Sunday November 14, 2004
P2P and the Publishing Industry - or, Manning and DRM
Over at Manning.com there was an announcement on the discussion boards that their ebooks were going to go DRM because too many people were trading the pdfs (which may be purchased online at a discount over paper copies) on file sharing networks. I wrote a typically long-winded reply. Since this is of concern to many Perl folks, I'm pasting it in here, too. It's the first time I've collected my thoughts on file sharing (or quite likely and suitable, collected the thoughts I've assimilated from other people).
I pretty well run the guntlet - why aritsts nor file traders are to blame; who is to blame; why it's unavoidable; why falling back on the curve is undesireable; why pushing ahead on the curve is desireable; what non-technical short term things can be done; what medium term technical things can be done; what long term arrangements might look like.
So, here it is:
I'm just finishing up writing "Perl 6 Now" for Apress and a small mystery was solved for me - where do all of those clean PDFs circulating on file-sharing networks come from? Apress is sending out a batch of CD-Rs with production proofs of the chapters to people to review while the book is at the press. When it comes to people trading binary copies of information the mantra to recite is "it only takes one leaked copy". In Hollywood, the guys working the vault for post production were stealingt copies. Then celebrities themselves were trading promo copies of films (and then were caught by water marking). I've scanned out of print books, OCR'd them, and put them on the net. I've carefully proofread them and the quality is quite good; they're in HTML format with the diagrams as GIFs. Again, it only takes one leaked copy. If people are allowed to print copies of ebooks, they'll print to a file as PostScript and have a perfect copy. Only one person once has to figure this out (say it with me - it only takes one).
The pandoras box is open. I know shrinking profits hurt but DRM amounts to a futile effort to turn back the clock to a "better time" when people couldn't copy things or find things. Screw that. Taking advantage of easy copying and easy dissimination of knowledge, you can hire stay-at-home-moms to telecommute, get more feedback from people in the trenches to improve the quality of books in production (think of how Perl Cookbook harnessed the power of perlfaq combined with how C2 and Wikipedia harness the spare time and knowledge of people browsing the web, this combined with your early access program). The only way to beat the curve is to stay *ahead* of it - trying to flatten it is doomed to tragic or humous failure - but always failure.
The wave is technical - the financial return has been squandered by small minded paranoid men who want control, and I'm not talking about the publishing industry. Unemployment in the United States for programmers is above average, the average is at a high since the great depression. We're feeding monopolies as fast as we can, pumping billions of dollars out of the free market and into initiatives that amount to trying to flatten the curve and protect the old world from new technology. This is why people are poor and can't afford your books. This is why *I* can't afford books. Still, I've "wasted" hundreds of dollars I really can't spare on books. I think people are spending a dispropotionate amount of money on books considering both the economy and file trading. Don't blame yourself and don't blame your readers - just do what you have to do and cut back peoples hours, try crazy things, cut costs, get rid of offices, move to print on demand and publish half assed first editions (people talk about ORA as the pinnacle of quality but forget their origins - doing ebooks, print on demand, and publishing not entirely polished first editions).
I finished _Perl 6 Now_ not knowing what my competition looks like. If I weren't writing a book and didn't have a moral duty to my fellow authors, I'd have downloaded a copy of _Perl 6 Essentials_ 2nd ed in a heart beat. But I consider this borrowing on good will when I trade - all of us - especially the kids in highschool without jobs - *want* to speak with our money, so to speak. We want to support our favorite artists, and we want to give them warm fuzzies with their record/book/whatever sales. We want to influence the economy. We want to see more of whatever kind of book or music we like in store isles and we want it to be there because we're spending money on it. We're very captialist, in the best sense of the word, we people at home. It's the capitalists in government and big business who give the culture a bad name.
It's a crime that our culture has been priced at a level we can't afford and we've been improverished so we can't afford it; it isn't a crime to charge for access to culture as long as a healthy public domain exists. But when you feel entitled to make a living, or entitled to stay in business, or entitled to have a copy of the latest Emenim CD that things start to break down - bad things happen when people feel entitled. File traders shouldn't blame the artists (it isn't their fault that the music industry is broken or the economy is rotten) and arists shouldn't blame file traders (ditto).
Speaking of culture, whens the last time you've been to the library? They have CDs and books, but mostly books, and they represent the pinnacle of our culture (or perhaps colleges do, in which case college libraries are the place to be). People read books for free all day long. Books and CDs are more popular than they ever were, but libraries are in decline.
Reading a book at a library is just like downloading a book off the net - you have it, in every sense of the word, but you don't own it. And if you don't own something, you don't value it, and you don't use it, and people know this. No one wants to borrow their friends car whenever they want to go somewhere; theres bad will from the friend, and you just don't feel like you're driving _your_ car while you're driving it. The psychology is huge. ebooks aren't as popular as paper books still because people have a hard time translating feelings of ownership onto magnetic charges, photos, and electrons. I "have files" on my harddrive in the same way as I have a few piles of books next to me right now (entering them into bookcrossing.com - woo!) - it's a temporary arrangement but a useful arrangement and like the piles is nothing but structure and is otherwise ethereal - non-existant.
If at the library you have something but don't own it, here's the converse: how bad would it suck to pay for something and not even have it? That's DRM, and it sucks beyond words. It sucks Dark Ages bad. The back of the curve isn't where you want to be.
I'm not saying you should encourage people to trade books online. Here's a suggestion: get a fast network connection, run eDonkey, gtk-gnutella, Kazaa, and the rest of them, and distribute a copy of the book on all of the networks that's perfect in every way but contains some interesting information (and it is interesting) on how few actually sell (I'm told a moderately successful technical book will sell 20,000 copies), how much authors make (not much), point to your permissive DRM-free ebook policy, list topics you'd like to print books on but had to reject because the market can't currently bare them, and encourage the reader to buy the book if she enoys it and finds herself reading more than a few chapters or referencing it more than a few times. But that's not all. I'm not a hopeful idealist. Watermark all of your downloads. This will have a double effect of fragmenting the copies on file sharing networks as there will be hundreds of copies of the same thing, each different, and this will make searching, ratings, and swarming difficult. And then make it very clear as people go to download that the cost of the ebook is actually $100 more than what they've been charged at checkout but the last $100 is forgiven as long as their watermarked copy doesn't appear anywhere. Then write some software and start collecting. There are Perl modules to speak popular peer protocols and Perl modules to interact with common payment gateways. Coincidence? I think not.
Human behavior can largely be explained by greed and generosity; the old "gift cultures" of native American indians strongly resembles the file trading culture which resebles the Free Software culture. This stems from a desire to gain value in the eyes of the men we respect the most. Greed stimulates people to pay for works-for-hire and to hoard. Hoarding information is no longer possible. So it's all works-for-hire from here on out.