipocket DRMed ebooks (Mobipocket is the basis for the DRM in the Kindle) only to find themselves locked out of their books for awhile last year when Mobipocket’s DRM server was down for an extended period of tiem.

The same thing will happen eventually to Kindle owners — another platform will come along from Sony or someone else and they’ll think about switching until they realize every electronic book they own is locked to their Kindle.

Consider how music and e-book DRM works compared to a DRM system that does genuinely work — the DRM system that is used in DVDs. I buy DVDs even though they are DRMed because despite the DRM I can pretty much be guaranteed that they will work on any DVD player I choose probably for much longer than the effective lifetime of the DVD itself. I still don’t like DRM on my DVDs, but it is a minimal hassle.

Now imagine we had the sort of DRM that Glaskowsky finds perfectly acceptable for books applied to DVDs. DVDs would be tied to a single manufacturer’s system. When my Sony DVD player broke, I wouldn’t be able to just go out and buy a new DVD player from any manufacturer since my DVDs would only work on Sony’s system. If I want to get that cheaper DVD player with more features from Amazon, I could, but I’d have to repurchase every movie I own on Amazon-branded DVDs.

Now, the first year Sony released its DVD player and I rushed out and bought DVDs I probably wouldn’t care about the brand-specific DRM. It works great, I don’t have any problems with my playing my movies. Aha, Glaskowsky would say, this just proves that DRM is a grand idea and only crusty old ideologues would have any problem with this system. Of course, the second my DVD player breaks and I realize my DVDs are tied to Sony-only, I might have a much different conclusion. In fact, like many consumers, I might even be shocked to learn that my Sony DVDs won’t play on Amazon DVD players.

I have a Kindle and I use it all the time. But I wouldn’t waste a dime on a Kindle-only book, anymore than I would buy a Sony-only DVD, or a Jensen-only CD.

And the kicker, of course, is that the best thing that can be said about DRM is that it is an annoyance to legitimate customers. It does little at all to forestall piracy. Almost all of the Kindle-only DRMed content is easily available in DRM-free formats if you know where to look.

It is a strange system that essentially punishes only the honest people who actually step up and pay for content, while posting at most a minor annoyance for those who could care less and simply pirate whatever they want to see, read, hear.

But I suspect that objection is a bit too “philosophical” against Glaskowsky’s anecdotal evidence about how people feel about DRM on their Kindle less than a year after it’s release.

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5 thoughts on “Peter Glaskowsky – Another Clueless DRM Defender”

  1. Look, you don’t like DRM. Fine. I don’t like it either.

    But you need to be able to distinguish opinions from facts.

    The fact is, DRM is commercially practical (because multiple vendors use it successfully) and acceptable to consumers (because consumers, you know, accept it).

    DRM for music is certainly acceptable; most of Apple’s iTunes music has DRM, and Apple sells a bunch of it.

    And music is a much tougher situation for DRM. People generally insist on being able to listen to each piece many times and on multiple devices; they want their music collections to be reliably portable over a long period of time. And yet, millions of people buy music from the iTunes Music Store.

    Books are a much more DRM-friendly situation. Obviously book collectors don’t buy e-books at all, and e-books aren’t really useful for reference books either. E-books are best used for fiction, and most people read a novel only once… maybe a second time within weeks or months, but that’s rare.

    So an e-book with DRM, locked to a single user account (or even a single device) doesn’t interfere with how most people read most e-books.

    You don’t want DRM. Fine, don’t buy it. But don’t pretend that nobody wants it or that nobody is buying it. That’s just not how things are working out in the real world.

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  2. Peter,

    You write “You don’t want DRM. Fine, don’t buy it. But don’t pretend that nobody wants it or that nobody is buying it.”

    Really? Just go look at the Kindle product page and read it closely. Then check out their Kindle FAQ page. Where does Amazon mention DRM? Where does Amazon mention that any books you might buy from Amazon are tethered to your Kindle forever?

    Of course, it doesn’t, which is a little odd if, as you claim, people are so happy with DRM.

    The reality is that Amazon does a nice job of hiding from its customers that it even has a DRM scheme, much less that its DRM scheme is Kindle-specific. Amazon and others are making money off of the general public’s lack of technical sophistication in understanding what DRM is and how it limits their accessibility to content they think they’ve actually bought.

    There are going to be plenty of customers who buy a Kindle and lots of books assuming that even if there is some sort of DRM scheme that surely its going to be like the DVD DRM scheme that is not manufacturer specific. Then when they decide they want to upgrade to Sony’s new e-book reader a couple years from now, they’re going to be in for a nice surprise.

    Again, this is nothing new. This is exactly what happened with Rocket and their platform was never nearly as successful as the Kindle, but wound up leaving plenty of people books they no longer had access to other than on a dead platform.

    As Steve Pendergrast over at nicely summed it up,

    Kindle’s success (whatever that is, all we have currently is secondhand rumors on number of units) does not prove DRM is good. Customers do not realize the ‘gotcha’ until they want to move their purchases to another device.

    Then they realize what the issue is. Kindle was just released 8 months ago. Most customers have not thought about upgrading to other devices yet.

  3. Nope. No idea what my darn password was. (Sharing a computer today.)

    I’ve been waiting my whole life for a digital book revolution. We recently moved and over a third or more of our storage unit is just books. But just yesterday I donated books we no longer wanted to the public library, and I’ve sold books to used bookstores for years.

    In a DRM-locked world how do libraries or used bookstores fit in? Or are they some sad legacy of a better past?

  4. I read a lot of electronic books, but I tend to buy the paper versions too because I have a long-standing habit of marking up books as I read — lots of “no” and “idiot” in the marginalia. 🙂

    Used bookstores are pretty much out. With most e-books, you’re really only licensing them so there is no right of re-sale. Its just like MP3s. Amazon’s MP3 downloads are DRM free, but when you download them you “agree that you will not redistribute, transmit, assign, sell, broadcast, rent, share, lend, modify, adapt, edit, sub-license or otherwise transfer or use the Digital Content.”

    AFAIK, those sort of provisions have not really been challenged in court yet which would be interesting. The prohibition against modifying and editing them would seem to be especially problematic.

    E-books and libraries are a huge can of worms. The university I work at subscribes to Safari’s Online e-book service, for example, which has some typical oddities. For example, when I am logged in from my work computer, I can access all of the paid books. However, there are a number of older books that I actually cannot access here, but that I can access from home when I am not logged in. Apparently its some convoluted rights issue that underscores that e-books are still like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.

  5. Dear all,
    I’m a student of Management Engineering at Politecnico di Torino. One of the objectives of my master thesis, applied to a real case study, is the protection of confidential or valuable content using Digital Rights Management (DRM) techniques. I would like to start my research by doing a survey among expert and professionals in the IT sector.
    As part of this work, I have developed a questionnaire whose purpose is collecting feedback in order to come up with an objective assessment of the market where such software for protecting digital assets could be deployed.
    If you would be so kind to help me in doing my thesis, I will be happy to share with you the results of the survey by sending you the final report (which will be anonymous and respectful of your privacy). You can find the questionnaire online at the following link:
    Thank you very much in advance for your kind help and your time.
    Best regards,

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