Does e-Book Piracy Increase without DRM?

So far the evidence from Tor Books and O’Reilly (publisher of David Pogue’s Missing Manual series) has shown no decrease in sales when their e-Books went DRM free. Conventional wisdom was simply wrong.

Conventional wisdom says that, without Digital Rights Management (DRM or copy protection) e-book piracy would rise and authors and publishers would lose all sales to those “pirates”. Well, Tor Books has said that cutting DRM hasn’t hurt business. Likewise David Pogue, on reporting about the Tor books experiment, notes that when he and his publisher O’Reilly experimented with going DRM free on one of his Missing Manual series, there was no drop in sales from the DRM version.

Quoting from Ars Technica

Tor announced last April that it would only retail e-books in DRM-free formats because its customers are “a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

This week, Julie Crisp, editorial director at Tor UK, wrote that the publisher has seen “no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year.”

David Pogue’s article on the subject goes on to examine what makes the difference between a person deciding to pirate or not to pirate, and it’s not as simple as DRM or no DRM. As Tor books and his own experiements show, DRM has little affect. What does have an affect are:

  • Copy protection doesn’t have zero effect (it discourages casual pirates)
  • It’s not only “fair product for a fair price”, friction in the transaction counts
  • Pricing is relevant. Consumers rebel against e-Book pricing at the same level as physical books (for good reason)

Pogue concludes:

Even though we don’t know for sure, there’s mounting evidence that e-books are more like music files than DVD movies: removing copy protection doesn’t hurt and might help. And there’s very little evidence that copy protection is stopping piracy.

That doesn’t mean the issue is settled either way. The point is, there’s very little evidence. More publishers in more categories should perform more experiments like Tor’s. Let’s quit opining about what will happen, and find out.


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