Of DRM, cheap media and convenience.

[Prompted by this article from the always-worth-reading Sanya Weathers, but too long to be politely posted in her comments thread.]

I've been a gamer for the past three decades, an avid reader for five years more, and a father for the last 5 years. Nobody in my household is exactly averse to music, either. 
The total surface area of exposed books, CDs  and DVD (and the odd VHS/Beta/DAT shell) spines on my bookshelves could probably host a decent game of volleyball and yet: most of it has been amounting to not much more than wall insulation ever since HDD storage became cheaper (per gigabyte) than CD/DVD as a backup medium — so, circa 2002

As for games, even before then, I'd become used to he practice of getting a crack or 'liberated' copy for any game that would expect me to keep a plastic pancake whirring and grinding at all times in my computer optical reader, and to do away with the CD/DVD entirely whenever HDD capacity allowed to dump the entire game on disk, thus saving on inconvenience: swapping disks, loading times, ear and media tear.

Once some game publishers got into the habit of dumping multi-gigabyte game data on HDD as a matter of installation, yet still kept demanding I re-heat waffles in my laptop for as long as I play, I stopped feeling clever for optimizing loading times and battery life, and started getting seriously puzzled at their rationale…

All moot now, as hinted above: every game, movie or music I buy on plastic media these days gets ripped to HDD before its inaugural run on my screen. I tote 1TB of kid animation and movies (roughly a thousand feature-length's worth) in my backpack at all times, neatly  arranged in a 2.5", under-a-pound, quick-loading package that can plug'n'play into anything, from my coffee-table laptop, to my son's old 12" G4 iBook, my wife's 10.1" tablet, the home projector, or the grandparent's big-screen TV (thus avoiding low-interest 'kids' TV programs — seriously, how often can you luck upon Ghibli/Pixar stuff on network TV ?). Obviously there's a second 2.5" drive packing goods for the grownups. 
…all of which weighs about the same as a 'compact' DVD album, and is half as bulky.

And yes, VLC ftw: watching a movie on an otherwise excellent 17" laptop is an experience soon ruined by the background hum'n'whirr of a DVD reader, not to mention the ridiculous cost in battery life. 
And then you have the FBI/RIAA/MPAA warnings, which are silly in the extreme and exemplary of what's wrong with the entire model.
Listen, Hollywood: if my copy is pirated, I obviously have little regards for the MPAA's hurt feelings, and if not, you're getting in the way of me enjoying the product I've paid for, while not adding any appreciable value to my experience: you're not helping your cause (or my being sympathetic to it) either way.


Books are a slightly different animal: I understand some people don't like reading book-length text on-screen, and would rather use the paper version. I don't mind it either way personally, but still was on the fence on the matter of convenience of use… until good tablets showed up. 
Especially if you enjoy behemoth-sized books, which are common in the SFF, history and science departments, adding a eleven-hundred pages brick you're already two-thirds through to your handbag can give you pause, hence going the ebook way has become something of a no-brainer for me in the past year or so.

But anyone who's been paying even marginal attention to the matter of ebooks knows publishing them isn't as simple as "Print to: pdf": it takes skilled work to convert a book layout and font work to read comfortably on a 10", not to mention 7" touchscreen, and things aren't entirely quirk-free on that front just yet, so I'm not sure buying a paperback should automatically entitle one to a complimentary ebook voucher.

Maybe dead-tree editions could include a coupon for a discount on the ebook, just like the ebook could include a similar-value coupon for paper or electronic copies you subsequently buy as presents (maybe it's just in my circles, but the people I know don't just give away or loan their own books, they also tend to buy several copies for the explicit purpose of  offering them to friends).
None of the current marketing/DRM schemes in the ebook business properly account for the cross-pollinisation between readerships of various genres/authors/supports, and the Babel-like format confusion doesn't help either. 
Whether a unified format (jQuery ftw ?) for ebooks will address the formats issue remains to be seen, but asking people to use a different set of proprietary reading glasses for every other book sure isn't helping sales, nor is it a smart allocation of resources and expenses on the production/publishing end of things.

It is clear that the strong-arm negotiating style of Amazon and Apple aren't helping authors and editors, while most book publishers are fighting the same kind of rear-guard battle the RIAA is, trying to milk an extra gallon or three from this very dead cow before the stench becomes unbearable, but that's too big a topic for this present post. [Go there to read smarter people than I on the issue]

The takeaway is people will read books, and if the industry doesn't provide convenient, sensibly priced and unobtrusive means to get and read them, it will simply be passed by. Whether that is conducive to more good books or less/worse ones being released in the future is anyone's guess.


Generally speaking, the same question applies to the distribution of books, movies, games, and music: either do away with DRM, or make it sensible, transparent and beneficial to the customer, all of which is entirely possible, at least in those parts where you take people access to the net for granted — most of the time.
You can't beat your customers away from piracy and expect to win, all you can do is lure customers away from piracy by offering them better value and/or superior convenience.

Ideally, create an industry-wide virtual-assets account management system, that would give people convenient access to the entire catalog of their owned products, regardless of publisher. Allow the client-side software to act as a local server while offline (html5-style), and possibly enable sharing/trading on a LAN even while cut off the internet (caching events and changes to be synched up next time inet is available).

More importantly, if your products come with online verification attached, give people reasons to like it: offer coupons, rebates, special offers (director's cut early-releases, or extras) to returning customers, and do not stop people from playing their copy when they can't access the net, provided their copy has been validated once.
Similarly, do not attempt to stop people from transferring or giving away the stuff they bought from you (second-hand sales may be another issue, though, better tackled by embracing the rent/PPV model), and instead incentivize buying an extra copy (for cheaper) to give away instead, and extend and facilitate affiliate-like programs where customers gets points/vouchers for recommending products to their friends, etc.
A massive cross-publisher catalog could enable customers to build their own 'collections', mixed-tape style: buy "Marge Perkins' The 10 cookbooks to have and their matching soundtracks" and save 25$ !


Alternate funding and revenue models have emerged over the past couple years, mostly in book and music publishing so far, although indie games and movies are showing how even comparatively heavy-iron media don't necessarily have to depend on mega-corporations for their funding, marketing and revenue.

The apparent progress in emancipating creators from the often abusive relationship with ebil corporate publishers should however not hide the fact liberation is typically only gained through creators becoming their own publishers/marketeers/sales-and-business people, with the possible drawback that business acumen (as separate from artistic value) may weigh excessively in the selective process of who gets to make a living of their craft. The corollary being: while you're (more or less competently) updating your facebook page, handling accounting and planning for promo events, you're not doing whatever it is you're supposed to be good at — and paid for…


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