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Why DRM Sucks: Redux

I hate to go on flogging a dead horse, but nothing drives the message home quite like a real world example.

Mobipocket, a French company, produce ebook reader software. The software's quite good, as such things go; cross-platform, freely redistributable, and it supports a file format which is a subset of Open Ebook Format. (They also sell publishing tools for producing ebooks compatible with their platform.) Mobipocket are good enough that they were bought by Amazon.com in 2005, as the primary platform for Amazon's ebook sales.

Mobipocket, alas, support DRM on ebooks. As such things go it's not too onerous; you can add device IDs for up to five readers at a time, and ask them to reset your device IDs so you can change them as often as you want. It's an annoying impediment, but it's less annoying than, say, iTunes — you can deregister a device that's no longer in your possession, for example. And their platform supports DRM-free ebooks — indeed, it's one of the formats offered by Webscription, the most widely used DRM-free commercial ebook publisher.

Only something's gone horribly wrong.

A notice published on ebook store Fictionwise explains as follows:

NOTICE: A major problem occurred with the Mobipocket DRM server at about 6:30 PM Eastern Time, Wednesday, August 15. Engineers at Mobipocket.com have informed us that they hope to be back online sometime this weekend, August 18 or 19. We have switched, where possible, all Secure Mobipocket files purchased during the downtime to an alternative DRM provider, Content Reserve. We have also taken all titles that could not be switched offline in Mobipocket format until the problem is resolved.

So, at this point in time, any Secure Mobipocket title you see onsale can be downloaded immediately. Titles that cannot be downloaded immediately have been temporarily taken offsale in the Secure Mobipocket format.

We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused, and we will post a new message when the problem is resolved.

At the time of writing, Mobipocket's website — and DRM server — has been offline for over a week and counting. The company is not out of business (unless Amazon.com has gone bust without anyone noticing!), but they seem to be having software trouble.

Customers who bought DRM-infested Mobipocket books can no longer read them using the Mobipocket Desktop for Windows PCs; it phones home to verify the DRM, and nobody's answering the call.

Customers with DRM-free ebooks (from, for example, Webscription) have no such problem.

The moral of this story is left as an exercise for the reader.

UPDATE: Mobipocket are finally back up again. Today is the 25th. They've been down for ten days ...




Ah, the sound of poetic justice.

It's an annoying impediment, but it's less annoying than, say, iTunes — you can deregister a device that's no longer in your possession, for example.

Well, strictly speaking, iTunes let's you deregister devices no longer in your possession as well.


Well said. I knew there were reasons why I have about 60 e-books on my computer, but only 1 DRM'd short story. (Lois Bujold's Winterfair Gifts)

I used to use mobipocket all the time to read ebooks on my palm pilot, but I was using the DRM free books from Webscriptions.net.


whereas the answer is of course easy. "Piracy, the better choice". DRM-schemes make it very hard for the consumer _not_ to prefer piracy. After all, pirated stuff just _works_. It makes you wanna cry, really.


Huh. I bought a Mobipocket format book from Fictionwise last night (Mary Gentle's Ilario: The Lion's Eye) and was able to download and read it. But it's probably one of the ones moved to another content provider. I normally read books on my Palm. I'd been counting on Mobipocket to be available when Palm support finally goes away completely. :(


That is the pain of DRM. I purchase DRM books all the time, but have a strong preference towards a format that I know how to break. I don't pirate the books or even lend them to others, whereas a paper book I might lend to others.


I find this issue very interesting, but still haven't decided what the answer is. Perhaps writers will have to band together and just agree not to sell to publishers that use DRM. You're the man, so what's the answer?

In an unrelated/related issue. I've heard that more and more authors are going straight to audio, and then if the audio does well a paper deal might be had. Interesting, considering how cheap it is to make audio files available, which seem like a great tool for publishers.



Jeff: Authors Don't Work That Way ("band together"). Shame, really.

The answer is to convince the publishers that DRM is a bad idea.

It's not obvious right now, but I think we're much closer than most people realize.

I have reason to believe that a certain large American publisher (who nearly abandoned DRM on ebook sales last year, but were overruled by their parent company) might shortly resume their interrupted experiment. If so, their actions will force executives in other large publishing companies to respond -- unlike Baen, they're a big fish in this pond, and ignoring them will be difficult.

