e-book with or without DRM


I would like to hear your opinion about DRM in the Kindle Shop as I plan to publish a novel as e-book.

Would you publish it with DRM activated or without DRM?

Thanks for your input!

I’m so not a fan of DRM. I feel it punishes people who have bought something. I had a DVD-RW drive die on me after unknowingly installing a starforced game, so, yeah. Not a fan. (And that’s the family-friendly version.)

I would keep the DRM but price it low, for the widest possible sales.
You deserve payment for your efforts; that’s for sure.
And e-book prices need to come down, to encourage adoption.
I’m thinking that a penny-a-page is a fair market price.
And hope that a 2.99 book sells 50,000 copies.
It can happen.

I’m really interested in the thoughts of published authors, but as a reader I’m against DRM. There are several reasons, but they can probably be summarised with portability and price.

I think e-books are overpriced. I’m happy to pay for the books I read, but I won’t pay as much for an e-book as I will for paper copy. For the hardcopy, I’m getting solid matter. I’m paying for paper and binding and ink and transport and storage as well as profits to publisher, wholesaler, retailer and (hopefully!) author. All of that goes into the price.

I also get a book that I can read now, tomorrow, in 2 weeks or 20 years. I can on-sell it when I’m done or donate it to charity. I can lend it to friends. I can do what I like with it. I can’t do any of that with an e-book. There’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to read it in 5 years, let alone 20. I’m certainly not paying for materials or transport (and I don’t believe that storing an ebook costs more than storing a paper version) - so how come authors aren’t getting paid a higher percentage of the sale price (please correct me if they are)? Add DRM into the mix and I can’t lend it to anyone, I can’t on-sell it, I can’t do anything I can do with a paper copy.

Well, sorry for being an author, but we deserve our profits. People who send multiple copies to relatives or friends, and libraries that share copies with borrowers may encourage reading, but not writing or publishing. A book may have many thousands of such readers, and they are never reflected in sales records.

I did say that e-books should be priced low. In my penny-a-page model, a 2.99 book may be cheap enough that many folks will buy instead of pirating the title. If authors sell directly via Amazon, they get 70% of each sale. Exit agents and publishers, and also the gate-keeping they perform to maintain standards of quality. The self-publishing hordes are putting up lots of shovel-ware lately, and over-crowding may soon quell enthusiasm among readers. Even Apple has begun to purge the dreck from its gargantuan iOS app store.

You object to not “owning” an e-book, which is true. In the Amazon scheme, we rent titles; they remain the property of publishers and Amazon, stored in perpetuity on servers. But the advantages are galore: no cluttered bookshelves accumulating dust, no yellowing and curled pages, no copies loaned out and not returned, no piles of heavy boxes to handle with each move.

For books that I study closely, the e-versions are superior to paper/ink. Quick searching, copying passages, writing notes, projecting texts for classes; it’s all easier, especially on the Kindle for Mac application. I especially like reference titles, such as The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, $40 in hardback and $20 on Kindle.

For authors who publish through traditional houses, their royalty on e-book sales would depend on their contract, and may or may not be the same as their royalty on print sales.

Authors who self-publish get a substantially larger fraction of the cover price. Of course, they also carry a substantially larger fraction of the risk, as they assume the whole burden of editing, design, and marketing.

As a reader, I hate DRM. As a writer, though, I’m really concerned about people who like my work so much that they “share” it with their hundred closest friends… none of whom give me a dime. Would you pay enough more for a DRM-free edition to compensate me for that? Somehow I doubt it.


Thanks a lot for all your comments. I am eager to hear more.

It comes down to this. We all hate DRM as readers, but as authors we want to be paid for our work.

druids idea with a penny-a-page is interesting. I wanted to sell the ebook at half the price of the paperback, which would be 4,99 EUR. But this would be more than a cent per page. I get 265 pages with the Novel Standard Manuscript Format. And the printed paperback had only 150 pages. 4,99 is a low price, but it is imho not low enough to make people buy it just to see if the story suits their fancies. 2,99 EUR might be such a price.

