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More on DRM and ebooks

Last week's blog entry on Amazon's ebook strategy went around the net like a dose of rotavirus. And, as we can now see from Tor's ground-breaking announcement I was only just ahead of the curve: people at executive level inside Macmillan were already asking whether dropping DRM would be a good move. Last week they asked me to explain, in detail, just why I thought abandoning DRM on ebooks was a sensible strategy for a publisher. Turns out my blog entry on Amazon's business strategy didn't actually explain my full reasoning on DRM, so here it is.

Note that I am not responsible for Macmillan's change of policy. An internal debate was already in progress; this move was already on the cards. I caught their attention and was given a chance to offer some input: that's all. The final decision to drop DRM on ebooks from Tor/Forge was taken by John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, who ultimately has to account for his actions to the shareholders.

Also note that when trying to argue for a strategy, you need to frame it in terms of the concerns of the people you're addressing. Therefore what's below the fold is my response to the question of why I thought abandoning DRM would be good for Macmillan's business, framed to address the concerns of publishing executives. I thought I'd post it here as an historical footnote to the end of blanket DRM restrictions in the book trade, and because it features a line of reasoning about DRM which may be of interest to other publishers who are, as yet, undecided.

After I recommended that the major publishers drop mandatory DRM from their ebook products, I realized that my essay had elided a bunch of steps in my thinking, and needed to reconsider some points. Then I realized that it's not a simple, straightforward argument to make. Consequently, I ended up writing another essay, although I've tried to summarize my conclusions below.

First, my conclusions:

1. The rapid current pace of change in the electronic publishing sector is driven by the consumer electronics and internet industry. It's impossible to make long term publishing plans (3-10 years) without understanding these other industries and the priorities of their players. It is important to note that the CE industry relies on selling consumers new gadgets every 1-3 years. And it is through their gadgets that readers experience the books we sell them. Where is the CE industry taking us?

2. Dropping DRM across all of Macmillans products will not have immediate, global, positive effects on revenue in the same way that introducing the agency model did ...

3. However, relaxing the requirement for DRM across some of Macmillans brands will have very positive public relations consequences among certain customer demographics, notably genre readers who buy large numbers of books (and who, while a minority in absolute numbers, are a disproportionate source of support for the midlist).

4. Longer term, removing the requirement for DRM will lower the barrier to entry in ebook retail, allowing smaller retailers (such as Powells) to compete effectively with the current major incumbents. This will encourage diversity in the retail sector, force the current incumbents to interoperate with other supply sources (or face an exodus of consumers), and undermine the tendency towards oligopoly. This will, in the long term, undermine the leverage the large vendors currently have in negotiating discount terms with publishers while improving the state of midlist sales.

Now the details:

1. Anticipating the future of ebook reading technology

(Background note: I have a computer science degree from 1991, which is a bit like having an aeronautical engineering degree from 1927. But I've spent a chunk of time working as a computer journalist, and I try to keep up to date.)

First, a note on the changing technology. The consumer electronics industry relies on selling everybody shiny new devices every 12-24 months for their revenue. Margins are narrow and R&D costs are high. They also have an interest in maintaining a floor under the price of their products by adding new features to justify the upgrade treadmill, because thanks to Moore's Law, the electronics sector is trapped in a permanent deflationary cycle. So I believe that any forward-looking publishing strategy needs to consider the impact of this endless device churn on consumers, and their likely response.

Because the devices our consumers own mediate their experience of the ebooks we sell them.

First, the hardware:

It's my belief that today's e-ink ebook readers are doomed to obsolescence within a short period — 2-3 years possibly, 5 years probably. This is because the power consumption of LCD displays is dropping and their quality is rising. e-ink devices are inherently incapable of displaying video, are lousy as web browsers due to the screen refresh time, and if you use them to play audio or do any intensive processing (such as running apps) their battery life drops towards that of a regular LCD-equipped tablet. They're essentially single-purpose devices, competing in a market with general-purpose devices. Their only advantages are battery life and readability in direct sunlight, both of which are under threat. So it's my belief that general purpose tablets (and big-screen smartphones) will drive e-ink readers out of the mass market within 2-5 years, just as smartphones killed off your 2003 Palm Pilot.

Secondly, the software:

The two current tablet/smartphone market incumbents are iOS (Apple) and Android (Google). (Microsoft is making a come-back attempt with Windows 8 Mobile, but is fighting an uphill battle.) These are essentially competing software platforms, like MacOS and Windows in the late 1980s. However, just five years ago, none of these platforms existed; the market was dominated by PalmOS, Symbian, and Microsoft's dead PocketPC platform. I therefore conclude that it is a really bad idea to make assumptions about the devices customers will own in even 3 years' time.

In the tablet/smartphone world, DRM is supported at the application level. B&N (Nook), Amazon (Kindle), and Adobe all provide readers that run on incompatible DRM standards. Even when the file format is the same (ePub) the DRM prevents files from, say, the Adobe Digital Editions system from being read by a rival's reader.

In the absence of DRM it is trivially easy to convert ebooks between file formats — as easy as opening a word processor file on a different machine, if not easier. Amazon's continued use of a non-epub file format on the Kindle platform does not mean that Amazon could not, very rapidly, shift to supporting epub files; all that would be needed would be a software update pushed to their Kindle customers' readers. In fact, Amazon acquired a software company specializing in epub reader software — Lexcycle — in 2009.

The main effect of DRM, from a platform vendor's perspective, is to lock end-users into their platform in perpetuity. (Amazon, as both a retailer and a platform vendor, has leveraged this very effectively to give their retail channel a whip hand.)

2. Which sectors will respond positively to less DRM

Macmillan sells a variety of products (trade and mass market, audio, ebooks and paper books) into a variety of wholesale and retail channels, who in turn sell the products to the reading public.

The reading public is not a monolith, and the products Macmillan sells are dissimilar. Some books are unique and non-interchangeable, while others are treated as an undifferentiated commodity by their consumers. One large customer segment buy 1-5 books a year, usually bestsellers for recreational vacation reading. At the opposite end of the scale, 20% or fewer buy 20-150 books a year, typically midlist titles. The former group supplies mass sales, but the latter group supports the midlist and supplies diversity. A one-size-fits-all approach to the reading public is therefore unlikely to satisfy everyone.

For example, the 1-5 bestsellers-a-year people: previously they bought from airport bookstores and WalMart, to read once then discard; we expect them in future to buy ebooks to read once then discard. They will probably use a work-issue tablet or smartphone running a free Kindle or Nook app, rather than buying a special-purpose e-reader, and delete their books after reading. They couldn't care less about DRM. They will probably stick to one well-known online retail supplier. You are absolutely right about there being no benefit from dropping DRM in this sector.

3. Who gains? And why?

The voracious 20-150 books/year readers are a small but significant market segment.

These people buy lots of titles. They frequently have specialized interests which they pursue in depth, and a large number of authors who, although not prominent, they will buy everything by. They frequently re-read books, and they are disproportionately influential on other customers because they enthuse about what they've read. They're particularly common in genre fiction. Previously they bought paperbacks and hardcovers from specialist genre bookstores or, failing that, from large B&N/Borders branches. They will go to whatever retailer they can find online, and they find DRM a royal pain in the ass — indeed, a deterrent to buying ebooks at all.

There is a pervasive assumption that ebooks are disposable literature. But to the voracious readers, this is not the case. Currently it's hard for many people to build up collections of books due to space constraints — nevertheless I know many SF fans (of the kind who read 50-150 books a year) who have turned their homes into libraries. They will be the tip of an iceberg once ebooks become mainstream; why discard an ebook when you can file it and come back to it in 10 years' time and it takes up no space?

For such people, filing and tagging their collections is a major issue. And so is portability. It's true that if they own an iPad they can have an iBooks app full of books purchased from Apple, and a Kindle app full of books from Amazon, and a Nook app full of books from B&N. But those apps are, thanks to DRM, data silos — you can't cross-check to see if you bought book 3 in a series from Apple and book 5 from Amazon without a lot of fiddling around.

Platforms age and die. This summer, Microsoft is turning off the DRM servers for Microsoft Reader. This means that people who bought Microsoft Reader ebooks over the decade since 2002 now find that their ebooks are trapped inside a rapidly ageing, obsolescent slab of plastic and glass. In another 5-10 years, 95% of those books will be unreadable because the machines they're locked into were designed by a CE industry obsessed with the 2-3 year upgrade cycle — they're not durable. This is actually one psychological driver for piracy — people who have paid for a book resent being expected to pay for it again due to an arbitrary-seeming lock-in onto an aging piece of hardware. From their point of view, honesty is being punished.

There is no guarantee that B&N will stay in business, or that Amazon won't discontinue support for older Kindle files, in the not too distant future. This is something that the hardcore readers cannot help but be aware of, because it has already bitten them in the past, if they bought a Zune, or a Palm Pilot, or any number of other devices.

If Macmillan drop DRM on ebooks typically bought by these people, it sends a signal: "you can continue to read these ebooks in future using whatever platform you want". Converting a DRM-free ebook between ePub and Amazon's Kindle format, or any other current ebook format, is as easy as saving a Microsoft Word document in Rich Text Format, or as a web page: there's an app for that. Moreover, all the DRM-equipped reading platforms support importing non-DRM'd ebooks.

So, from the point of view of a particular subset of Macmillan's customers — the hard core genre audience who read many, many books — removing DRM would be a major benefit and would probably generate immense goodwill.

(This is leaving aside the point that, if a trend towards relaxing DRM becomes established — as happened in 2009 in the music download industry — the first mover will reap considerable public relations benefits and news coverage in the short term.)

But is there a business case for doing so?

4. Effects of removing DRM on the supply chain

(Firstly, I'd like to note that the Macmillan experience with dropping the mandatory requirement for DRM on audio books can't be taken as a useful indicator. The main retailers of audio books, Apple and Audible, refuse to ship DRM-free audio books. Therefore DRM-free audio books remained essentially unavailable to the public.)

The main effect of DRM on the supply chain is that a consumer who buys DRM-locked content is locked into the supplier who supports that type of DRM. A non-casual reader with a couple of hundred ebooks on their Kindle can't easily leave the Kindle walled garden. (I emphasize, DRM is the only thing that keeps them there: converting Kindle ebooks to ePub is trivially easy in the absence of DRM.)

This situation plays to the benefit of the largest incumbents in the retail sector. Currently we have gone from a near-monopoly by Amazon to a near-cartel among Amazon, B&N, and Apple. The independent bookseller sector is struggling to deal with ebooks.

It's instructive to take a look at how the independent retailers are failing to cope. Powell's have a large online store, and are quite successful with paper products. However, if you want to buy ebooks from them, they offer you a menu of DRM silos — Adobe Digital Editions, Google Ebooks, and so on. If you want to buy ebooks from Powell's, you have to grapple with registering your device with them, so that the ebooks can be locked to your reader. This forces customers to jump through a bunch of technological flaming hoops; it's easier for them to give up and point their web browsers at Amazon or B&N instead. And the results have been so poor that Google seems to be withdrawing from the retail market, at least to the extent of giving notice to quit to their larger retail affiliates (Powell's included).

If Macmillan titles did not have DRM, then customers would find it much easier to buy books from independent retailers like Powell's — or other small bookstores. DRM-free ebooks can be imported easily into whatever ebook reading device a reader already possesses. It will then be possible for bricks and mortar retailers and small online retailers to get a toe in the door and sell ebooks competitively. In short, it will lower barriers to entry into the retail supply chain, which in the long term is advantageous to publishers.