At that point, all it will take is a second major publisher following suit for it to stop being a radical experiment and becomes an alternative business practice, which can be assessed on its profitability, just like any other.


Joe Morrison #2 -- why did you by a DRM'd version of "Winterfair Gifts?" I bought a pdf version from Fictionwise and haven't had any problems emailing it to myself and copying to more than one PC. 'course, I know next to nothing about DRM, being a luddite who likes his books on paper, so I suppose it could be DRM'd to the gills and I just have noticed.


DRM blows.

Just as another recent example, the Sony DVD release CASINO ROYALE has DRM which makes it unplayable on certain Sony DVD players-- but that same DRM can be easily bypassed by copy software.


I agree with #5 above. I only buy DRM formats that are known cracked. Fortunately for you and orbit, your cheapo eBook is available in the convenient and easily cracked MS .Lit form

What amazes me about Mobipocket is that the website still says

Mobipocket.com has been shut down for maintenance, please come back later.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Its said that for over a week, except for a couple of times when it has been totally unavailable. Simply on a basic customer service level this is utterly unsatisfactory. I mean take skype, becuase they also had a problem at about the same time. Skype gave quite a lot of feedback on their website about how they were struggling to fix things with updates every 8-12 hours or so. Mobipocket has given no updates what so ever.

BTW I have had a considerable number of google hits for my blog post earlier this week on this outage. I wonder if that is indicative of a growth in demand for ebooks?


Francis, Mobipocket are based in France.

I don't know if you know about France and August; if not, try to conceptualize a collision between every public holiday on the planet, rolled into one, and stretched out for a month.

Also, the odds are good (because there's so little money in ebooks) that they're not a big company, and the number of programmers working on their DRM server code can be counted on the fingers of one hand. (Been there, done that -- writing server code for a dot-com, that is -- you'd be astonished how much of that world is held together by string and chewing gum. It's not obvious until it all falls apart ...)


Another highly-visible DRM debacle going on right now involves the new video game BioShock. Just google or blog search the name and you'll find lots of complaints about the finicky DRM that won't let the game run if certain antivirus software is installed on your system, won't let you put it on more than two computers, and won't let you run more than one instance at a time. There've been a number of problems with it, and apparently the two companies responsible are pointing fingers at each other saying, "Contact their support department."

All I can say is, bring on the DRM debacles. The more of them we get, the more people will be affected, and the louder the complaints will be about the nasty stuff. Maybe eventually it'll be enough to get people to do something about it.


A point that bears repeating is that the sales figures for ebooks are piss-poor. Even Baen, who don't use DRM, and who outsell anyone else in the fiction business ten to one, see sales figures which on a good day rise towards 50% of their hardback sales.

DRM'd ebooks sell much, much worse than that, as I understand it (although I'd love to see the figures for how the low-cost edition of "The Atrocity Archives" is doing and how it compares with the full-price Ace ebook edition, both of them being DRM'd).

Until there's money in ebooks, publishing execs aren't suddenly going to start paying attention to them -- other than in the most negative, "if it rocks the boat with respect to our core business, veto it", manner. So we're currently trapped in a Catch-22 situation.


Charlie, the low sales of ebooks is partially attributable to the fact that they are often more expensive than print versions of the same book. (see my piece on the subject .

the big question is: will ebooks distributed only as ebooks have better volume/sales than print books?


Robert @14, see also my previous piece on the same topic (probably in last months' archives).

Unfortunately even where non-DRM locked ebooks are on sale for less than the cost of a paperback, sale volumes are low. At least, in Baen's experience over nearly a decade.


I think this subject (DMR) is multi-faceted, and its the tool-culture aspect I find so interesting. As I have said before, books (the paper sort) offer a tangible connection to perhaps more than just information. Books are still thought of as little works of art (by some) that really do well when packaged properly. And I guess Id buy full price e-titles if my device was more sophisticated. You know, like Stephensons Diamond Age mediatronic paper. I would then expect my new Stross book to have some illustrations. (Who doesnt like pictures?) Like in Missile Gap, but more. And in color. And I wouldnt bother unless everybodys e-books worked on it. And Id still by the hardbacks.