For the background. In Germany ebooks nearly have the same price as the printed paperback version. They are 10 or 20% cheaper. YMMV. So half the price of the printed book is cheaper than the average. But I am an unknown author so 2,99 might be better.

What about this: 4,99 without DRM (to be a nice naive author) or 2,99 with DRM (to be just fair)?

As a reader, I don’t see the issue of either paying you, or you using DRM. If I want to read your book on an unsupported device, or in a program that would allow me to manipulate the fonts in a better way, or if I was studying your writing in order to show off in a book club… DRM makes it more difficult for me to accomplish all of these things, if not outright impossible.

So my choice becomes: pay for a DRM copy that doesn’t suit my desires, or find it already un-DRM’d by some hacker who doesn’t believe you deserve to be paid.I can pay for the DRM’d book, but then go and download the hacked version and use it, but how often do people really go to that kind of trouble once they lay hands on something for free? Note that personally, I read mostly for pleasure, and haven’t run across an e-book so far that made me turn to a hacked version in order for me to consume it in an otherwise prohibited way. All of this rambling on my part is just suppositions and anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered from following various authors who earn their livings primarily or wholly through writing books.

As a side note, please reconsider if you think of Libraries as robbing you of sales. The greatest challenge to authors is not copies being lent* or resold… it is obscurity that dooms the efforts of otherwise good authors. Book lovers will recommend your book to anyone they know who reads and might enjoy your work. Without book lending, either institutional or individual, I am sure that far fewer books would be sold overall.

  • Ebooks, just like their physical counter-parts, are only lent to one person at a time. A library must purchase multiple copies to lend them out simultaneously.

Yes, absolutely authors should be paid. But I won’t buy DRM’ed things, be it software, music, movies, or books. I’m not alone in this, either.

Hi juh,

Best of luck with your novel. As a consumer, I really don’t mind whether an item has DRM or not - except to the extent that generally speaking I’d like copyright protection so arranged that creatives continue to thrive and offer as much and as diverse material to entertain, inform and educate me as is possible in our society.

As someone struggling to write something intended for publication: I sure as hell hope that if DRM won’t protect my rights to some income from it (assuming my hopes are fulfilled) something else - legal, electronic, administrative, I don’t care - will turn up that does.

There’s been a recent continuing discussion of the wider issues involved on Scrivener user and fiction author David Hewson’s blog. I find some of the information presented there pretty scary. This post, for example, highlights the case of another author, who’s written a standard technical work the latest edition of which was available for illegal download even before he received a copy himself. As a result this author says he’s giving up his full-time authorship career.

I’m familiar with the arguments pro and con, and I know that DRM can be a cumbersome and discouraging protection. But something’s needed.


Hi Hugh,

thanks for your kind words.

You made some interesting points.

I think that the only protection against piracy is fairness.

And the healthy selfishness you described in your post:

If you google for “remove DRM ebook”, you’ll find loads of how-tos to remove the DRM from Kindle books or other ebooks. And if you want to download a pirated copy, google will show you the way, as David Flanagan wrote in his blog post.

I can imagine that technical books are often pirated, because they are quite expensive. This is really bad for authors that try to make a living with writing technical books.

Reading some of the how-to-remove-DRM articles on the web and the postings in this thread, I get the impression that DRM is annoying even to fair readers who want to read the book on an other device. As I don’t own an ebook reader I have no experience myself – but I would be pissed off if I eg. could not make a backup of a CD on my computer by converting it into a lossless format.

I think that fairness is the only reliable palladium for authors and other artists. I think it is fair to lend a book to my wife, my children, my relatives and my close friends even if that means that I produce an additional copy of an ebook. It’s unfair to put it online so that anyone can grab it.

Sure, low hurdles heighten the temptation to download copyrighted material. But I am not sure if DRM heightens the hurdles or only increase the annoyance.


I’d just back up Hugh’s comments here… I’ve never met an ordinary reader who cares one whit about DRM on Kindle. Only people obsessed with their ‘rights’, most of which affect the rights of writers to earn a living from their work.