Another angle is that dropping DRM gives readers some assurance that their ebooks will remain accessible, even if they change reading devices and apps multiple times over the next decade. It also allows them to merge ebooks from different sources into a single collection, simplifying their reading experience, and to confidently purchase from smaller retail outlets.

As noted earlier, consumers change e-reader devices frequently. Within 5 years we will be seeing a radically different electronic landscape. Unlocking the readers' book collections will force Amazon and B&N and their future competitors to support migration (if they want to compete for each others' customers). So hopefully it will promote the transition from the near-monopoly we had before the agency model, via the oligopoly we have today, to a truly competitive retail market that also supports midlist sales.

(Why this will support the midlist: currently Amazon have swamped the midlist among ebooks in a sea of self-published rubbish. It's impossible to find anything worth reading in the Kindle store that isn't a very obvious bestseller. This offers an opportunity for specialist bookstores to offer a curatorial role. I believe the voracious genre consumers are picky enough about what they read that they dislike Amazon's slushpile approach, and will preferentially shop in better organized outlets.)

Other thoughts

I don't expect dropping mandatory DRM to have an immediate positive impact on sales. However, it will permit small retailers to compete and specialize in a market they are currently locked out of by network externalities. Right now, there is a window of opportunity for smaller resellers: Amazon's inclusion of masses of self-published material in the Kindle store has made it impossible for heavy consumers to browse it effectively. Smaller bookstores may be able to gain a strategic edge by curating their content, providing quality control on reviews, and other tactics we can't predict at this time. This is, I emphasize, speculative — but I believe saving the smaller resellers is key to diversity in the retail side of the market, and will further support the midlist (which is threatened right now by plummeting mass market sales and the difficulty authors experience in reaching their audience).

To the extent that piracy is an issue, I think the horse is well and truly out of the stable and over the horizon; bolting the stable door and adding chains and padlocks hasn't worked to date, either in print publishing or in music and film publishing. However, I would recommend considering a switch to watermarking. Watermarking doesn't prevent copying, but makes the original source of a copied file easy to find, which is a deterrent to piracy. This appears to be the current best practice in the music industry (in the iTunes store, all music downloads are watermarked), and they're a few years further into the era of internet distribution than we are.

Dropping DRM is probably not going to have a significant effect on the bestsellers, but I will note that J. K. Rowling's move into ebook territory is DRM free; presumably the rampant levels of piracy around her work was seen as a pre-existing condition, and anything that might convert pirate readers into paying customers was seen as giving Pottermore an edge.

Finally, if going DRM-free is a trend, it may be to Macmillan's advantage to be seen to be a front-runner. Removing the requirement for DRM from specialist imprints marketing primarily to the voracious genre readers would be a useful experimental step: I will confess to a personal bias here, but I'd love it if Tor was allowed to sell my novels unencumbered by DRM -- I could personally use that as a strong marketing angle. (Like many younger writers, my major point of contact with my readers is my blog — I typically get 12-14,000 readers per day, and provide them with a community for discussing my work and asking me questions — based on direct feedback I'm fairly certain that dropping DRM would allow me to generate additional ebook sales and point my readers at a more diverse range of retailers.)



Publishers: Listen to the man. He's telling you how to get me and people like me to give you money ever again.


Is it just me, or does this just end abruptly? Is there a section missing?


I am AFK and will fix the article ending as soon as I get home.


If you cannot wait for Charlie to return, the whole article came through on Google Reader.


In addition to the truncation, the summary section at the beginning is missing apostrophes ("Macmillans", "Powells".)


I was thinking that the cutoff (part way through section 4) was due to reading it on my phone, but I see it is more wide-spread. It even breaks at the same point for me on Google Reader (Firefox on Win7)
And Charlie, did you mean to be broadcasting your location on Twitter, I hadn't noticed you doing so before. I realize that you may be signalling 'I am down the pub' to those interested :-)


Great post Charlie, the end was there before, weird.


Thanks for your efforts Charlie.

Right now, I can usually manage to read printed books, but it's getting harder and harder.

DRMless ebooks work with screen readers; many DRM books do not.

So this is huge news, especially when it involves my favorite publisher.


A damn fine start; thanks for helping nudge them in the right direction. Let's hope it snowballs.


Another reason why DRM can be a profit-barrier is that it's very difficult to lend books to friends, promoting The Brand.

I recently lent the first Laundry book to a couple of my friends, and sucessfully piqued their interest.

This year I've not been buying paper novels, because I don't have room for them all - a big down-side for me is that lending DRM'd Kindle books is impossible in the UK (unless I let my girlfriend borrow the Kindle itself)

Speaking of ebooks (although not specifically DRM,) has there been any news on Merchants War ebook availability?

I've recently been rattling through that series on my Kindle, so was peeved when I came across that gap in Amazon's list :P

(I'm currently reading a badly-ocr'd version for now - the errors provide fun word-puzzles, and are occasionally quite amusing)


The points made are outstanding, it perfectly identifies why I've not bought a e-book reader and I fall into the 20-100 books a year bracket. I'll admit 1 publisher relinquishing DRM won't make me go out and buy a kindle or nook immediately but it certainly makes me more interested in the platform. Now if I could get my back catalogue moved at no cost (yes I am dreaming) ...

The bit about rereading books is especially apt, as I frequently reread for pleasure - for instance I've reread the Laundry novels at least 3 times each and get something different out of them every time (for instance it took the 3rd reading of The Jennifer Morgue to get the BOFH reference despite having read Simon's stuff for at least 10 years . Yes, I am Thicker than a Thick Brick or Brick2 ).
On top of that I've also recommended them to others both online and via lending the actual hard copy. Something less easily done with a reader.


I am a part of that 50 - 150 books a year group. DRM hasn't stopped me from using my Nook to get most of my books now, but I wholeheartedly welcome the change. My bookshelves were bursting when I switched to mostly ebooks. So I switched out of need, and found myself quickly hooked by ebooks.


Here's a lesser-known fact about encryption: a single bit error will propagate.

So something that turns 'A' into 'C' (or vice versa) can cause an entire chunk of encrypted text to be unreadable. (Assuming no ECC, of course.)


It's available in the Kindle store in the U.S.A. now, so hopefully it will be coming your way soon?


Speaking of DRM, has anyone taken notice of Widevine and how Google are implementing this for "connected TV" distribution? Most of it appears to be an attempt at secrecy through obscurity meditated through your ability to pay to be trained to do it.


I would love for a day when I can go to a local independent book store for browsing and purchase my ebooks directly from their website. This DRM removal is a big first step.

I realize that you specifically said you are not responsible for this decision. But, I fully support the move and it is your name that I have imprinted along side it. Since I haven't read any Charles Stross books and I want to show my support, what book would people recommend to get me well and truly hooked?


Another reason why current e-ink devices will be almost certainly be obsolete in 3-5 years is simply because their battery will be dead. Lithium Ion batteries are good for about 200 recharges, AND over time they get weaker and weaker --- so by five years the non-replaceable battery is almost guaranteed to be kaput.

And if the company providing the DRM is dead and gone, or the particular DRM format is dead and gone by that point, then so are your DRM'ed e-books.


Ted V. - I like the "Laundry" novels, start with The Atrocity Archives.

As a former Powell's worker, I would say they will be happy when they figure out how to sell a used e-book.


The one incontrovertible unselling point about DRM at that level of decision making for me, at least, is the consideration that absolutely no DRM vendors will assume any liability for the failure of their product.

This when surge protectors boldly proclaim on their packaging the amount of insurance they offer to cover if their product fails (never minding how often they actually have to pay out, or how difficult they make the claim process - the point is two products both offering to protect your goods, and only one bragging about putting cash down on the line).


Depends on what you like to be honest .

Spy thrillers with Geek humour + HP Lovecraft mix ? Try The Atrocity Archive to start .

Near Future Scifi - Halting State then Rule 34

Heinlin infused stories involving sexbots - Saturn's children

Short Stories - Wireless

Stories of Singularity and its affects Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise

all out hard Scifi - Accelerando

Child friendly Fantasy ? Merchant Princes series

Um any I forgot ?


Oh yeah , The Prisoner (original version) meets The Stepford Wives in Space - Glasshouse


Excellent info ... and accurately reflect this SF book buyer's concerns.

Even so - DRM-free, etc. -- until I can get my favorite authors' autographs, I'm staying with paper. Also, autograph session at the cons offer an opportunity to shy fans (who probably buy 100+ books per year) to meet their favorite authors without feeling pushy or weird. This 'face-time' alone is worth keeping printing presses rolling in the genre industry.


I have an original NextBook which has never used DRM. I've always had a wide selection of books on it (about 600 at the moment) and I back it up to my main computer regularly. The ePub books I've bought online have seemed easy enough to copy onto the book and I've yet to have a DRM related problem. Not sure what I'm doing right but I'm not going to complain either.


Thanks guys for the suggestions. After I posted I considered that I probably shouldn't have asked for recommendations for fear of hijacking the thread. That I do not wish to do.


Ted V - Unlike many authors, Charlie writes a variety of different types of science fiction, typically a few books per type. The Merchant Princes are more fantasy-like (Book 1 is The Family Trade), Halting State is near-future computer-related social fiction (Rule 34 is mostly a follow-on), Singularity Sky (and Iron Sunrise) are post-nanotech outer-space suspense fiction, Saturn's Children is in the style of late Heinlein (actually on purpose!), Accelerando looks at the singularity genre, The Atrocity Archives are computer/Cthulhu comedy. I disliked GlassHouse, though he had some interesting ideas, but basically you can pretty much start at the first book of any of the other sets depending on your taste.


Announcement: Back home, truncated end of posting reinstated.

(I think I may have accidentally deleted it when I logged into my blog to publish the pre-written entry while in a pub using an iPhone. iPhones and long essays just don't mix ...)


Having recently discovered that adobe does not support drm on linux [even in binary form] or acsm which is xml file without hacking it via emulation as i found a howto.

As i am unwilling to buy a ereader, and discovered that kindle readers dont work with acsm files which my public library offers and according to the librarian who i spoke to when told. Two thoughts crossed my brain.

First was lets hope adobe never leave the ereader software for being unprofitable or not something the new ceo wants to do anymore.

Second was are these people joking with this ereader silly stuff and i will stick the paper version.

I read at least one book a week in paper


Speaking of ebooks (although not specifically DRM,) has there been any news on Merchants War ebook availability?

Yes: it's available.

If you wait until July, you can buy it without DRM, too.


Anything that will make ebooks easier to acquire from different vendors sounds like an outstanding idea. I for one am concerned about comments on the death of e-ink devices. I truly hope this is not the direction things go. If I have to stare at an LCD screen (I don't care how good it is) for hours reading, then I'm more than likely going to go back to paper books.

While e-ink may be slower, and isn't good for multi-purpose devices, I could care less about this aspect. Battery life and readability are key, and anyone that is a voracious reader will not want to be charging their e-reader as often as you have to with most LCD screen devices.


Of Charlie's works I've only read 4: Halting State, Rule 34 (its sequel), Accelerando, and Glasshouse; all of which are, of course, wonderful.

The former two are near-future police procedural/mystery-type novels with well thought out and some near prescient technology elements all wrapped up in a crunchy second-person narrative. If that sounds good to you, go with Halting State. You won't be thrown into the deep end of the pool but the water will be up to your shoulders.

The latter two books are independent takes on a post-singularity future. Accelerando starts in a near future before the singularity and follows its characters through and beyond the transition. Glasshouse takes place many gigaseconds after its singularity and mixes together themes about gender-identity, memory excision (both self-chosen and enemy-inflicted), self-identity, and 1950s gender-roles/-expectations (among others). Of the two I'd suggest Glasshouse to start because it felt like it had a shallower learning curve. Accelerando *will* toss you in the deep end and it will be a rough time until you can shuck your steel-toed boots. :) Also, to be honest I just enjoyed Glasshouse more.