Jeff, please don't use smart quotes in your posting; you're writing on a Windows box, and it makes your comments very difficult to read on other machines that have standards-compliant codesets installed.

NB: illustrations (especially in colour) cost money. Lots of money. And I am not an artist, alas.


Manual trackback - esp in re comment #7



Umm I live on the Côte d'Azur....


Makes me glad there's no Mobipocket reader for the Mac (though I've never been a fan of reading ebooks on a laptop or desktop, they just work better on PDAs and handheld readers despite the better screens on laptops).

With or without DRM I can't see ebooks succeeding until we get a standard open file format everyone uses (an MP3 for text if you will) and device manufacturers give up on this stupid idea of specialist ebook reader devices. No one's going to pay hundreds of dollars for a device that can only be used to read ebooks! How many failures does it take for them to learn this obvious fact? It has to be a range of PDA/phone/handheld gadgets that do ebooks as well as calendering, notes, web browsing, music, texting, phone calls, etc.

I saw a rumour somewhere last year that one of the large NY publishers had sent their whole catalog off to Apple for incorporation into a new iTunes ebook store, the new 6G iPods and 3G nanos (and iPhones too presumably) would be the readers. Supposedly the new iPods will be announced early next month, so we may soon know if there's any truth in that story...


a standard open file format everyone uses (an MP3 for text if you will)

Ah, like HTML?



David S: you might like to google on OEB, Open Ebook. It's XML-based; Mobipocket, for better or worse, were one of the first implementations of a viewer for this, but Microsoft Reader also AIUI uses OEB as an intermediate file format (before compiling it into a horrendously proprietary rendering format for loading on devices/selling -- and you can decompile it right back again, if you've got the right tools for the job).


Sorry about the quotes. I would have never thought about it, and I actually had to dig around to figure out how to turn it off. As for color pictures, I'm sure there are more than a few of your fans that would love the opporunity to have one of their pictures in one of your books. With so many starving artists out there you could put ten color prints in an ebook and just pay the artist some token amount. They get the exposure and you get illustrated. I for one would love to get some exposure that way. This is e-book stuff, not print. And I bet you have some drawing ability, or painting ability. Anyone can paint.



Apparently Microsoft are having a similar problem at the moment with XP/Vista validation.


And there is also currently a small web scandal around the new computer game Bioshock. Seems to be the season for it.


There's no format so good or so universal that Microsoft won't try to undo it by providing a brain-damaged version to 80% of the market.


I admit I have a few DRM'ed ebooks. PDF's all, watermarked and with printing restrictions. (I was amused by the ones which have restrictions, but haven't locked them down so anyone with Acrobat can alter them).

As for illustrations, http://forum.deviantart.com/jobs/offers/

Yes, I'm quite serious - I've picked up some very very nice art at rates a tiny fraction of what "professional" artists wanted. There are other online art communities as well, for various kinds of art.

As for Bioshock, I am currently advising people on half a dozen forums not to buy it.


The mobipocket DRM problem was conceptually one of the disincentives for the purchase of the failed DIVX (not to be confused with DivX) video. Whatever you thought you had bought, the video could be made unplayable at the whim or demise (or server failure) of the content owner.

While I see this mobipocket story as being a salutary warning to publishers about the unreliability of technology, I don't see it making any difference to their beliefs and attitudes towards content theft.

The only hope I see is that a big publisher or two shows that they can make a real market in ebook titles and that
DRM free eBooks are more profitable than DRM'd ones on average.

As to making a market - well this week's Business Week is not that hopeful:

Making Digital Books Into Page Turners
Despite tepid response to its Reader, Sony sees potential in the market--and Amazon may agree

Nearly 10 Months After its debut, the Sony Reader is hardly a game changer. Reviews of the tiny handheld book-reading device have been tepid at best, and Sony Corp. (SNE ) has consistently declined to release sales figures, which just might tell you something. But Sony isn't backing away. In fact, as speculation continues in publishing circles that book e-tailing giant Amazon.com (AMZN ) is planning to come out with its own portable reader, Sony is launching a number of initiatives to give its Reader more sizzle.

