Author Services Site Lulu Moves Toward DRM-Free; But Is It What Authors Want?

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Self-publishing site Lulu has announced that it will no longer offer digital rights management (DRM) as an option for its authors for books created and sold on Lulu (for books created on Lulu and sold elsewhere, they will still be subject to DRM; also, hat-tip to Laura Owen at paidContent).

While well-informed readers and much of the digerati in the book publishing world are anti-DRM and may be lauding this move as another chink in the armor of DRM. Add it to other recent developments:

– June: Macmillan announced it would sell DRM-free books directly to readers through its store at Tor.com
– June: IPG-distributed publishers decide to sell DRM-free in the wake of an Amazon lockout
– Oct.: HarperCollins dabbles in DRM-free ebooks through a social reading experiment
– Oct.: A wave of anti-DRM sentiment briefly sweeps readers in the wake of a story (that turned out to be a bit overblown) about an Amazon customer who lost her library
– Nov.: Wiley decides to sell 3,000 of its titles DRM-free through the O’Reilly DRM-free ebook store

But what do authors — Lulu’s customers — think?

According to a recent survey conducted by Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest (also owned by F+W Media) of nearly 5,000 authors, Lulu might have made a mistake. More than any other position, authors are generally in favor of DRM.

We asked them the following question:

What should be done about Digital Rights Management (DRM) software? [DRM is technology that limits access to files and is used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, and other copyright holders to limit the use of digital content. DRM prevents consumers from making as many copies of an ebook as they want and then giving them away.]

And gave them the following choices (% for each answer in parentheses):

– DRM should be strengthened — ebook piracy is a problem that should be combated aggressively (32%)
– DRM should be left alone — it’s fine the way it is (11%)
– DRM should be changed — it needs to be more flexible to allow more readers to share ebooks (16%)
– DRM should be abolished — it prevents readers from sharing books and it doesn’t prevent piracy (11%)
– No opinion (30%)

About a third of authors are for actually strengthening DRM (red bar) and a total of 43% want it either strengthened or left alone. Only 11% want what Lulu has given them.

When you look at which kinds of authors (aspiring, self-published, traditionally published, both self- and traditionally published and all published [meaning adding up the latter three categories]) have what position, “aspiring” authors (those who haven’t published a book in any form) are least in favor of strengthening DRM at 29%. Of all published authors, 35% want it strengthened, with 39% of traditionally published authors holding that view.

That said, outside of the view that it should be strengthened (or no opinion at all), the second most-popular view was that it should be changed to be more flexible. Abolishing DRM was among the least popular views — except, surprisingly, among authors who have been both self-published and traditionally published. Nearly a quarter of them wanted it abolished.

At Digital Book World Conference + Expo next week, in a session entitled The Authors’ View of the Industry we will be presenting the findings of our author survey, including the answer to questions about how much authors blog and use social media, what their goals are in writing, what they think of agents, ebooks in libraries, publishers and more! Register here.

Jeremy Greenfield

About Jeremy Greenfield

Jeremy Greenfield is the editorial director of Digital Book World. Opinions presented here are his own. Read more of his work here.

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8 thoughts on “Author Services Site Lulu Moves Toward DRM-Free; But Is It What Authors Want?

  1. As a recently published author, I find DRM confusing. On the whole, I feel I want my ebook to be borrowed/shared, but what would ne great is to know that it has been borrowed, like you do with Amazon, because it is knowing that your book is being read that makes the hard work worthwhile, isn’t it? Having said that I cannot underestimate how important sales and income are to authors as we need to make ends meet in order to continue with our work. Knowledge is something that should be sharable, but books and ebooks cost money to create, so we need a happy medium. Hope we will find it.

  2. At last! A voice for the professional author in this debate, rather than apologists who seem to think that because DRM isn’t 100% effective, it has no value and they somehow ‘own’ the copyright of their purchase. Sorry, but if you buy a physical book, you don’t expect it to morph into several copies, so why should it be different with an ebook? If you want a copy for another device, buy one …. ebooks are generally cheaper anyway than hard copies.

    In truth, what it needs is for the search engines to remove the torrent sites from their listings, and ISPs to block them, noting they are engaging in criminal activities, while authors’ organisations should launch a class action against those running them. At the moment, it’s too easy to get hold of pirated copies, and even large publishers are not defending their authors’ interests effectively in this regard. The ‘takedown’ system is a joke.