On topic:
Not much to say other than the portion of the post currently available is brilliant and exactly describes my own reservations about buying ebooks for the past couple of years. I avoided buying any of the devices until a month ago when the iPad's upgraded resolution finally broke my willpower. Fortunately I haven't yet amassed a huge library of ebooks that are encumbered with DRM that I'll need to strip. In fact, it's just four. So far.


Child friendly Fantasy ? Merchant Princes series

The "Merchant Princes" books are neither child-friendly nor genre fantasy (although they were initially marketed as the latter for contractual reasons) ...


The Atrocity Archives is a good starting point, but in the spirit of OGH's post, how about Accelerando?

It's available from this site, it's about the near future, and best of all it is (DRM) free!


Perhaps if you tried to edit it after announcing it on twitter the first time, I have seen the full post before the truncated one.


I was at the pub, with only an iphone and beer-fattened fingers to tell the CMS to publish the blog post. Bite me!


iPhones and long essays just don't mix .

And the pub, and the items sold and consumed in said pub, had nothing to do with it.... :-)


Not that it really matters much given your target audience, but watermarking non-encrypted text content is basically useless as a piracy deterrent. It takes about 3 seconds, total, to remove the watermarks from iTunes music files: I doubt that Apple actually considers them to be an anti-piracy tool at all.


This is an excellent analysis of the mid-list, but (naturally!) doesn't consider scholarly or legal publications.

Scientists and lawyers depend on stable books, up to date journal articles and topical preprints to keep themselves informed. DRM schemes prevents a scientist from using electronic publications from different publishers just the way incompatibilities keep lawyers from using Lexis Nexis and Westlaw together.

Anyone using DRM in these fields can safely expect that, unless they have a huge monopolistic advantage, their e-book offerings will simply be ignored. No one will want to bother!

This is particularly unfortunate in law, where e-books could easily replace "looseleafs", a strange but always up-to-date publication sent out as individual pages to be inserted into an existing document, all housed in a three-ring binder.

--dave (who used to work with looseleafs) c-b


Not that it really matters much given your target audience, but watermarking non-encrypted text content is basically useless as a piracy deterrent.

Define "piracy".

Peanut Press had a successful way of watermarking ebooks back in the day. They'd be encrypted, and you needed to enter your key to decrypt them. Your key was ... the credit card number you'd paid with!

Give that away on bittorrent, sucker.

I don't think anyone in the publishing industry is seriously worried about you sharing an ebook you bought with your family or immediate friends. What they're worried about is two things. (a) Some dimwit uploads an ebook to bittorrent, potentially costing them sales. (I personally think this is an illusory problem -- most of those downloads aren't substitutes for actual sales, they're stamp-collecting or the equivalent of library loans: reads by people who would never have bought the book if that was the only way to get hold of it.) And (b) some malevolent person starts flogging copies as their own product.

Most folks don't really understand enough about electronic goods to realize that if you upload a watermarked file, your name is attached to it. So there's an opportunity here for education: send the foolish file-sharers a nastygram and tell them not to do it again. It may also be useful in dealing with the greedy and stupid types who attempt to pirate ebooks for financial gain.

Those who know enough to strip watermarking off a file are generally also less likely to take watermarking as be a personal affront. But they're a minority, anyway.


You don't need DRM if you're publishing loose-leafs; you just need your users to know that if they don't have a current up-to-date subscription their books might be in peril of being out of date. The subscription is a business expense, and can be offset against the risk of liability if the customer screws up due to out-of-date information.

Publishing: lots of sectors that don't work the same way. As I noted, dropping DRM will be great for Tor/Forge. For different types of publisher? Maybe not -- or maybe it was unnecessary in the first place.


Hmm yes, I posted that and meant to write a re-edit/clarification included with the Glasshouse post immediately after but got distracted . I suppose I meant to say less ... Hmm actually I'm not sure quite what I meant - it felt more adolescent in style, aimed at the younger version of me. Child friendly is probably a terrible description. Younger reader? I dunno - how would you describe it ?


Actually, most modern file formats will die on single-bit errors. EPUB and Mobi are compressed, which has the same effect as encryption in that sense. (If you're creating your own EPUBs, you could disable the compression though).

Anyway, I look forward to being able to fulfil the prediction of additional ebook sales! It's just a pity the big brains didn't see the problem in advance... you'd like to think it would be more obvious, after what happened with the record labels.


Nicely argued but to continue the off-topic thread, am smirking at any of your stuff being marked as child-friendly (I believe children should have their minds distorted regularly but that's not a generally accepted view ;-)


Ack replying to myself *slaps hand*

Re Fantasy, yeah, it isn't but it has a fair amount of hallmarks that give a handy encapsulation of what to expect.

Trouble is you write in the niches so that describing it can be tricky if the person you are talking to hasn't read you .


True, true -- I nearly edited it to say "The same is true of compression." I now regret not doing so :).


I think the watermarking accomplishes basic embarrassment which is effective in the social milieu, making it way better than the currently 0-functionality DRM.

I've got Calibre set up and can just drop an Amazon-bought book onto it to strip the DRM off it. So it's not preventing me from sharing about; only my ethical sense is doing so. I went through the bother because I'd made up my mind to be able to read on other devices and be future-proofed. Someone who goes through the bother of removing a watermark is likely doing so because they have decided ahead of time to subvert it's purpose.

In both cases the mechanism is non-functional for its supposed purpose. The difference with the watermark is that it doesn't reduce usability/functionality as it does so. So its failure to be 100% effective is less bothersome (and doesn't have a side effect of propping up Amazon/Apple's hardware sales & percentage negotiations).


Great article, thanks for your analysis.

I wanted to add one point with regards to e-ink vs LCD. It doesn't change any of the arguments you made, people will still be buying new devices, but I think the shift may be the other direction, sort of.

There is actually a large push to move from LCD's to reflective displays like e-ink for smartphones because you can skip the power draw of the backlight. The push is to get full color displays that can give video rate display, and it is essentially there, qualcom has a micromirror based technology that is easier to read in bright light than lcd's and draws less than half the power. HP has a different system, e-ink is rapidly improving their technology. I went to a cool session on reflective displays at the last physics conference I went to, can you tell :)


So I could probably just Google this, but to save time (as that doesn't *always* work) I find myself thinking about

1) file sizes vis a vis DRM and whether losing the DRM will mean potentially reducing file sizes and making it less annoying to download ebooks over marginal networks

2) if dropping DRM could mean unbloating the reading software as well (Kobo, one of four sources I've used for etexts, is a notorious offender here, but they bundle in all kinds of 'added value' social networking crap)

This has accessibility implications.

I admit I am biased given my spotty 3G coverage and my comparatively inexpensive memory-poor Android phone, successor to an an equally limited iPod Touch.


After reading Scalzi's reaction: oops, this is the US publisher only, so it doesn't benefit me yet, right?

I don't suppose they'll be selling through with georestrictions disabled. (That's how I was able to read Egan's The Clockwork Rocket, despite the official UK publisher being wedded to DRM).


In December, 2007 you wrote, in regard to Tor's previous attempt to ditch DRM that lasted about one day before a Holtzbrinck exec shut it down:

I have spoken to two unimpeachable sources (one high up at Tor, the other high up at Baen), and the word is that Tor will be reactivating their webscription service as soon as the lawyers finish sorting out the contractual arrangements. (Which are going slowly and tediously as Holtzbrinck’s lawyers grapple with stuff they don’t understand and haven’t dealt with before. The exec at Holtzbrinck who jammed on the brakes is now out of the picture, but the legal formalities have to be observed.)

I was just curious: what's changed since then? Or, alternately, why did it take the lawyers so long? :) Would you care to compare and contrast the situations?


I really hate DRM. Anyway, I went and wrote something on 'e-books' for a course I'm doing. Here's what I posted for the course:

* A book is a physical item with defined physical attributes. An e-book is not a book because it doesn't have those defined physical attributes. The term e-book is a rubbish one because of this (and other reasons). We should stop using the term.
* Publishers hate you and don't trust you. You being both the individual purchaser and the library purchaser. So, don't buy "e-books" from publishers like that. (Still buy them from publishers that don't hate you, such as Baen Books, who's also have the Baen Free Library).
* Libraries should discourage patrons from buying DRMed "e-books" (artificially restricted "e-books") and direct them to free sources, or sources that don't hate the patron (e.g. Baen Books).
* Despite the propaganda, DRM stands for digital restrictions management. As it's all about managing the restrictions on the work that you legally purchase. DRM is the main reason I say that publishers hate you.
* I don't read the my uni "e-books" because I can't download them and read them off-line. I don't "borrow" books from the public library because it requires software that doesn't run on my computer. Having to jump through hoops sucks.

Other thoughts:
Basically, I'm one of those folk who will buy "e-books", but only in certain situations. (I've yet to "pirate" a book. Though, I've no real "moral" objection to it. The main 'problem' is lazyness. I would rather go to a publishers website and pay some money than to mess around trying to find the correct IRC channel or whatever is required to get into the 'scene'.)


High-priced technical books are usually offered by the publishers as standard PDF, and have been before the Kindle was ever launched. There's no DRM or even any watermarking that I've noticed. And these are titles that retail for $100 and up, offering much greater incentives for penny-pinching piracy. Somewhat ominously, a quick spot check on CRC Press books indicates that Amazon doesn't offer PDF even when the publisher does: sell paper or Kindle, no open electronic formats allowed.


The discontinuity of the DRM on e-book is unavoidable:

In my experience people who download illegally e-books are either people who don't have the money to buy the product or people who have already been burnt by the DRM system when they find themselves with a file they can't open anymore whereas they did buy it.

In the first case, those people wouldn't buy the product so the DRM, which is made to repel piracy. (from the publisher point of view at least. For intermediaries like Amazon it is a way to trap the consumer to their platform and to establish hopefully a monopole.)

As we can see the DRM system has always been ineffective as to its purpose. Worse, for the publisher, it is counterproductive because it drives away to piracy the second segment of potential consumer (fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...)

P.S. : The subject remind me of the debate made by the american publisher Baen when he argues about piracy in e-book:

P.P.S. : There is also a third category of people who download illegally e-books. Those who want to read the file a first time before buying it, either in paper or in electronic. This lead me to the point you made about the absence of a tip jar in this web site. I agree in the argument that a tip jar wouldn't reward the other people who work with you like your publisher. Nevertheless, it does make me wonder two things: why other publishing company haven't forbidden tip jars, or why a percentage to each contributor can't be made with such a system.

P.P.P.S. : Another thing about DRM, the other day, i did buy an e-book in a french e-library. Contrary to other e-book, this one didn't have any DRM disclaimer but imagine my surprise after paying when i only received a link to download to adobe. The download link being time sensitive and the adobe software not working well on the computer (an older mac), i couldn't even read the book i did buy... Even if i could, i wouldn't even been able to read it on my sony reader because it doesn't have the adobe DRM software permitting to read it!

P.P.P.P.S. : Sorry for writing so much post scriptums! And please do tell if you're planning to come to france at some point i'd love to meet you! If you could post a rough schedule of your appearances it would be great.


Sound like a good time.

Sorry my sentence on reread does not come across as intended. It was supposed to be a kind of bug report. Apologies.


If we're talking about Macmillan Publishing, then that's a British company (based at one time in what is now an Italian restaurant just along from Heffers in Cambridge). So I'd say there's hope.