Kindle DRM is extremely mild. It’s not like the old iTunes one where your lost your music if you lost your iPod or changed your Mac too often. Buy a Kindle book (which will usually be cheaper than its print equivalent) and it stays on Amazon’s servers as backup. You can read it on Kindle hardware, iPhones, iPads, Androids, PCs, Macs. And you can carry on reading it that way for the rest of your life knowing you’ll never have to buy another copy after losing the old one or spilling coffee on it. You just can’t sell it secondhand on eBay or pester the author to sign it at a book event and then hope to sell it on eBay for four times the price (with nothing for the author of course). Big deal.

The whole ‘ebooks are a ripoff punishing the poor consumer’ riff is frankly pathetic. In the UK books are 30-40% cheaper than they were six years ago. Readers have never had it so good.

I do wonder whether the army of bores who keep asking authors to ‘justify their prices’ (which have been cut more than any other industry I know of late) ever walk into Burger King or Starbucks and ask them to justify their prices for a Whopper or a coffee, both of which may well cost more than a mass market ebook right now.

@Druid: no need to apologise for being an author. In fact, sing from the mountain top! I asked for your view and am grateful you gave it. And, to be clear, I absolutely believe authors should be paid for their efforts. Books have given me great joy in my life, and I want authors to be paid well so more great books (and even moderately good ones) will be written. I also want to be clear that, as a reader, almost all of the books I have bought I have previously read a book by the author that I borrowed from a friend or a library (sometimes even the same book if I liked it enough!). Those initial non-sales have generated enough subsequent real-sales to populate almost my entire library. By preventing lending, and pricing e-books so high, authors are missing out on those word-of-mouth sales. Maybe it’s a small proportion overall, and maybe free distribution on the internet outweighs the possible gain.

Perhaps the situation in Australia is different from other parts of the world (I honestly don’t know) but generally when I have priced e-books here they are virtually the same price as their paper versions. I don’t have a dedicated e-book reader, so am reliant on either my laptop (awful for reading books!) or my iPhone (too small to read properly, but I have read a few books to try it). Price is a big concern.

The other problem I have with DRM is that sometimes I will search for a book I want, find it a reasonable price, then discover that either (a) it is not available in Australia or (b) it is not available in a format I can use on my iOS device (I’m looking at you Adobe!). As an example of the ridiculous of geographic restrictions, with a fantasy series I was reading, book 1 was available as e-book so I bought it. I went to buy books 2 & 3 and they were not available in Australia. The same series! With other books I’ve found, and this applies more to non-fiction, I have discovered they are only available in Adobe’s horrid format. I learnt my lesson with Adobe after mistakenly believing their books would work on my old PalmOS device - I now read the DRM use restrictions very very carefully. Once bitten, twice shy…

I’m not opposed to DRM in principle, in fact I think it worthwhile. However I do not like the current implementation that, in my experience to date, has tried to apply hard-copy publication rules on electronic distribution. That is, applying geographic restrictions (which is nonsensical online) and treating e-books as a commodity (like paper) rather than a service. Often I look at the paper copy (say $25) and then the ebook (say $22.95) and think, “Why would I pay that?”. The perceived value of the paper copy is much greater. Maybe it’s a bricks-and-mortar style fallacy, but it’s there. The situation is worse for technical books. I was looking for one recently, and the ebook was more expensive than the paper copy, with greater restrictions on use (no copying or printing) and both were priced well over $100. I can recoup some of the cost of a paper book by on-selling it to other students when I’m done, but I can’t do that with the e-book. In the end, the author of that book didn’t get any royalties form me because I found a free alternative at my library. Lost sales to competitors don’t help authors pay the mortgage any more than free distribution (I would argue even less than free distribution - at least with the latter word of mouth increases the possibility of future sales).

I guess what I’m saying is that I probably agree with you. I’d take a punt on more ebooks if they were priced under $5 and I could buy them in Australia. If they required less investment, I wouldn’t mind the restrictions so much. Unfortunately, so far I haven’t found any of the authors I like or want to try, in that price range and so have bought very very few e-books.