The market for digital books is nascent, and Sony, despite the Reader's less-than-splashy debut, still sees its potential, believing people will eventually warm to reading on a flat screen everything from books to the magazine you're holding now. The half-inch-thick Sony Reader, which can store about 80 electronic books, allows readers to flip pages and adjust the type size. It sells for about $300, and digital book downloads range from $2 to $20 apiece.

The Reader, however, has not drawn the wows that, say, a new version of the iPod (AAPL ) can still elicit. Many users say they are unhappy with the interface (too many buttons and not intuitive) and complain that books for the Reader can only be purchased at Sony's online service, Connect. Less than a tenth of the titles on the shelves of your average Barnes & Noble (BKS ) or Borders (BGP ) are available at Connect. Lisa Phillips, a vice-president at Random House Direct who received her Sony Reader as a gift last December, is turned off by Sony's closed system. "An open format where you could go to different places and not just use their system would be helpful," she says.

Sony hears you, Lisa. It's now planning to adopt e-book software from Adobe Systems (ADBE ) that will provide the Reader with a format to download books from outlets other than Connect, even libraries that lend e-books. Sony is also expanding where the Reader is sold. Available initially at just Borders and its own Sony stores and Web site, the Reader recently hit the shelves at CompUSA and Best Buy (BBY ). But even with the broader distribution, getting a sense of how well the Reader is selling is nearly impossible. "If [Sony] were selling millions, they would be boasting the numbers," said Evan Wilson, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities who covers Sony. "Consumers have proven time and again that they would prefer to buy and keep physical books." Osric Burrowes, an inventory manager for a Borders store in midtown Manhattan, said that he was "very happy" with Reader sales, though on average the store sells just five a month.

To stoke sales, Sony has knocked $50 off its original price for the Reader and rolled out a new print ad campaign in publications such as The New York Times (NYT ), USA Today, and Vanity Fair. As part of this marketing push, Sony is offering new buyers, who are also registered Connect users, credit for 100 free classic titles, such as Great Expectations and Moby-Dick. "In terms of timing, with people going back to school, there is a lot of interest in classic literature," said Jim Malcolm, director of marketing for Sony Electronics. "It gives people an incentive to buy."

What's more, the Sony marketing team is gearing up to switch from a broad-based campaign to targeting frequent travelers. Because the Reader holds multiple books, Microsoft Word documents, and PDFs compressed into a manageable nine ounces, Sony says that a commuter or business traveler would be most interested in the device. Ads are appearing now in airports and train stations in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. But this also means a major cutback in geographic reach. Says Malcolm: "What we're doing right now is being a lot more targeted."

Sony will need to gain some kind of traction with Readers, especially if Amazon, which bought e-book service mobipocket.com two years ago, moves forward with its own reader. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment. Sony knows all too well that with any first-generation product, valuable lessons are learned. But in this case, it may be that all the marketing in the world won't help sway book lovers if they are just not ready to curl up with a hard plastic screen.


I didn't like the Mobipocket setup for a variety of reasons. Although I have bought encrypted books from Fictionwise (including a couple of Charlies books). I use Palmreader and books that are encrypted use your name and a credit card number. It is a mild pain, but the same number if used for all the books and once you enter it, it is always ready to go and the books "just open".

It would be better if they didn't have this on them as it is a bit of a nusiance, but all things considered if some sort of content protection is wanted this seems like a good idea. Easy, doesn't require a central server like mobipocket, and people are unlikely to pass around something that requires their credit card number to read.

So I agree DRM sucks, but if it must exist the sort in Palmreader at least seems like the lightest amount of pain.


Andrew@ 57: Exactly right with regard to finding art cheap. If Stoss was going to do an ebook loaded with pictures, I would be one of the first to send one in for consideration. I sold the limited e-rights to a painting of mine that was used on a poetry/short story site last year. Very little money changed hands, but I still enjoyed the process. I actually got some semi-serious offers via that exposure.



"To read our books, you must buy a 'reader' that costs $300."

"Hmm...no one is buying our $300 reader. Therefore, the consumer has no interest in our books."

I can't even begin to address the stupidity of that paradigm.


Michael, add on the fact that the $300 reader doesn't read all e-books, just those whose publishers have contracted with the reader manufacturer.