US publisher only, for now. Tor UK is an imprint of Macmillan UK. I'm not 100% clear on the trans-Atlantic reporting hierarchy, but I believe a decision by John Sargent certainly sets a precedent that, if they're so inclined, the UK imprint can roll with.

I'd be surprised if DRM on ebooks isn't dead at some or all of the Big Six imprints in the USA within 3-6 months, and at some or all of the UK imprints within 6-12 months (the UK is about 1-2 years behind the USA in ebook uptake, but it's a sigmoid curve).


Nicely said!

While not really what Macmillan needed to hear, but worth noting in more abstract discussions, is that ebook DRM need not be foolproof, merely more work than running a printed copy through some character recognition. The first ebooks I encountered predated the ebook reader by years, back in the 1990s, as text files folks had constructed from printed copies. (Oh, yeah, Windows 95 and 2400 baud modems; we won't see those days again.) Any ebook piracy is going to come from the nerd subset anyway, and no security system can be perfect. The most obvious obstacle to wide-spread author-impoverishing theft is the difficulty of delivering the loot to the would-be fiction buyers in any quantity anyway. It's easy to buy books.

And it sounds as if book buying will be getting a little easier. Excellent.


Well, I'm glad Macmillan have dipped their toe in the water by making Tor DRM-free. However the above has a number of holes in it as a business case. Some general additional points:

1) One of the key things going DRM-free does for the publisher is open the route to selling their own books and pocketing the -30% rake off that your Amazons conventionally take. Because the publishers gave over control of the platform to Amazon/Apple they can't easily sell DRM-encumbered books AND bypass the managers of that DRM. DRM-free is a route to that, as well as being a stick to beat Amazon/Apple with.

2) Direct relationship between the publisher and the reader allows more innovative offerings that are currently cut off by the existing value chain. "You bought xx from us, here's a free copy of new author xx, see what you think." In particular there are things that the 'one size fits all' limits of Amazon's model actively discourages.

3) A targeted relationship between publisher and the reader allows for much better understanding of the readership base, and exploitation of it. Who, when, where, what else, etc. are valuable chunks of information to selling more books - and all of it currently stays with Amazon and is unavailable.

4) Whilst you say you think the reader of the latest bonkbuster is OK with DRM, I'd suggest that DRM-free holds benefit here as well. Someone sitting in the terminal, killing a few hours, waiting for a flight, looking for a book to read on holiday - is primed for enticing into a multi-volume saga, and a relationship with the publisher, if you can get past the informational brick wall of Apple/Amazon.

5) From a high level standpoint, publishing with DRM and an Apple/Amazon is like sealing the content inside a box and shipping it - a linear, one-directional flow. We now live in a world where a two-way flow - a conversation - is basically expected in products, TV programmes, services, etc. Moving from the resolutely backward looking, e'Book', metaphor, towards a forward looking 'conversation', metaphor allows publishers to turn around a diminishing position, regaining an 'integrator' role in the overall value chain.


The good people at Baen have been publishing DRM-free SciFi for a while now:

They also have a free library where you can own load complete novels:

Maybe something for Macmillan to copy?


What happened was exponential growth: ebooks went from less than 1% of US book sales in 2007 to maybe 40% by the end of 2012 (projected). At which point -- circa 2008-09 -- everybody in the industry shat a brick and began paying attention, when they weren't running naked down Broadway with their beards on fire. (I exaggerate. A little.) When that kind of attention falls on an industry sector that's growing like a mushroom cloud, the response of senior management in any industry is blind terror and a determination not to fuck up. Which tends to result in paralysis and conservativism in the short term, followed (if they survive long enough) by accomodation.

What's happened is they've finally come through the learning phase and have figured out not only what they're doing but what they should be doing.


Tor, a subsidiary of Macmillan, owns 30% of Baen. And has done so all along.

The folks at Tor did, briefly, sell ebooks through Baen's webscription front-end in 2006. That initiative was shut down on orders from the top (who didn't understand/didn't like what was happening) within 72 hours. This time around ... I'd be unsurprised to see Tor titles back on sale via within the next few months.


After a book is issued without DRM, and nobody has to pay for it again, ever, ever, ever. When it's free as breathing. How does the author or 3rd-party eseller make money?

The only reason DRM-free books make any money at all is because people haven't figured out how to tap into them. But, you can rest assured that some point down the road Google, or somebody else, will come up with a website or app that collects all these hapless books in one place. And that will be the end of backlists for all the authors and publishers that decided they didn't want to receive any money for their books.

End of story.


Simply brilliant. This has more strategic insight than a room-full of senior publisher executives.


Two points:

1. Most people are basically honest and will pay for something they appreciate. honesty boxes work in meatspace; people still buy non-DRM ebooks (if not, Baen wouldn't still be in business).

2. If something is easy to buy and use, most people won't bother looking for warez sites. Evidence: the continued existence of the iTunes Music Store.

3. For folks who, despite 1 and 2, collect other people's books and run file sharing sites, the publishers have an answer: lawyers. It's not a good answer and it's a process rather than a goal, but it works. NB: Priority goes to people who not only distribute content they don't own, but who try and turn a buck that way. Make it unprofitable and the incentive for a lot of piracy goes away.

64: is now The branding surprises me, given that there are non-Baen publishers who use it.

I didn't know that Tor owned 30% of Baen. Huh.


@David Collier-Brown - quite to the point. Most of the books I get to read are scholarly publications (and there's a relatively small but very robust market of us scholars out there). So far I only made the mistake of buying an e-book once. It came as a PDF file, which, however, could only be read from my desktop at the time (something I managed once to overcome using an extremely inconvenient procedure of signing up on the web). I don't think I can read this book now from any device I own, and I actually paid for it. Oh, and they wouldn't allow copying and pasting quotes from the text, not to mention annotations.
Kindle-type e-books are practically useless, by design, DRM or no DRM, because they don't preserve the original pagination, and cannot be cited in stuff I write.
In short, for the scholarly publication market, the current e-book industry offers mostly pain and little pleasure.
But this could be absolutely different, because e-books can be easily annotated, and above all, can be electronically searched. For a scholar, the possibility of doing a search on a book is priceless (indeed, even books I have on paper at home, I more often than not cite using the preview options available on Google Books and/or Amazon, simply because these are searchable).


Embarrassing confession first, I have never bought an ebook, well ok once on amazon by mistake And it turned out to be too much efffort to get a refund.
I am finally at 45 approaching a point where I can have a physical library that can house all
My books, a long dreamt of goal, it's not going to be cheap.

Current developments suggest it will not be money well spent, but on the other hand I am not rebuying thousands of books again.

Is there some crazy way one could be a trusted consumer, take a photo of the back cover of a book with bar code visible and pay a fee ( to cover conversion costs to ebook) to download a book you already own?

in advance of anyone pointing out piracy is an option, it's a bright line for me and one I will not cross.


I remember swearing on the day that I found the Baen ebooks web store: I could see my credit card getting maxed out on a fairly regular basis.

Now I have Tor to add to that list.

Sigh. It's a hard life. :)


Um, yes and no to the conversion process.

The trouble is that the various bits of legislation aren't set up to let you do this. If your physical book is destroyed in a fire you can't (usually) get a new one if you can show the charred back cover for example.

However a publisher/distributor could offer such a service. One might argue that they should do so in fact as a means of drumming up positive publicity and some extra cash. I suspect you'd have to find an author supportive of such a move too - you have to remember that the publisher is acting under the direction of lots of agents - obviously their boss, shareholders etc. but also for the author. "Dear author, we're going to offer a £1/$1.50 yard sale on e-version of your back catalogue to those that bought the hard copy version if you agree. You'll get royalties at your normal rate on the lower sales figure. Interested?" I suspect you'd get a lot of "yes please!" responses from authors but it's quite a radical action for a pretty conservative industry.


V, file sizes won't be greatly affected by the dropping of DRM. Encrypted data is incompressible, but the DRM encryption was invariably applied after a compression stage (because storage space is somewhat precious on e-readers). So there won't be a noticeable change in file size.

I suspect that the amount of code in the reading software to cope with DRM is absolutely minimal, a few tens of kB, no more. A percent at most of the software size.

Consider that even a Kindle 4 supports no fewer than five ebook formats (mobi, PDF, text, audiobook -- the code is still there even though the device has no audio capabilities -- and Topaz, a particularly viciously complex format), and has a web browser too. There's a lot of code there. You don't even save on crypto code by dropping DRM, because the web browser needs it anyway, even if the web browser is crippled, because you need a web browser with SSL to support in-device purchasing.

In any case, your concerns are surely backwards. If e-reader vendors did save a lot of code space by dropping DRM, this would mean they could pile in *more* features that their users might want. I can't imagine dropping DRM leading to a reduction in software features.


Insurance is an interesting point, I have my physical books insured at way more than their replacement value, (sadly practically zero apart from shipping) because my time costs to replace a library would be prohibitive.

To your broader point, I think back list will become cheaply available, at least on some books, I recall amazon selling Robin Hobb's first dragon novel free or very cheaply on the kindle, figuring I think correctly, that if you liked the first one you would buy the rest.

Ultimately the financial aspect of things ( for me) mean I can buy authors I like on sight in Hardback, though I well remember the years of waiting for something to come out in paperback. Until I read Charlie's blog I never realised how voracious readers were keeping mid list authors from going back to their day job, so my concern is to keep them having an income stream that lets me keepi reading their books.


Excellent news. And thanks for sharing your input to Macmillan.

But what does it mean in practice? Sorry if this is a daft question, but once the legal and practical dust has settled, will I
a) be able to buy the DRM-free Tor ebooks via Amazon, or
b) will it only be via a specific Tor website?
And if b), does that mean that DRM'd versions of the same books will be available via Amazon concurrently?


And a final request for sanity, could we have the option going forward when buying a physical book to pay a small premium and have ebook rights?


As a datapoint -

I fall into the 50-150 books/year category. I've had four-digit bookstore bills quite a number of years.

I have avoided buying ebooks or an ebook reader due to DRM. Yes, I'm plenty technical enough to remove DRM, but it was a "why even bother starting" when I'd have to jump through the hoops. I used various free books (or things like O'Reilly tech book PDFs) on portable devices but didn't buy fiction that way.

This change will change that, I'll start buying fiction this way at this point. Not always, but for at least some of it. I have a dead-trees fetish and many walls covered at home, but I am willing to shift some of the buying away from that mode.


This is on the money.

I'm a 29 year old woman, with a background in IT, although currently I handle documentation for a drink company. I am not intimidated by tech--I used to test software, break it on purpose. I've been reading voraciously since I learned to read, and I've been writing since I've been 10 years old.

For the past, oh, two years I've been spending more and more of my free money on music and computer games. Why? Because brick and mortar bookstores have either died (Borders) or seriously reduced their stock (B&N), the initial ereaders were shitty, and the later ones has DRM and I twitched about paying the same price for books I'd lose control of when my hardware went obsolete. I mean, there's probably things out there to strip the DRM, and I know enough how to find and use them, but I don't want a file marred by whatever weird format-changing artifacts will pop up. So I just couldn't tell myself it was worth it to shell out $150 for the reader, then $10-20 per book. I'm able to convince myself a hardcover is worth the near-$30 price on a regular basis...but when the hardcovers I want are no longer in stores, what do I do? At least with a hardcover, I get something that will last decades, and I get a colorful way to decorate my livingroom. But...Oh. Yeah. My local B&N doesn't stock books I've been looking forward to, and I can't be arsed to ask them to special order it. If I could, I'd just buy off of Amazon, but I can't be arsed to wait for the book OR pay for shipping.

So I've just sort of stopped buying books at the same rate. And it's been killing me slowly, passing up all these books.