@Katherine: Thanks for your thoughts. Good to know that contracts (at least sometimes) include different royalty rates for different distribution methods.

To answer your question: I’m happy to buy a DRM version of your book, but only if it is substantially cheaper than a paper copy since, in essence, I don’t own it and have nothing other than the word of the publisher that it will be available to me tomorrow. As a reader, I’d like to buy your books. If I can’t buy them, I’ll do what readers have always done: access by other means or buy others’ books.

@juh: Good luck with your publishing. Please let us know what you end up doing and where/how we can purchase the end result! :slight_smile:

I think it’s important to remember that it’s still early days for e-books. The Kindle is not much more than three years old, the iPad barely a year. That’s an eternity in technology, but not very long at all in terms of the time it takes to write and publish books. Almost all books currently on the market were written – and contracted for – before e-books were much more than an afterthought. It will take a while for licensing and royalties and all the rest to catch up to the new shape of the world.


PS Don’t blame authors. In most cases, they’re just as stuck with the publisher’s terms as readers are.

This is absolutely nothing to do with DRM. It happens when your local publisher hasn’t bought or produced an ebook edition. Books are sold on geographical rights. If an American publisher doesn’t have rights to sell ebooks in Australia he can’t sell them there, DRMed or not. You should be asking the local publisher for an ebook edition, not blaming the situation on technology.

Ebooks are only really developed in the US, UK and to some extent Germany at the moment. There isn’t a global ebook market except for writers who sell all world rights to a single publisher (which is unusual outside the US). Australia isn’t developed as an ebooks market at all but doubtless will be over the years to come (especially when Kindle arrives).

If you want to borrow, lend or resell a book buy (or get) the paper one.

I started an inquiry on Facebook, which e-book price would be bearable.

facebook.com/pages/Die-Reise … l&filter=2

If you are on Facebook, please consider voting.


I don’t. :slight_smile:

I know about geographical rights. However, I can buy a paper book from anywhere in the world, but not so with ebooks because DRM restrictions will not allow it. So DRM most certainly prevents me from buying the books I want to read.

But we are talking about pricing e-books and the presence or otherwise of DRM. As a reader, I was responding to some earlier points about the potential lost sales borrowing represents. My response was that lending books leads to new readers, and hence more sales. As a reader the lack of ability to borrow e-books, coupled with their high price, means that I am less likely to discover new authors, and hence give them my money, than I was with paper books.

I do not want to be hostile or argumentative (and sincerely apologise if I am coming across that way), I am trying to discuss the issues related to the pricing and distribution of e-books that affect both authors and readers. While I believe paper books will be around for the foreseeable future, I think e-books will become the dominant distribution format. Yet, as Katherine said, the format is still immature. I do hope that it matures quickly and that it is able to address the many issues that are holding it back (such as DRM, price, format, etc). But the current way it is implemented and priced is not working. Perhaps publishers and distributors are profiting from it (I don’t know. I suspect there are at least some deliberate efforts to direct readers to paper, at least in Australia) but not authors and readers. I would be delighted to discover I am wrong as I most certainly want authors to get paid well. I am quite happy for you all to earn enough from your published work to live in luxurious harbourside mansions.

Sorry but you don’t understand territorial rights. If from Australia you buy a paperback from a UK retailer who ships it to you in Australia that’s fine with UK rights because it’s sold by a UK seller. The fact he’s posting it to you is irrelevant. A UK publisher who doesn’t have Australian rights cannot publish that book directly in Australia because they haven’t paid for it. Which is what would be happening if it were available as an ebook in Australia on the web.

DRM doesn’t allow it because the author hasn’t sold rights for that sale. In other words it’s protecting the copyright work of the author.

Australia is an odd and atypical book market. I know a lot of readers there buy paper books direct from the UK because it’s easier and cheaper which is just strange. I’m sure that will change though given recent collapses in the Oz book retailing business I don’t know how or when. But asking for it to change by opening up authors to yet more piracy than they suffer at the moment isn’t the way forward, nor this constant moaning about ‘pricing’.