  3. I’m one author who hates DRM and doesn’t expect to ever issue an ebook with it. There are about 40 of us at Book View Cafe, a publishing cooperative founded by Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda L. McIntyre, and others, all originally published (and still published) by traditional publishers, and none of the ebooks we offer through BVC are protected with DRM. The sharing and availability we gain seems worth it, so far. But who knows what the future will bring?

  4. DRM does not in the least deter piracy, though it does make casual sharing harder. As an author who has published both traditionally and self (for my backlist), I see DRM as a barrier between my readers and my books. If a reader buys a Kindle edition of my book and wants to convert it to put on a Nook, I’m all for it. If an enthusiastic reader wants to share one of my books with a friend, that’s okay with me. It’s free advertising. I hope the friend then becomes a buying customer. Experience seems to bear that out. My books that sell the best are books that I deliberately gave away for free for two years.

    Kudos to Lulu, Macmillan/Tor (my publisher), Baen Books, Smashwords, Book View Cafe, and all the others who have been willing to go DRM-free.

  5. “DRM prevents consumers from making as many copies of an ebook as they want and then giving them away.”

    The question is heavily misleading. DRM doesn’t prevent anyone from copying anything. By your wording of the question, you’ve created the false impression that no DRM = piracy and DRM = no piracy. What author could disagree with that?

  6. I believe that Jeffrey Carver has presented the main reason why consumers dislike DRM. Most of us are not crooks looking to sell multiple versions of a your books, nor a we going to become the new Piratebay, we simply want to be able to read purchased ebooks on all our devices. I use the Kindle App for iPad, iPhone, iMac & android and same for the Nook & Kobo applications. As a result of a disability, I rely on my tablets, therefore, I have more than one of them since it is amazing at how quickly the battery dies. . I also have dedicated ereaders for outside reading. I even own a device, the Kobo Vox, which hasn’t decided what it wants to be when it grows up. It is an ereader but uses android, so it acts just like a tablet therefore it not only carries my Kobo books but it has the kindle & nook app installed. You can see my problem, how to synch across several devices.

    When DRM was prevalent, I found that I sometimes ended up buying the same book twice because it was on my Nook & I had only my Kobo available, and even though both were epub, the company specific formatted DRM prevented transfer of the ebook to my other devices. I have over 5,000 EBooks, none pirated and only shared according to authors wishes & even there, an author may state that the books can be shared yet the dealer will restrict to lending to only once! I use Calibre to try and manage my library in conjunction with iTunes but my life would be considerably simpler if books were stripped of their DRM.

    My husband owns his own reader & so does my son. As we don’t all read the same genre of books, our digital libraries are all separate. In the four years that I have been using an ebook reader, I believe I have read 3-4 of the same titles as my husband. These were part of the Gutenberg project therefore there no DRM to worry about.

    Baen has always been #1 with the disabled offering extensive DRM free content. When I first signed to purchase ebooks with Tor, they had a fabulous program of DRM free books available also, their program changed somewhat when they merged with MacMillan, but I believe they still understand the value of DRM free books. I also use Smashwords and other small publishers who provide DRM free books such as Atraea Press. As a consumer, restricting access to your product seems rather counter productive.

    I am sure that piracy occurs since there will always be those who find a way to beat the system. But the majority of ebook customers don’t fit into that group.

    Thanks for considering a consumer’s perspective.

    Jaxs

  7. I’m happy for books to have DRM – as long as it is standard and portable. You should be able to move a book you own from one reader to another, you should be able to loan a book to a friend (or even re-sell it) and you should be able to bequeath your collection to people that will appreciate them.

    I’ve stopped buying all books until DRM and portability of eBooks is sorted to my liking. I won’t buy paper book any more because I love how portable and convenient eBooks are to buy, read and store – but I won’t by eBooks until I can loan and borrow books to/from friends.

    Most of the $2000 worth of paperbacks – which I face having to re-buy in eBook format – I bought after a friend (or the library) loaned me a book. I know at least 2 people (plus myself) that went and bought the entire Anita Blake back catalogue after borrowing the first books.

    I started a petition at http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/book-authors-and-publishers-make-ebooks-equal-to-paper-books-so-that-we-can-loan-gift-or-re-sell-them but it hasn’t really taken off! :)

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