But if Tor--a publisher I've had huge respect for based on the quality of their authors and stories--goes DRM-free...and B&N puts out that Nook Glow next month which lets you read on eink in the dark...I have a perfect digital replacement for a book. I WANT that. That's exactly what I want. Tor probably puts out enough books a year that I can nibble on those while the other publishers get their acts together and switch over too, so I'll never have to get a DRM book on my ereader.

Perfect world!


Seriously? Given that you're the target reading demographic for Baen, I'm shocked. I assumed you bought dozens of their ebooks.


"I personally think this is an illusory problem -- most of those downloads aren't substitutes for actual sales, they're stamp-collecting or the equivalent of library loans: reads by people who would never have bought the book if that was the only way to get hold of it."

And in fact it may drive sales. Because of the "fantasy" marketing I wasn't sold enough on the Merchant Princes books to buy them, though I would pick up book one and think about it in the bookstore every few months. And one night I wanted something to read and looked up your name on a torrent site and shortly had a big collection of works that I mostly already had, but which included the first three or so of the Princes books. Sorry, Charlie.

I blew through the first in less than two days. I also later purchased the rest of them, including the final one in hardcover. I would never have bought any of them otherwise. So at least in my case, piracy actually created sales where I was unwilling to commit my money before.

Why I ended up pirating the books is still a mystery to me, as the only other time I have pirated a book was an html file of Stephenson's The Big U way back when he insisted he would never allow it to be reprinted. But in this case everybody won: I got to enjoy a series I hadn't given a chance before and you and your publisher got a chunk of my cash.


While I expect e-ink readers will have a reduced dominance, I also seriously don't want them to go away. No matter how wonderful the screen quality, a backlit screen is a backlit screen and strains my eyes.

I converted to an e-reader for e-ink. Otherwise I could just read the things on the laptop I carry with me everywhere.


I'm in the 150-250 books per year buying group along with my mother. We switched to Kindles because we are flat out of room in the house for books. I have owned a Kindle touch for six months and it has 140 books on it (some of these purchased by Mom, most by myself). While a few of them are duplicate purchases (hello science fiction book club, please sell us some e-books we can download on release day instead of wait two weeks for the mail) almost every e-book we purchase we won't buy in print.

Now that we have Kindles we are effectively locked into Amazon and its ecosystem as purchasing a different brand of e-reader would necessitate leaving the library of books we have purchased behind us. I can (and have) purchased ebooks elsewhere and dumped them on our Kindles but the slushpile experience from indie e-book sellers is, in my experience, not a great improvement upon Amazon itself. This translates to more work for only slightly less money (warm fuzzies about giving the author etc more money are what led me to do it at all).

So yes, Charlie has hit the nail upon the head; for the type of reading I do, DRM is an encumbrance that hinders my reading experience and narrows my options for buying. This would be why I waited until the home storage situation was absolutely untenable before giving in to the electronic side.


I celebrate the death of DRM. E-books have become the new hardback for me. I'll purchase bargain bin paperbacks on a whim but hardback purchases are for books that I want to keep and generally put some effort into tracking down. With e-books, I may be able to get a cheaper price but the inconvenience of DRM and the concept that the digital file may well survive for as long as I bother to keep it backed up means that it's a commitment on par with buying and storing a hardback book.

The next hurdle will be geographic restrictions. With DRM gone, the other large pocket of altruistic pirating is about circumventing regional restrictions on sales. If publishers and authors can manage to find a equitable solution to international rights, then large-scale piracy will likely go away.


Using the credit card number for a watermark isn't a bad idea if the number stays stable. It seems banks are unwilling to eat the charges on possible fraud so they're hair-trigger wired to replace your card with a new number at the slightest opportunity (kind of a pain in the ass when one has recurring monthlies such as Netflix et al), but then one has to keep track of which card number is associated with a particular book file. I'm on my third one in eight years despite paying most transactions in cash, so the problem is non-trivial.


Cracking work there! Not just that, but it's great to see a publisher actually listening, learning and adapting.

re: a sea of self-published rubbish

Some of us try pretty hard to make sure our self-published material isn't rubbish - I spent six months of research through more sources than I can remember, got three experts to proof-read and edit the book and spent quite a while on formatting and cover design. The reason I had to self-publish is that the book was so niche that even the niche publishers wouldn't go near it. It's sold quite a few more than I expected and got a really good review in a top journal on the subject.
I know a lot of the stuff out there is pants, though.


A persuasive piece of writing, Charlie, and dead on the money for the bibliophiles among us. I'm one of the hundreds-of-books-a-year demographic, and my wife and I have been collecting books through 4 states, 5 apartments, and 4 houses. Along the way we've had to sell a lot of our old books (which was made easy by our living the last 35 years in the same town as Powell's) just to have enough room for ourselves, our kids, our dogs, and our computers. And it always seems as if it's just after I sell a book back that I find that I want to reread it because the next in the series is out, or I read a review of it that mentioned something I missed completely. But I've had to give priority on my book shelves to the technical books, which have been the largest part of the book budget over the years (my book bills have been as large as George William Herbert's many a year, because technical books average much higher prices than genre fiction). And the shelf space issue will become acute in a few years; we live now in a fairly large house (well, it's big for us, anyway), but we're both retired and will need to downsize to something smaller in the next few years, at which point we'll have to downsize our library too.

Ebooks will solve that shelf space problem. I've bought a few ebooks, perhaps 20 or 30 over the last couple of years (counting the Baen CD of all of Lois Bujold's Vorkosigan books as one) but have been reluctant to go whole hog because I read them on 2 devices now, a Macbook and an iPhone (and have an old iPod Touch with some of the books on it), and plan on getting an iPad later this year. With DRM-locked books the number of devices and the need to move to new ones over time is going to be unsupportable, without DRM I don't have any problem with getting almost all my books in electronic form.

Though I promise there are some books I'll continue to buy on first publication in hardback, both for permanence and because that's the best way to get money into the author's hands. Definitely doing that with all the Laundry books.


"It's my belief that today's e-ink ebook readers are doomed to obsolescence within a short period — 2-3 years possibly, 5 years probably."

If that happens without a replacement technology that provides the same "picture stability" I'm outta digital reading/buy myself a large number of Kindles to use up over the next few decades. I can't read long texts on a LCD, as it is far too much eyestrain for me. E-Ink provides the advantage of a set frame, no frequency refreshing, no backlight straining the eyes - like a book. That's what I need when I read something.
I see it again and again when I buy a magazine on my iPad and have to stop reading after a few minutes with longer articles.
LCDs are great for picture-heavy magazines, web sites and short stuff, but long, concentrated reading for hours? Not for me.


Peanut Press had a successful way of watermarking ebooks back in the day. They'd be encrypted, and you needed to enter your key to decrypt them. Your key was ... the credit card number you'd paid with!

Give that away on bittorrent, sucker.

I think watermarking is an okay thing to do. I have bought some ebooks with watermarks and no DRM (Drivethru RPG), and I'm somewhat happy with it.

I wouldn't recommend using credit card numbers there, though, and they are not a deterrent all the time.

The problem is that the original buyer might not be the one giving them away. Even without lending (rather, copying) books to friends, a buyer might have their books copied without their knowledge. There are risks connecting computers to the internet and malicious software can give access to private files.

This means that the buyer's computer could be infected with some malware, probably something installed after going on a web page or clicking on it, but also via direct attacks. Then the attacker could download files from the computer, looking for something interesting.

I don't have any figures or links here, sorry, but this is a possible (though probably a small) risk. It's not always good to blame just the buyer if their watermarked book is in the wild, so to speak.


" No matter how wonderful the screen quality, a backlit screen is a backlit screen and strains my eyes."

Turn. The. Brightness. Down.

Your eyes don't care if the light is transmitted or reflected, but the high brightness and contrast of LCDs is what hurts them. Turn the brightness down almost all of the way and it's MUCH better. And your battery lasts longer. :)


@ Theodore Ts'o
Lithium batteries go for about 1000 loading cycles. They are in basically every single mobile device.
Your average e-reader lasts 2 weeks - 2 months depending on how much you read (and if you use wireless) with one charge. That's 2000 weeks to 8000 weeks - or 40-150 years. I fear everything else of the e-reader breaking before I get issues because of the number of loading cycles.


Sean wrote:

Seriously? Given that you're the target reading demographic for Baen, I'm shocked. I assumed you bought dozens of their ebooks.

Seriously. I became less Baen-core target as series evolved; I ended up with all the Weber and some Ringo but stopped buy-on-site for a long time. 1632 was still on that buy-on-site list but was hard to follow for a while. And Bujold's gone too intermittent.

I still pick up hard or softcovers in stores, but backed off from Amazon-preorder etc.

It didn't stop my overall uptake rate. But I'm much more blasé about preorder now wrt Baen. Preordered Scalzi (some), Pratchett, Butcher, Briggs, West, Sagara, Banks... No, missed that until it shipped retail. And Cherryh, Stross first day retail. Harris near-ship date retail.



will I
a) be able to buy the DRM-free Tor ebooks via Amazon, or
b) will it only be via a specific Tor website?
And if b), does that mean that DRM'd versions of the same books will be available via Amazon concurrently?

The answer to (a) is "better than that" == you'll be able to buy DRM-free Tor ebooks from Amazon, direct from Tor (resulting in the authors getting more royalties because Amazon isn't taking a cut), from third-party ebook stores like Fictionwise, probably from third-party ebook publisher storefronts like Baen ... in other words, from loads more places. And due to the absence of DRM you'll be able to use the same file on any e-reader you own (if necessary, transcoding into the required file format using a tool like Calibre).

The answer to (b) is "probably not, but don't know yet" -- I suspect, although I don't know for sure yet, that Tor will simply re-upload their master copies of all their ebooks to Amazon with the flag that says "apply DRM before distribution" set to "no". It is not obvious whether this will then show up as an update to your existing purchases from Amazon, or whether it'll only affect new purchases going forward.


Why I ended up pirating the books is still a mystery to me, as the only other time I have pirated a book was an html file of Stephenson's The Big U way back when he insisted he would never allow it to be reprinted.

You answered your own question.

Aside from the stamp collectors, piracy is mostly a symptom of a market failure -- demand for a product that is not being met at any reasonable price point (or at all) by the distribution chain.


Thanks a lot Charlie, you're doing the written word a big service here.

And to readers wanting to get a taste for Charlies writing, I would recommend the short story "Extracts from the club diaries"
which can be read online at this very web-site.


I like the DriveThruComics solution: my GirlGenius pdfs are watermarked with my name and order number. It's unobtrusive but seems like a reasonable way to prevent buyers casually releasing their copies onto the interwebs.

I am in the 'voracious buyer' category, but of the mere 100+ books on my ipad, about a dozen are DRM encumbered. Most of those I already have in paper but bought to carry on reading on the ipad's dark screen in bed without disturbing my other half. Everything else: bless O'Reilly, Gutenberg, Doctorow (yep, bought the pbs after reading the free ebooks), the Hugo voter packets and DriveThruComics. DRM is a profound discouragement (this is also why I have nothing from Audible, despite the large number of unabridged audiobooks they have which I would give good money for).

Two things I hope for from ebook stores;
1) some kind of bundling deal, such as a download code when you buy the hardback, and
2) easier browsing. I blew £45 in Waterstones on Monday, having gone in for one specific book and coming out with four others I didn't know existed. Until you can get a comparable experience on-line, my random impulse shopping is going to be for paper.

I'm not holding my breath about the last two, but Aaron at 1 is right: I am willing to hand over money for lots of ebooks if DRM goes.


There are sparks of outrage in the right-wing-idiot press at the moment: why are libraries letting our children see this filth? Apparently there was a summary of complaints published in the last few days.