What I really can't understand about DRM as Mobipocket implemented it is that it's so obviously bad, not just for the reader, but for the company who implemented it, for multiple reasons.

Firstly, and most obviously, its `authorize every time' model is setting up an inevitable PR disaster. They've got a single point of failure there in the place of the system(s) that implement their authorization server, *and* every reader has an extra SPOF, all the network links between them and that server. Readers will tend to expect that their expensive ebook works like a normal book, in that they can always read it: the moment anything goes wrong with their link to the auth server, they're going to be pissed off... and, as this debacle showed, if the central server goes down, *everyone* who ever bought a Mobipocket book is going to be pissed off. The only way this could *not* be a PR disaster is if that server has 100.000...% uptime, which is completely impossible. (I'll ignore here the `what if the company collapses' scenario because Mobipocket obviously don't care about that.)

Secondly, it's financially unsustainable anyway. Aggregate bandwidth costs money, and likely always will. Mobipocket only get paid once when the ebook is bought (if they move to a rental model, they'll lose all their customers because paper books just don't work like that, even library books). But every book (income: once) is costing them in bandwidth whenever it is read (expenditure: forever). If they sell a lot of books this will bankrupt them. (The only thing that's saving them is that nobody is buying a lot of ebooks, but imagine if 1% of the world's paper books were Mobipocket. Now imagine the traffic on that poor network line. Please wait an hour to be authorized to read your book...)

It takes basically no technical knowledge to work out the above, so, um, why on earth did Mobipocket do it? What were they thinking?


I bought a very cheap Chinese DVD player which can easily be set to play movies from any "zone"... which makes it much more user-friendly than the expensive zone-rigged DVD players on the market.

Can you recommend a cheap, no-brand, Chinese ebook reader which is user-friendly -- i.e. doesn't have DRM? Or is it too soon to ask?


With the advent of new smartphones with reasonable screens (like the iPhone, and soon Nokia's offerings), ebooks could have a new outlet which doesn't require buying a dedicated device that does nothing else.

I mentioned on another thread the idea of a text playback program that scrolled the text across the screen at a decent size, with variable speed.

Actually, even with static paragraphs, you can get a reasonable display with a small screen at 160 dpi. This page, for example, fits quite nicely on the iPhone screen, and would be reasonable to read for a good amount of time. When bored, I've gone to Gutenberg.org and downloaded/read some books.

Unfortunately, they haven't released a good PDF viewer outside of the Mail program, so I have to mail myself PDFs. Web-based plain text and HTML work nicely, though.


A.R. Yngve @ 34:

(You probably know this, but in case not...)
Alas, your cheap Chinese player does use DRM ("Content Scramble System"), otherwise it couldn't play commercial DVDs. It just skips the region-checking step, which is sort of orthogonal to the DRM (porn DVDs are sometimes region-free, but still use DRM, and the new HD-DVD format doesn't have regions but certainly has DRM).

I haven't heard of any ebooks having "region codes" on top of DRM, presumably because the idea pretty much from the start has been to sell them via the internet rather than in physical stores.


Nix: "Firstly, and most obviously, its `authorize every time' model is setting up an inevitable PR disaster. They've got a single point of failure there in the place of the system(s) that implement their authorization server, *and* every reader has an extra SPOF, all the network links between them and that server."

This is at the heart of the matter - to the company, this 'single point of failure' is 'ultimate control'. They want that.


ultimate control

Not really. A single point of failure for authorization is a single point for failure of the DRM scheme altogether.

Real control would be multiple points of failure, any one of which would cause the DRM to fail. This is worse in many ways, but would give the company a lot of ways to keep their content safe from us unwashed masses.

The sad part is that even weak DRM (such as Apple's 99 cent songs) is more than sufficient, and "identified" DRM (like Apple's $1.29 unlocked music) seems to be enough, as well. Strict DRM is a dead end.


Interestingly enough, an email from Mobipocket today:

We are writing to let you know that we have reset your Mobipocket
password ? when you return to the Mobipocket site, you will need to
select a new password for your account. Upon making this change,
you?ll continue to have access to your previous Mobipocket purchases
and downloads.