Nor do I go for the ‘lost sales because you can’t borrow’ argument. If you want to borrow a book for free there’s a place called the library.

Ask anyone creating intellectual property – authors or software developers – and they will tell you that whatever price a book is you will still have people coming on and saying you’re ripoff and they’re going to pirate you instead. That’ll happen if it’s $99, $9 or 99 cents.

The problem is that the digital world has led some people to believe that everything must effectively be free, and will be free even if the creator doesn’t want it. A while back I published a short story direct to Kindle as an experiment, priced at 99p. Which seemed reasonable for a 10,000 word piece of fiction from an established author I thought. Within hours of it going online I had the first email asking for it for free and warning it would be got off the torrents if I didn’t acquiesce.

As to the luxurious harbourside mansions remark… Here are some statistics about what authors really earn from a recent survey by the Authors Collection and Licensing Society in the UK,

The average (mean) annual earnings of a writer: £16,531
The typical (median) earnings of a writer: £4,000
60% of people who saw themselves as ‘professional authors’ required a second source of income
The average (mean) annual earnings of a writer (25-34): £14,564
The typical (median) earnings of a writer (25-34): £5,000
The average (mean) annual earnings of a writer (35-44): £24,533
The typical (median) earnings of a writer (35-44): £18,000
The average (mean) annual earnings of a writer (45-54): £35,958
The typical (median) earnings of a writer (45-54): £14,250
The genres that earned the most money (highest to lowest): TV writing, Theatre/film writing, Audio, internet and other, Books – fiction, Books – academic/educational, Books – children’s fiction, Newspapers/magazines and Books – non-fiction.

I’m more than willing to accept I am less familiar with territorial rights than you are, but it’s not accurate to say I don’t understand them. As you note, I can buy a paper book at retail from anywhere in the world and have it shipped to Australia. However, I cannot do the same with e-books because of DRM - they prevent me from purchasing those same books, even from the same international retailers, that I could buy in paper. Hence I stand by my statement.

Yep. Agreed. I’m all for protecting authors’ rights - I don’t believe the current system does this well.

I’m not asking for authors to be open to more piracy. Honestly, I want to be able to purchase books so that authors get paid and write more books. I’m not “moaning about pricing” I’m stating that, in my opinion as a reader, e-books are currently overpriced as they do not offer the same value as a paper copy does when asked to pay almost identical prices (or in some cases more) for the electronic version.

Exactly. That was part of my initial point in response to a post above.


Agreed. If I could buy and read Kindle books I’d be delighted to pay 99p (or Australian equivalent) for something written by you.

I have seen the Australian equivalent figures (which seem in line with the UK figures you provided) and this was point. I want authors to earn more. I want authors to get a higher proportion of my money from a sale and I want authors to make more sales. There is nothing for me, as a reader, to gain if the authors I love I can’t afford to write. I’m not a “freegan” and I do believe in paying good money for good books. Of my, rather large, personal library there are very few books that I regret buying and many that I enjoy rereading.

I’ll try and phrase my points differently.
To be clear, I am not saying that e-books should be free and never intentionally stated or implied that they should be. Nor am I saying that they should be DRM free. I am saying that I don’t like DRM because it changes the relationship with the books I read. Because e-books are comparatively so expensive (and I take care to point out that I am talking from an Australian perspective, I do not know if this is the case in other parts of the world) I am concerned about the limits this imposes in comparison to paper.

For example with a paper book I can lend them and borrow them from others. I have discovered numerous authors this way and have subsequently bought their books - often including the ones I had borrowed (Stephen Donaldson, Isaac Asimov, Tim Winton and Umberto Eco are just a few of the authors to have benefitted from these “free” loans). Again to be clear, I am not saying that e-books must allow me to lend or borrow. This is simply part of a comparison of the relative value of paper and electronic books. In this case, friends and libraries lending paper books can lead to sales in ways that, currently, few e-books can match (I am a member of library that allows e-lending - so far none of the books I am interested have been available. Academically, a some of the texts I have wanted have been available to e-borrow and this has been helpful for my research - one of those books I subsequently bought the paper version).