There were the usual bigotries revealed, and a sense that the newspaper couldn't tell the difference between a five-year-old and a fifteen-year-old: in short, nothing new.

There's some aspects of older children's fiction that merit a little caution. Times have changed. But I wonder how much screaming there would be if, instead of reading Swallows and Amazons, a bunch of kids were discovered to be actually doing it?


Some RPG publishers do offer print and pdf bundles. At least on that I have gone fully electronic, even if pdf is not a good reading format, for space concerns. And at least it is easy to migrate. Searchable, good looking, unwieldy, they are used in the laptop. I also have a lot of technical articles, Ph. D. thesis, etc. in pdf format at work, and often send copies to peruse at home, and then delete.

As many others, I am sitting on the ebook fence. I read Project Guttenberg epub books in my ipod touch (because I prefer to have entertainment and frequent recharges separate from my long battery life phone), but I have hesitated to actually buy anything due to concerns about long term readability (software or hardware locks). On the other hand, as I stopped buying RPG supplements, soon I will ran out of "bad books" to donate to the public library to make the place for new ones.

The ipod touch reading experience has been surprisingly good despite the small screen, and the right thumb cramps after a long flight. When I jump into ebooks it will probably be through a small multipurpose tablet, not a dedicated reader. When I can easily export to a replacement device.


There's a couple of different ways of looking at this, and I think Charlie took the obvious, understandable, view: you have the Kindle, and you have the iPad, and the Kindle is, because of the limits of e-ink, something of a dead end. We have the Kindle Touch on sale, but what big feature can follow that? And selling the hardware depends on a stream of new features.

I'm inclined to think that the current fast-replacement paradigm of the CE market cannot be sustained. And some features of the eReader market will have to change as a consequence.

We can replace batteries in a mobile phone, or a watch. If one of the limits on the life of an eReader is the battery, when will we able to get the batteries changed?

If we end up going the iPad way, more expensive general-purpose tablets supplanting the current single-purpose eReader, I want to be able to get a replacement battery.


I agree with your comments about DRM. However, I really hope e-ink readers will not go away. At least to me, reading from an e-ink screen feels more calm and serene. I can compare, because I used to read ebooks from my laptop screen for a long time, and recently bought a cheap e-ink reader.

I really like it. Reading "paper" lighted by an external light source is much easier on the eyes than reading from a back-lighted screen (even with light letters on a dark background...). And when reading in bed, looking at what is essentially a bright square lamp messes with my sleep/wake rhythm.

Yes it's slow, you certainly cannot view movies on it or browse the web. I wouldn't even want to. No dancing kittens or other distractions!


It sounds to me as if you can't predict the status of an individual book, because the Baen option implies an end-run around regional restrictions, but if a Tom Docherty Associates line has the proper rights, it's a practical option. I could see it happening first with US-based authors who have no other publisher.

Baen looks to have a service they can sell, if it is sufficiently scalable, and as a distinct company, the structure may reassure some who might be concerned about honest counting of sales.

I think we're all guessing, though, and we all could be wrong. and we could still get a good solution for all involved.


And if Google do that they will get the pants sued off them.


That's a good point about citation.

I don't think it's insurmountable, but you might need an ebook which has an internal mark-up structure so that there is a logical page which matches that of a physical book. Maybe the standard citation format would need modifying, but I don't know enough. And the reader would have to be able to use the citation. If you cannot select a page, and get to the same place in the text, whatever the reader hardware and font size used, it's clearly useless for you.

I don't think it's a problem with ebooks, as such: at the moment they seem comparable with an inadequately marked-up HTML file. I am not sure, myself, that I would buy an encyclopedia as an ebook.


Replying to my own comment:

Also, if your computer with watermarked PDFs gets stolen, the thief could distribute those and the first person to check is of course you.

Of course you know (hopefully) when your computer is stolen. Malware might go unnoticed for a longer time.


There are eInk devices out there which do offer replaceable batteries, although by the time the battery in my Cybook early-release Gen3 dies, I may prefer to put the 30 quid towards buying a current model anyway. Yes, I'm another reader who actively prefers eInk for reading books, partly because I find it easier on my eyes, and partly because for my preferred screen size I find it a lot easier on my hands (I have RSI, and the weight difference between my Cybook and any current TFT device of the same screen size matters).


Hardly surprising as a regular reader of this blog. But still... *aplords* Agree with article 100%.


Kindles have had page numbers for some time. They're optional, and tied to the same page number in a specific printed book, but that's better than nothing. Perhaps not enough ebooks use the page number feature, but it's getting more and more common, and essentially every textbook I have ever bought in ebook form has had page numbers.


(Possibly unwise admition but hey.) In relation to piracy. I'll admit. I read my first Stross book Singularity Sky... Well listened (I'm reg blind.) Through finding a torrent. This was a few years ago. I couldn't find an accessable alternative. The RNIB library only had one other title. Which I since borrowed. I've taken similar aproaches to other works if I can't pay to download either an epub, borrow accessable version, buy MP3 or DRMd Audible format.

The latter, if available, I used to crack, since I didn't have a device that played them but badly wanted the book. Fed up of reading reviews for stuff I couldn't get hold of. This was a slow and teadious hit and miss process and I can't remember now how I did it. Which plugin I installed etc.

I don't seed torrents. Never have. It's purely a convenience thing for me.

Subsequently, I've bought Ibooks through Ipod, Including OGH host's offerings. I also will buy through websites offering DRM free epub, including O'riely for tech stuff. The latter are easy to find on torrents but there's more than I could ever read and I want latest editions. (Plus TBF I don't really like feeling I'm ripping off peple's work I've enjoyed.)


You're right about "curatorial" resellers. That's exactly what aNobii is trying to do and is suffering heavily from being forced to use the incredibly awful Adobe DRM.


I certainly agree with the weight comment for e-ink displays; my Kindle is 250 grams and can easily be held one-handed, my iPad 1 is 680 grams and gave me a wide variety of exciting wrist and shoulder pains for the first few days I had it, the Kindle Fire is 420 grams which is still a bit heavy.

Also I am sufficiently distractible that having a book reader which doesn't play Angry Birds is a positive advantage; everything in one device is essential if the one device needs to go in your trouser pocket, but for me having tablet-game-console and thing-to-read-books being different devices is pretty much a positive thing.


it's my belief that today's e-ink ebook readers are doomed to obsolescence within a short period — 2-3 years possibly, 5 years probably. This is because the power consumption of LCD displays is dropping and their quality is rising. e-ink devices are inherently incapable of displaying video, are lousy as web browsers due to the screen refresh time, and if you use them to play audio or do any intensive processing (such as running apps) their battery life drops towards that of a regular LCD-equipped tablet. They're essentially single-purpose devices, competing in a market with general-purpose devices

I'm not sure if you are wrong but I hope you are. Early last year I had a bout of eye strain in both eyes from a months worth of revision that saw me staring at a screen from waking until going to sleep. Since then I have had to wear glasses for screen reading but still after a while they start to hurt. Reading off of a static display like epaper is much better for me than anything else. In addition to my kindle I also read books from a variety of apps on my iphone but the phone is only loaded with short stories because I can't do with reading for long periods off of it.

The other advantage is battery life. My kindle is just wifi and I have no desire to do any web browsing or anything else on it other than reading. Consequently I charge the battery around once a month whereas my phone is charged every other day.

Bottom line is that whilst I could read off of the high-res screen of a general purpose pad I don't have a desire to do so for eyesight, battery life and as others have pointed out: weight and ease of holding/operating with one hand.


The problem is even if you don't use the Lithium Ion battery at all, or charge it very rarely (i.e., only every two weeks or so), the effects of time still ravage the battery. Basically, the battery starts degrading form the moment it leaves the factory, and discharging down to zero or close to zero, or storing the battery in a hot place (i.e., leaving it in a car in the summer time) merely accelerates the process.

If you want to preserve a LiON battery's lifespam as much as possible, then if the battery is in active use, top it off as much as possible (and assuming that it has a smart battery management circuit that doesn't keep charging the battery when it the battery is fully charged, and then doesn't kick in until after the battery charge drops down to 95% or so --- i.e., most laptops, but not necessary simpler CE devices), keep the device plugged in to avoid battery wear. For dumb devices that continuously charges the battery whether it needs it or not, excess charge leads to heat leads to excess battery wear. If you are not using the battery actively, the best thing to do is to store it in a refrigerator, above freezing temperatures, discharged to about 50% capacity. But even if you treat the battery as nicely as possible, it will still suffer the effects of time. That's inherent in the technology.

So the bottom line is that after 5 years, your Kindle with the irreplaceable battery *will* be a lot less useful, if not completely dead, due to the battery having a fraction of its lifetime. Which might actually be good for authors since it means the Kindle lock-in won't be forever, at least not if they get smart about DRM...


Woohoo! Well, actually not quite. That's one stupidity of ebook publishing out of the way, one more to go, Geographic Restrictions. If Only I weren't limited in what I could purchase based on where I happen to live.

I have bought all of Charles' books that I had access to (via fictionwise before the instituted geographic restrictions a few years ago).


Ok, I've got a joint qualification in Computing and Business Studies, and am a practicing software engineer.

I still can't kick any holes in Charlie's argument.

DRM (and disliking a borrowed Kindle) are the 2 main reasons why I'm not into e-books, and strongly recommend anyone I know who's thinking about an e-reader to try before they buy for a typical for them extended reading period.


Dave, don't know where you are in the world, but here in Australia loose-leaf legal updates have been dead for several years. Everything is electronic these days, and (as the person in the law firm who was responsible for this stuff) that's a damned good thing.

You can still purchase them from the same old giants and dinosaurs, but I certainly wouldn't want to see a lawyer who still used them.


1) "(I emphasize, DRM is the only thing that keeps them there: converting Kindle ebooks to ePub is trivially easy in the absence of DRM.)"

I'm no tech head, but (on my Intel Macintosh) removing DRM on Kindle content is actually trivially easy.
There's a free drag'n'drop app; first time you use it you enter the serial numbers of any Kindles - we have two - whose content you may wish to free from its shackles. Then just drad and drop from attached Kindle onto the app et viola (a large violin).

2) "Battery life and readability are key, and anyone that is a voracious reader will not want to be charging their e-reader as often as you have to with most LCD screen devices." [comment #30]

I'm going through about 1 Kindle a year so far. My first one 'just died' one morning, 2nd one got sat on (in its leather cover) by a not very heavy wife ... and lost 1/2 the screen.

E-ink is great, but paper books are tougher and if (e.g.) you drop one in the bath you lose one book, not 80. Personally; I would factor in about £80 per year as the replacement cost of a heavily used eBook reader.


All hands all hands!

Brace for incoming spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, eggs, beans and spam!!


Long OT by now, but "Merchant Princes" in one sentence with "child friendly" ... I'll abuse this as a data point to support my theory that a hallmark of "respectable" YA books is a degree of High Octane Nightmare Fuel that would have had Lovecraft run screaming into the night.


Good arguments here. Personally, the only reason I have not bought an e-reader yet is DRM. I have run out of book storage some time ago and are now using the floor. But the last three times I was determined to get a Kindle, Amazon's DRM policy and closed format stopped me right there.

On the device side, I think there could be quite a bit more on offer, but only if DRM-free catches on.

And finally (doubtless said above), Baen went DRM-free on ebooks a long time ago an apparently has never regretted that decision.


And there goes Tor UK right on along behind.

All they need to do now is sort out the selling stuff at affordable prices in Australasia issue and my life will be complete.