We reset your password because we recently learned of an attempt to
gain access to a Mobipocket server. Files containing name, account
name, password, address and e-mail address for some Mobipocket
customers were kept on this server. Although we have no evidence that
these files were accessed, we changed your password and are notifying
you out of abundance of caution.


I found myself citing Mr. Stross from a 2-year-old blog thread, in a posting at the hypertechnical n-Category cafe blog by John Baez et al (Baez coauthors Math-Physics also with Greg Egan):

2005 conversation on $$$ in science versus science fiction books; Re: Journal Publishers Hire the “Pit Bull of PR?

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 01:23 PM:

My first offer for my first Science Fiction novel was $2,500 in 1972 for “The Ten Teeth of Terra: The Decadents? per an offer from Pat LoBrutto when he was at Ace, later retracted. I’ve written since to thank him: it would have been a Very Bad first novel, albeit written when I was 15.

Correcting for inflation, according to the Consumer Product Index, is an important normalization of the data. According to
The Inflation Calculator

“if you were to buy exactly the same products in 1972 and 2003, they would cost you $2500 and $10853.36 respectively.?

Since then, my average SF novel submission sits on the desk of each editor for between 2 and 3 years, with roughly 1/3 of submissions lost outright, and I don’t yet have good statistics on how many editors per sale. The $8,000.00 book contract I had from Jim Baen was for nonfiction, even though it had plenty of SF references and style. Several chapters of said nofiction book “Computer Futures? have appeared in Science Fiction venues, such as “Human Destiny and the End of Time? [Quantum SF, No.39, Winter 1991/1992?, pp.??, Thrust Publications, 8217 Langport Terrace, Gaithersburg, MD 20877;
ISSN 0198-6686
which in turn was acknowldged by Greg Benford who used a dozen excerpts, transfigured into italics, in his novels of the galactic core.

Moral 1: a contract in the hand is worth N in the bush, for some value of N being experimentally determined.

Moral 2: really cool ideas propagate more rapidly in smaller particles than books, with articles faster than books, excerpts in other peoples’ novels faster than in your own novels, letters to the editor faster than articles, and blogs approaching the speed of light.

Moral 3: editorial submission is a stochastic process, apparently following Markov Chain statistics, with several absorbing barriers, namely sale, return of mansucript, death of editor, and/or loss of manuscript (lossy transmission).

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 03:55 AM:


“You can get paid for books??

The paradox of academic publishing is that the publishers get the work from the writers so cheap (even negative cost) and then turn around and sell the work profitably to the very universities that employ the academic writers.

For Mathematics and Science journals in the USA, where authors typically have to PAY the journals a “page charge? – tell me this isn’t vanity publishing! – the total profit for publishers is estimated at $300 to $400 million per year. An editorial in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society speculates that mathematicians accept this without complaint because they feel that, since the articles are written by mathematicians for mathematicians, they are “our? journals.

Dr. Geoff Landis, OTOH, says he’s seen a study somewhere that the indirect lifetime value to an academic scientist for a published journal article is roughly $10,000 in terms of getting promotions and tenure sooner.

Can anyone help me and Geoff with the reputed myriad-dollar figure, while I dig up the AMS editorial for a skeptical reply?

The VP of Academic Affairs at Woodbury, where I taught Math for 2 years until recently, thrilled a Faculty Senate meeting by saying that he was close to Presidential approval to issue awards for faculty achievements: “publish a book, win $1,000.? The Dean of Faculty, who’d just published a small book about kayaking the last California wild river, beamed. I started counting my chickens on the grounds that my 360+ short math/science publications in 2004 alone, including refereed and edited online pieces, must be the equivalent of at least two or three books. Then came the pink slip…
Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 08:57 AM:

Getting back to Patrick’s original topic …

I have, in the past couple of years, been asked to keep quiet about the money at stake in a book deal …

… by my agent. While the offer was on the table but not yet officially accepted, and she was trying to get another publisher to make a counter-offer.