While I also noted that I thought that e-books should be cheaper, this was not because of some argument that any price is too high. I argued they should cost less because there are virtually no production, distribution, storage or retail costs in comparison to paper books. I hope that, given the different supply chains but similar costs, authors are being paid substantially higher royalties for their e-books. My, albeit minimal, research suggests this is not the case (although I was encouraged by Katherine’s comment earlier that at least some author’s contracts do allow for different royalties).

My other point, in my original post, was that I have some security with paper books. I know that I can read them today, tomorrow, next year. My grandchildren and their children will be able to read those same books (although probably won’t). There is no guarantee of the same with e-books, especially with the current types of DRM. If I am going to pay virtually the same price, then I want more than being able to carry my entire library in my pocket - that library is useless to me if it is unreadable. I have experienced this to my loss with music tracks, movies and text and am now cautious when buying e-versions of all three.

Please understand I am not attacking authors. Apart from the fact that I still hope one day to be one (if my thesis doesn’t kill me first), I most definitely want authors to make money from their work. If e-books offered all the same benefits of paper books, I’d have no qualms paying the same price. If I knew that all the money that was previously going into production and distribution was now going into authors’ pockets instead, I’d be thrilled! My issue is not with authors, but with publishers. Like their counterparts in the music and film industries, I don’t think they have adapted well to electronic distribution and, rightly or wrongly, I think their early reticence (or continued reticence in Australia) to embrace e-books represents a lost opportunity. I suspect it will be some time before all this has settled down, and I sincerely and genuinely hope that authors come out the winners. I believe that will only be the case if the concerns of readers are heard.

People like me are not always right. I don’t know all the facts and am not intimately involved. Yet the things that stop me buying e-books are likely to stop others and I don’t think the publishing industry has responded well to those concerns. Perhaps as e-books become ever more popular, and “indie” and self-publishers start creating alternative markets, the established players will respond more effectively. I hope so.

Whatever happens, I will say again: I want authors to make money from their books. It’s the only way readers like me will get the quality we want.

One last time…

It’s nothing to do with DRM. It’s to do with rights. Even if an ebook retailer didn’t use DRM he couldn’t offer those books for sale into your territory because he doesn’t have the rights for them. In the UK, for example, people can’t buy US editions of my ebooks because the retailing site recognises their geographical location and applies restrictions based on the available rights, not DRM. As long as books are sold on the basis of geographical rights that will apply, with or without DRM. There are ways round it - I have Australian friends who seem to have set up US Kindle accounts quite easily. If you want US Kindle direct I suggest you search around and work out how to do that.

As to the argument… I can keep a paper book forever. Kindle books are clearly going to be around for a lifetime or more. Once you buy them you have them forever. Doesn’t matter if your house burns down and all your computers and iPads go with it. You can still download your entire library for nothing from Amazon for free. Ebooks are actually more convenient and secure than paper ones, and in many ways offer better value than paper, even though they’re cheaper. To say they offer less value suggests you don’t place much worth on what the book actually contains – an author’s work.

See above. 99p is for a short story. Were 99p to become the standard selling price for full-length commercial fiction the publishing business would be gone overnight. I mean really – how much does a cup of coffee cost in Australia? What’s the ‘value’ of that against something that an author might have worked on for a year or more?

I’m sure these geographical restrictions will disappear over time but not quickly because publishing is a very complicated multilingual global business. It can’t simply reinvent itself overnight though it’s come further in a few years than the music business - which doesn’t have such complex rights issues or language problems – did in a decade.

And finally – this is my last contribution here – I repeat what I said earlier. As a professional author I go to a lot of public events and talk to readers all the time. I’ve never met anyone who’s moaned about this in public. Everyone I meet loves their ereaders, especially Kindle. It’s only people on the web for some reason.