Straylight, if you're blind you may like to know that there's a clause in all my book contracts (offered by the publishers, accepted by myself) permitting royalty-free use for talking books for the blind. Is it piracy if you torrent an audiobook because the RNIB hasn't gotten around to making a legal royalty-free transcript available? Technically yes -- but I'm pretty sure nobody sane would want to take you to task over it.


O'Reilly press (for computer tech books) is the only one I know that includes the e-book when you purchase (or have purchased) the dead tree edition. I'd love to see other publishers adopt that policy


As a early adopter and a voracious reader I'm thrilled. When I started reading on my Palm Pilot, I wasn't thinking about DRM yet and, when I started, I still thought it was ok because at least it was encrypted to my personal info. When it looked like Fictionwise didn't have the money to maintain their software any more it took a week to disinfect most of the books that I had paid for since 2001! But on the bright side, I still have the first two Laundry Service novels in a readable ebook form. And to top it off; no more dicking around with Windoze software on my Linux boxes:)

Ever since I largely gave up on my old favorite Fictionwise, I've been buying most of my ebooks direct from Baen. I've become firmly committed to buying DRM free for years now. I found it odd that you didn't mention Baen, for a while a few of Tor's books were available for sale on Baen's website. But Tor had second thoughts and as of this writing, they are all still listed as unavailable.

Mr. Stross, you may not be directly be responsible for Tor's decision but you have been a voice of sanity for a while now. You didn't inspire me to write to Macmillan, but when I did, knowing you were anti-DRM was a morale boost. Thank you.


I'm an avid reader and I'm just about to purchase an e-reader (still undecided as to exactly which one).

I've also decided that I will not, under any circumstances, purchase any DRM-encumbered ebooks. Never, ever, period.

So if any publishers are listening, take this to heart: if you use DRM you will never get a dime from me. I'll buy from your competitors all day long, but not from you. Tor and Forge will get my business; you will not. How much clearer can I make it?

I simply will not allow you to dictate how, when, where or on what device I choose to read.

I'm just one person, but I suspect there are lots of people like me who won't take the time to state this sentiment openly.

Publishers, are you listening?


re Nix

Oh well, I was hoping DRM was part of the bloat.

Sounds like instead what I need to do is find a no-frills epub reader software for Android. As in go from page to page, zoom and unzoom, use screen rotation firmware, and rotation lock, as well as list ebooks by filename. Smallest app size possible.


What reflowable ebooks really need for citation purposes is Chapter, Section, Paragraph (and possibly Sentence) markup. This doesn't necessarily have to be visibly rendered (at least, not all the time), but you ought to be able to copy an internal URL with it, and alternatively format it for print citation. I'm sure EPUB has the plumbing for it, but I'm also fairly sure they're not widely used. I just read an article on epub citations that argues that this is basically not new to ebooks -- Classicists have been dealing with the same issue (non-uniform page numbering) for centuries, and developed a standard solution (basically the same as suggested above).


Allow me to recommend FBReader for Android. I do all my ebook reading in it. It doesn't support DRM, so for purchased ebooks, you'll have to do DRM-stripping.


Thanks Charlie.

As oft pointed out. When companies make it easy and reasonably affordable, to download, archive and use media on various devices, it's quicker than trying to circumvent the process to save a few quid. Ibooks DRM thing aside. Whilst I still have a job, I'm buying more than I borrow. As I can get the stuff near instantaniously.

Anicdotaly. The sort of mass pirate downloader, who will grab a complete bibleography or entire seasons of show XYZ, for example. . They're young and / or unemployed. Where they might have the time to plough through all that tstuff, they won't have the expendable income to have bought it if there had been no alternative. Later the reverse may be true.



Petty Officer Spotted Deer, of the Naval Syndicate ekranoplan Great Financial Opportunity, cocked an ear at the bleep from the warning system. The display gave a clear bearing, and the warbling pattern, akin to the cries of the damned in the torments of hellfire, allegedly, was distinctive.

She clicked on her mic. "Spam! Spam! Spam! Green zero four seven." She twisted the knob that turned the starboard fire control director onto the bearing. They'd curse her at the lurch. A green light came on, they had the target and the signal was getting very strong.

The Ping Boing radar was starting to overload her receiver, and that was a bad thing. She adjusted the controls carefully, trying to tune out the specific signal, watching for other threats. She didn't notice the Captain arriving, still fastening his pants, and he didn't really need to be there.

He sat down and hung on for grim life as the feline at the helm started the combat turn, the stubby wing-tip throwing up a huge gout of spray as the tip-vortex plucked at the wave-crests, a flower blossoming in the radar eye of the incoming missile. The selsyns that took the reference-platform outputs to the computers screamed. Turrets tracked the target as madly spinning differentiators and integrators computed the changes.

The Captain barked out one word: "Shoot!" Across the ship, a dozen paws slammed down firing keys, and then the mechanical brains agreed that the aim was correct. A salvo of three-point-five VT HE erupted from the turrets, and as the barrels recoiled, breeches snapped open. Spent cases crashed and rattled down the ejection chutes as metal arms, with insane speed, threw fresh rounds into the guns, ready racks rotated, and new rounds came up the hoists from the magazines.

Three rounds detonated, passing close enough to the target to trigger the VT fusing, Carefully engineered steel encasing the explosive shattered into jagged lumps of mostly the right size. Some of those lumps of metal struck the missile, tearing at the structure, opening up the streamlined form to the ravaging hands of the sound barrier.

There was still enough of an echo that the fire control radar fired a second salvo, but the debris cloud was slowing, and the shells all passed ahead, throwing up a pattern of waterspouts on the distant sea.

"Check! Check! Check!" said the Captain, almost pointlessly.


Confess - you've been looking forward to the next SPAM attack for a while now, haven't you ... :)


As a self-pubbed Amazon author who doesn't use DRM I'm trying to think of how to advertise that. I just got an email from a reader of this blog who assumed that just because I was on Amazon I was using DRM...


You might want to rethink your definition of book. Within arm's reach I have a book which can be found in the following formats:
* A collection of scrolls (-libri- vel -bibloi-)
* A handwritten parchment codex
* A printed paper codex
* A text file (HTML or unformatted or XML)
* A microfilm facsimile of a codex
* A PDF facsimile of a codex
* A sophisticated webpage which will provide commentary, translations of individual words, etc. on demand
* A pattern in someone's memory (very possibly how the author composed it before dictating to a slave)

Come to think of it, its also available in translation, in editions with commentary and app. crit. and ones with just the text, and so on. Which of these are books, and which are not?

I love physical books, but books have changed formats more than once in the past, and they will change again.

@JFM: as you say, chapter/section/paragraph is as old as Augustine, but it seems to intimidated many people. Steve Jackson Games refuses to use it for that reason (also, they are too poor to do the work of designing a book twice to meet the demands of both colour print and black and white eInk).


Getting rid of DRM would be fine -- provided the problem of piracy is adequately addressed. After watching the sales of my non-DRM book drop to about zero following the introduction of the title to the torrents, I decided "Never again" -- at least until the issue of piracy is addressed.

It might be true that many downloads of pirated books aren't lost sales -- but enough are to severely damage a title once it is pirated.


Hey there traditional publishers!

I'm one of those voracious genre consumers Mr Stross has been talking about. I have 10,267 books in my personal library, all catalogued, all shelved in bookcases, all arranged by Dewey classification if they're non-fiction and author (within genre grouping) if they're fiction.

Less than a fraction of 1% of those books are photocopies made from a public library or university library copy. All the others are nicely bound books manufactured by bona fide publishers, just like you. I much prefer those nicely bound books to the photocopied ones. The only reason I took the time to sweat over cranky photocopiers to copy those books was simply for convenience. You, you idiotically dumb publishers, actually made things incredibly complicated for me to pay you for those few books.

Now, one day, when eBook readers can be dropped on a marble floor and survive (like all my paperback books) and when they have a resolution much better than my current hi-res monitor (2560 by 600 pixels) I will probably be thinking of voraciously buying eBooks. Note that I said buying, not leasing.

On that day guess what I'm going to do if they're DRM blocked?

And it's not just DRM you should be thinking about.

Guess also what I'm going to do if the title I want is region-locked?

(The movie industry, sunk in their own astoundingly deep stupidity, does this for their, ahem, "titles")


I wonder how this is going to translate for libraries. DRM has been significantly more draconian for libraries in those cases when publishers even offer their books for lending. In the best of all worlds, publishers (Tor in this case) would trust librarians to develop systems to insure that single copies don't get simultaneous uncompensated uses. I would advocate for that just because I have long experience with crusty librarians watching eagle-eyed over the photocopier to make sure fair use policies are honored.

Assuming publishers don't trust in the inherent honesty of librarians, does the death of DRM mean that electronic copies of books just won't be offered to libraries? A separate DRM regime would be almost as bad as no books at all as readers get used to universal readability on all their devices. Come to think of it, without DRM will publishers even have any authority to keep their ebooks out of libraries?


I wholeheartedly agree with this point.

This is a huge problem (I say) for longer format content on the web as well. Flexible, reflowable text in general requires some additional support to make reference attribution functional.

I think it was Dave Winer who did this first on the web, putting a small octothorpe at the end of each paragraph that was a permanent link to that paragraph of that story (see e.g. )*

At any rate, this is one of the remaining problems I have with ebooks, and solving it would, if done properly, lead to some really interesting external opportunities along the lines of &, both of which are hampered by limited general access to electronic text sources.

* Note: I'm not sure this is the most elegant or aesthetic solution for the web, but much better than nothing. I'm considering bringing back the traditional pilcrow in my eventual site redesign, personally, and attempting to make the paragraph independent of the story in which it appears. Winer uses anchors within the html page.

without DRM will publishers even have any authority to keep their ebooks out of libraries

Yes. "No DRM" is not the same as "no copyright," nor is it the same thing as "make all the copies you want, we won't care."

Right now, the publisher is generally not directly involved, and the reseller sells a license to the customer; that license is fairly restrictive.


Question on watermarks:

Wouldn't the technology required to perform watermarking require a similar capital outlay for the small/indie distributors? If so, watermarking w/o drm would still be a win for consumers, but not so much for the competitive marketplace.


Another reason people use eReaders for other than battery life and readability in sunlight - they aren't backlit.

I spend all day at work in front of a computer monitor, I spend much of my evening in front of a computer monitor, it is tiring. When I read I don't want to feel like my eyes are being blasted with light - long live e-ink!



Watermarking is static, basically -- you only need a way to associate whatever watermark you do with a customer record of some sort. DRM is dynamic; it needs to be done every time you access the file, which means you need a way to check, each time, to see if it's valid. (Simplified; there's a bunch of ways in use to not require a network access each time.)


I think we will see e-ink dominate in low end readers. Imagine this: You walk into the airport book store and buy a $15 reader, go to the kiosk, and upload a best seller or two, possibly receiving a discount on the reader if you buy three books from the same publisher. Total capacity might only be 10-20 books. This would meet the needs of those readers who consume 1-20 books a year.

I think the electronics could easily be a single chip and a few passive components on the pcb with the e-ink on the other side. There might be no provision at all for charging the battery or for five bucks more you get a reader with a socket to charge it from a cell phone charger.



That is a lovely analysis. If you were a tech/management consultant, how much would those opinions have cost Macmillan... and can you benefit in future for analogous work?

(I'm unworldy--- reading Dilbert after xkcd is as close to that world as I get).


You may have a text in multiple forms, but really, I would argue (for the point of making language clearer) that you only have one book (the "printed paper codex").

The other formats and forms the text is available in are all quite different. The most important thing is not the form or format, but the content, the information. And that is not a book.