(Funnily enough, I went along with this :)

Otherwise, no: I don’t think I’ve ever wrriten for an organization that asked me not to discuss what they were paying me.
Paul Robichaux ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 09:55 AM:

The norm in computer book publishing, which is the only publishing sector I know anything about, is for contracts to have a confidentiality clause that forbids disclosure of advance or royalty amounts. In the last few years, contracts I’ve seen from Microsoft Press, Sybex, and Pearson have included this language; I don’t remember offhand if O’Reilly’s contracts have it or not (but I doubt it).
Castiron ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2005, 01:07 PM:


“The paradox of academic publishing is that the publishers get the work from the writers so cheap (even negative cost) and then turn around and sell the work profitably to the very universities that employ the academic writers.?

Profitably? *scratches head* On what planet?

Okay, if you restrict this statement to scientific publishing, as JvP’s further comments suggest, then that may be accurate, depending on the publisher. However, I doubt that many academic presses make much if any profit on, say, Latin American literary criticism books.

The university press I work for has no confidentiality clauses on advances (on the rare occasions where they happen) or royalties; our authors are welcome to brag about how their royalty check enabled them to supersize that burger combo.
Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2005, 02:17 AM:


“… Elsevier and Academic Press journals are a highly profitable part of a big corporation. Bertelsmann has recently divested Springer, and now Springer, Kluwer, and Birkhauser are owned by an investment company (who did not buy these publishers in order to make less profit than before)…. [The] AMS [American Mathematical Society] charges under 22 cents per page for its primary journals and makes a decent profit that subsidizes other AMS activities. The Annals of Mathematics, Pacific Journal, and geometry and Topology are cheaper yet. On the other hand, the big commercial journals typically charge in the range of 40 cents to over 100 cents per page….? A good source for price information is either

“In an article in The Mathematical Intelligencer, John Ewing writes: ‘a rough estimate suggests that the revenue from each article in commercial journals is $4,000.00.’ (Imagine a 20-page paper sold at 50 cents/page to 400 subscribers.) ‘Therefore, the 25,000 mathematics articles in commercial journals in 2001 generated about $100 million in revenue for the commercial publishers.’ This is serious money, much of it profit. Roughly speaking, it takes a billion-dollar business to get that sort of profit….?

“Fleeced? by Rob Kirby, Notices Associate Editor, University of California Berkeley
Notices of the AMS, February 2004, p.181

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2005, 10:20 AM:

Charlie’s Diary [Stross]

has an interesting posting for Wed, 09 Feb 2005 that ties together “a rather neat article in First Monday, musicians and artists for the most part don’t earn their living through intellectual property rights; there’s a power law at work, with maybe the top ten individuals in a given country earning twice as much as the next 200 put together, and more than the bottom 10,000 professionals in the field put together? and Tobias Buckell’s survey of SF writers’ book advances (in the USA), with “Galambosianism.?

This latter was a short-lived doctrine of intellectual property absolutism, founded in the 1960s by Joseph Andrew Galambos… and descended from libertarianism and/or the teachings of Ayn Rand. The primary concept of Galambosianism was that one’s ideas were one’s “primary property?, a higher form of property than physical assets (which were merely “secondary property?), and second only to one’s life (one’s “primordial property?).
Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on September 1, 2007 9:06 PM


I've got DRMed ebooks. Every version upgrade to Acrobat kills them. There was a period for months on a previous version when you couldn't upgrade to the latest version of Reader as the Acrobat DRM didn't work. They couldn't get their own DRM to work with their own software?

Now with the latest version I gave up for months. I tried again recently and found I had to register every single DRM ebook in my library one at a time. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. I'll just download some pirated versions without DRM.


Do read what Cory Doctorow wrote today on boingboing.net about the huge US District Court decision on copyright.

Then read vicorious superlawyer Larry Lessig at:

Then follow Lessig's link to the PDF of the decision, which is very readable to me (who knows a bit about the Law) and probably anyone smart enough to read Charles Stross.

I am amused by the sentence on page 26:

"Indeed, world war is (hopefully) not traditional."


I got the same email from Mobipocket about their server getting hacked, and once they reauthorized my account, theyd completely forgotten anything I'd bought from them.

It might be worth the trouble to .... naaah.


FWIW as noted at my blog a way to turn Mobipocket books into plain HTML now exists. Unfortunately you need two Java .jars from the iRex to get it to work: irex.jar, MobipocketCoreReader.jar


I look at DRM eBooks this way. It's like saying you can only read our books by the light of our lightbulbs.