Friday, June 30, 2017

O'Reilly's Decision and its DRM Implication

On Wednesday, I got mail from Laura Baldwin, President of O'Reilly, announcing that "as of today, we are discontinuing fulfillment of individual book and video purchases on shop.oreilly.com. Books (both ebook and print) will still be available for sale via other digital and bricks-and-mortar retail channels...[and] of course, we will continue to publish books and videos..." So O'Reilly's not getting out of the book and video publishing business, it's just getting out of the business of selling them at retail. For details, check out Laura's blog entrythis story at Publishers Weekly or these discussions at Slashdot or Hacker News.

To me, the most interesting implication of this announcement is that O'Reilly's no-DRM policy apparently resonated little with the market. Other technical publishers I'm familiar with (e.g., Addison-Wesley, the Pragmatic Programmer, Artima) attempt to discourage illegal dissemination of copyrighted material (e.g., books in digital form) by at least stamping the buyer's name on each page. O'Reilly went the other way, trusting people who bought its goods not to give them to their friends or colleagues or to make them available on the Internet.

I don't know what motivated that policy. Perhaps it was a belief that trusting buyers was the right thing to do. But I can't help but think they took into account the effect it would likely have on sales. After all, publishing is a business.

Piracy is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means you receive no compensation for the benefit readers get from the work you put in. On the other hand, pirated books act as implicit marketing, expanding awareness of you and your book(s). They can also reach buyers who want to see the full product before making a purchasing decision or who wouldn't become aware of your book through conventional marketing efforts.

My feeling is that most people who choose pirated books are unlikely to pay for them, even if that's the only way to get them. As such, I'm inclined to think the marketing effect of illegal copies exceeds the lost revenue. I have no data to back me up. Maybe it's just a rationalization to help me live with the knowledge that no matter what you do, there's no way you can prevent bootleg copies of your books from showing up on the Net.

My guess is that a component of O'Reilly's no-DRM policy was a hope that it would distinguish O'Reilly from other publishers and would attract buyers who felt strongly about DRM. Whether it did that, I don't know, but O'Reilly's decision to stop selling individual products at its web site suggests that DRM (or the lack thereof) is not an important differentiator for most buyers of technical books and videos.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting line of thought, but I'm not sure enough about the implicit assumptions being made. We don't know the process by which O'Reilly came to this decision. I have a hunch that the bigger thing to point to is the recurring monthly subscription cost that comes with Safari, not DRM.

Nicholas Orr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicholas Orr said...

If it's not in Amazon kindle store pretty good chance I'm not going to buy it even if it is free. eBook business needs to be approached thus, put it in every single store and every single market. Leaving out any = piracy (piracy still going to happen, if it isn't in kindle and I find it on bt, then I'll manually put in kindle... This tech book publishing group I buy things from, have a send to kindle feature, and their stuff is DRM free).

As long as O'Reilly don't do stupid shit like releasing in USA only, then it shouldn't matter that they no longer distribute direct and go via other distributors.

Al Ex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Al Ex said...

So where do we buy DRM free O'Reilly books from now on?

Scott Meyers said...

@Al Ex: According to Laura Baldwin's blog entry, they're still DRM-free at Google Books.

Anonymous said...

While I can understand O'Reillys decision from a business perspective, with this move they lost me as a customer.

There is no simply no value in paying $399/y when it takes me a few months to go through a book (yes, I'm a slow reader), compared to a PDF which I can take my time with and go back to a year later.

Google Books is an alternative, but it sounds like another lock-in? And really, does Google need to know my detailed reading habits too?


Nevertheless, money speaks and I know I am a dying breed as the younger generation happily accepts the constrains. :)

PS. Thank you so much for your books. I own Effective C++ and Effective Modern C++, both have helped me improve.

chx said...

According to OReilly Customer Support answer on this topic on Jun 28: "We do not currently have the DRM free PDF versions available from any online re-sellers."

Anonymous said...

I'm sure O'Reilly made an informed decision on this but as a consumer, if I cannot buy their books DRM free in a format that is usable across devices and software, it means I will not buy their books.

There are other vendors that still offer DRM free PDF books so they will continue to get my business. O'Reilly will not.

Anonymous said...

Same with me. If I bought an O'Reilly ebook, it was only from O'Reilly directly because of the DRM issue. Of course I have lots (100+) of O'Reilly pbooks. I will not buy a book with DRM from any publisher. I've tried Safari, but even free (from my company) I haven't found much use for it. Maybe the videos? But other formats for reading books, including ebooks are so much more convenient.

Stephen Cole said...

Hi Scott,

eBooks.com still offers the full range of O'Reilly ebooks, DRM-free. There's no sign that this will change.

In addition to EPUB versions, we sell O'Reilly's PDF versions that retain the integrity of the printed page. This is often important for technical manuals. So, when both formats are available, you can simply choose which format you want to download.

More on this here http://about.ebooks.com/drm-free-oreilly-ebooks-available-ebooks-com/

I hope this helps.

Stephen.

Scott Meyers said...

@Stephen Cole: Thanks for the pointer to ebooks.com and its continuing sale of O'Reilly's DRM-free PDFs and EPUBs.

Traroth said...

Your assumption is that DRM somehow would slow piracy down. And that's simply not true. Most editors use Adobe Digital Editions, and if you search "crack adobe digital editions" on Google, you will soon understand that technology is really easy to crack. But it's still used. Because editors are not aiming to slow down piracy, but to slow down regular usage of the bought products, in order to make their income recurring. Adobe Digital Editions limits the transfer of your ebooks to 7 different mobile devices, and then you have to "buy" the book again. And I bet once everybody reads ebooks, the conditions will become even more lucrative...