I would say that if what you have is fiction, then it could be classed, perhaps, as a novel. Or, if it's much older than the novel form (which you seem to be implying), it might have another classification. The type of work is not really relevant for my argument, so much as the form.

What's the similarity between a children's book with only pictures, a children's book with a few pics, a novel with no pics, and a large coffee table book with lots of pictures (but aimed at adults, such as the book of nudes I saw in Amsterdam once)? Why, they are all bound items!

Take a children's picture-story book. OK, now scan it into a computer, and make a PDF out of it. Now, convert it into a HTML page with JPEGs. Is it still a "book"? I would say no, because the book is the physical item, and by using the term "book" for an electronic item, you are muddying the waters of the language.

We have perfectly good terms (in most cases) for the different forms a text can take, depending on the intent of the author, and the content. We don't need to start claiming that scrolls are books!

OK, another example:
What's the difference between Buildings, Books, and Bytes and Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto? One was originally published as a book, and the other as a 'report' online. Both have the same structure, a number of pages and a content page. Nothing, they are both non-fiction texts published online.

OK, maybe a bad example because the report was originally published on paper as well (I think). But, what if it wasn't? If you have a long form text (such as Buildings, Books and Bytes), and it wasn't ever published off the web, how can you call it a book?

Do music producers call a piece of music available online an "e-CD" or an "e-record"? No. My guess is because it is obvious that the content (the music) is distinct from the form it is available in (whatever people might say about vinyl).


"feline at the helm started the combat turn,"

Furries and unusual old aircraft?
Someone been reading too much of Simon Barber's stuff? (I'll confess I'm enjoying "Road-runner" at the moment)


I popped off a short question to Amazon myself. Something like, "With press reports of some publishers dropping DRM on their ebooks, how can I tell which books in the Kindle store have DRM and which do not?"

I don't really expect an answer.


My thought was about the fact that libraries often buy media from retailers (or have stuff donated) and unless there's a stipulation in the EULA or a question during the purchasing process, libraries might easily accumulate legal collections of ebooks. Obviously they would have to devise systems to avoid violating copyright but compared to such cumbersome and expensive services as Overdrive it might actually be feasible. Up until now it's been moot since the DRM structure of the books meant that they weren't fit for lending purposes without special dispensation under a separate licensing regime.


The structure I predict is
* publishers sell themselves
* publishers try to align their imprints with buyer segments, and build online communities (leading with genres, as you note their focus above)
* other (online) curators can get monetized through affiliate models
* this means publishers' curation marketplaces also don't mind listing other publishers' ebooks, since they make money on driving sales there, too.

Whaddya think?


You can use language however you want, but I would not recommend making that change in your own usage.

English already has an unambiguous word for a group of pages bound at the edge between covers: codex (and binder, hardcover, and softcover). It also has a word for a long text (of words and pictures) intended to be read and reproduced as one unit: book (which, if you read the OED, originally just meant “writing, record”). Someone proposing to narrow the usage of book would need to find a one or two syllable word to replace the broad meaning, and would face infelicities such as “Is the textbook a book? No, the textbook is a file not a book.” A lot of books don't have a concise and specific genre title (imagine a book of photos with commentary).

Your parallel with digital music is interesting, because we still talk about “songs” or “tracks” (a short piece of music) and “albums” (a collection of tracks). An album was originally a book with space to insert pictures, notes, and signatures, and a track was originally a spiral carved into a record!


@ 125

Oh dear.


What you need are partners - often called by names such as:
Captain Wow or The Lady May or Ratatosk or Sarastro or ...... HERMANN

THAT is how the Game of Rat & Dragon is played


What did they use to take out the beans and eggs?


You've summed up my reasons for not bothering with ebooks (plus the fact that I like the sensory experience of reading a real book). I have thousands of paper and ink titles, and have no difficulty accessing any of them. I think I'll keep it that way until the battle over DRM shakes out. But I applaud Macmillan for taking the first step.


This is a good sign for 1 of my 2 major gripes with the ebook market.

Now how do we make headway on regional availability? There are a number of books I haven't read simply because whoever has the ebook rights here hasn't done anything with them (or at least hadn't when the title came to my attention).

It was something like 3-6 months after all the PR/hype for Rule 34 had died down before I was able to buy it, and most books don't get the benefit of me constantly checking back for availability.


The battery problem is not so much of an issue for some brands. I don't usually buy Sony products but for ebook readers they were the least awful at the time, so I did. It turns out to be very easy to open the thing up and replace the battery, and it's a standard one used in other devices so it's ~$10 on fleabay.

Not that that has been an issue to date - my first one was left on a bus and the second one is only three or four years old. Battery life is down to about a week of 2-3 hours a day use, but it seems likely I'll get another year or two out of it (or until my next long holiday, when I'll want the battery life). For $10, I can live with having to open the thing up.

I don't actually know how many ebooks I buy but I'm sure fictionwise are tracking that number avidly. They're ~3/4 of the books I buy, the rest come from random recommendations. I spend about $200 four or five times a year I think. And only buy drm-free or easily made so, epub books (so I can reformat them for font and margins).


So it's my belief that general purpose tablets (and big-screen smartphones) will drive e-ink readers out of the mass market within 2-5 years, just as smartphones killed off your 2003 Palm Pilot.

I'll go ahead and play devil's advocate here.

First, unlike smartphones, tablets will generally not benefit from contract subsidization. I wouldn't anticipate tablets -- particularly tablets using the next-gen displays you're talking about as e-ink killers -- dropping down to "impulse buy" prices (i.e., less than US$50) within the next 2-5 years. The Kindle is very close to that now (in part because it is benefiting from something very similar to contract subsidization), and we'll probably see a $50 Kindle by the end of the year. If that happens, expect another huge Xmas surge for the Kindle as they fall into "easy gift" territory.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I think there is a distinct and sizable audience for a single-purpose reading device. Some of that is an elderly population (who has a remarkably high adoption rate for e-readers because they can control the text size), but I suspect there's also a significant population across all demographics who want the focused experience of reading a novel to be separate from the disparate experience of the transmedia internet.

Or, to put it another way: There are lots of people who don't want e-mail notifications and text messages popping up while they're reading a book. (It's the same reason lots of people own dedicated televisions despite the fact they could just as easily watch TV on their computer screens.)

And if you do want a dedicated e-book reader, then it's really hard to beat e-ink displays.


Justin, tablets are already benefiting from contract subsidization - actually a brother of mine is going to buy a 10" Samsung Galaxy today for a price under 100 euros trough his phone company. Tablets aren't phones but they download data all the time, even those that aren't 3G.


e-books are fine, but how could you get it signed by the author? Just adding a scanned signature alone won't do it -- electronic formats are far too easy to manipulate. Use digital signatures to prevent tampering perhaps? For the book text plus some personalized addendum / prependum. I assume OGH has a PGP key somewhere or other...


Charlie, amidst your other more technical arguments regarding DRM and e-books and e-readers, you've also hit on one of my frustrations with Amazon - the proliferation of dross e-books masquerading as quality fiction. When I first began using the kindle app on the ipad (preferable to ibooks - the books are MUCH cheaper, particularly in Australia which is extraordinarily over-priced book market)kindle would regularly recommend great books. Yours, Stephen Hunt, the wonderful Ben Aaronivitch, Mieville, Stephenson etc. Now I just get drossy self-published rubbish recommendations. Initially, you buy a few of them - at only a few dollars, what could go wrong? Now I find I wade through hundreds of titles, with little classification or ability to classify before I get something readable. I find I use external sci fi review sites to hone in what I should be reading - Amazon is totally hopeless, and the classification/review system broken. An online bookstore that does what my local classy book emporium does - provide real recommendations and reviews on new and old releases would be fantastic.


Ok, my initial response was just ":-D", but have you ever considered being Tom Clancy? Seriously, you write techno-thriller action that's as exciting and more believable than his!


Using other people's "music analogy", you'd be arguing that if I have $track on original vinyl album, vinyl single, cassette album and single, CD album and single, and MP3 plus MAA digital but all taken from the same studio master that I have 8 tracks rather than 1 track in 8 formats.


DRM is one of the ways that most of today's commercials ebooks
are an attack on readers' freedom. Other ways include:

* Claiming users don't own the books they think are "theirs".
* Requiring End User License Agreements.
* Requiring users to identify themselves.
* Orwellian back doors in readers, such as the one Amazon used
to delete thousands of copies of 1984.

Eliminating DRM is one down and four to go. It's not enough
to make commercial ebooks ethical, but it shows we can win.
Stand firm for full freedom!


If you were a tech/management consultant, how much would those opinions have cost Macmillan... and can you benefit in future for analogous work?

Probably a couple of grand a day; more for a partner, less for a more junior staff type. (I'm married to a reasonably senior consultant in a Big-4 accountancy firm). Discounted according to how much more business they want to get out of you.

Sounds a lot, but it really isn't; judging by her last three or four clients, she's saved them an awful lot of money. It's worth pointing out that as an engineer, I'll see perhaps twenty (maybe more, maybe less) projects in my career; she reviews that many in under a year. Given that you can spot the inherent problems in any given project very quickly, the difference is that I just have to suffer them until the project finishes; she can see whether approaches worked or failed, and use that knowledge for the next one she reviews.

PS Avoid the "consultants that have never done the job" meme - she spent the first decade of her accountancy life grafting in the retail sector, doing a good impression of a career astronaut.


dropping down to "impulse buy" prices (i.e., less than US$50) within the next 2-5 years. The Kindle is very close to that now (in part because it is benefiting from something very similar to contract subsidization), and we'll probably see a $50 Kindle by the end of the year.

In your nation maybe. In the UK the price of a wifi only kindle is £90 (~$146), for a wifi only kindle touch it's £109 (~$177).

Other than that I agree with what you say about there being a market for dedicated devices but only if those devices are:

- Lightweight (comparable to paperback)
- Operational with one hand (especially good for commuting)
- Long lived (battery and durability)
- Static display (not a screen)


It might be unwise of me to say this, but the whole book-signing thing ... I don't really get it. I don't write with a pen; in fact, 90% of what I own a pen for is to sign printed copies of books I wrote with a text editor on a computer.

Yes, I get that folks like to meet the author and a signature is a kind of physical souvenir of such a meeting. But the signing itself leaves me cold (I'm one of those crooked left-handed writers and writing by hand is an annoying chore at best), and as for the collectors editions with bound-in pre-signed pages -- yes, I do it because people will pay me for it, but really? What's the point?

At one recent pub meet in NYC I got to sign two paperbacks and six ebook readers (on the back case, with a sharpie). I'm hoping that that, too, is a passing fad and the whole sign-it-for-me thing quietly passes into history.


RMS: on your four points, I agree with you without reservation on the middle two. On the last one, I agree in principle, but note that the courts may disagree and a vendor like Amazon, who insist they're a publishing platform (not a retailer for other folks' books) may be held liable if it turns out they're distributing something they don't have a license for. It's kind of ironic, but the back door thing is a side-effect of those EULAs. Having said that, my understanding is that for AMZN to actually delete ebooks from customers' readers now requires a personal order from Jeff Bezos, who is the guy who gets to go on TV and apologize afterwards. So to some extent your demand is a moot point; if not for the limits imposed by a broken legal system it's already effectively won.

My only real problem is your first point: '* Claiming users don't own the books they think are "theirs".' With a physical book there's a physical artefact that can be owned -- and we have the long-established first sale doctrine to define this. With ebooks, things get a bit fuzzier. Speaking as a commercial author who earns his living by creating content and selling it via major publishers, I have grave misgivings about extending that to cover electronic documents that can be copied at zero marginal price. If I sell a reader a book, I specifically want to *withhold* the legal right to sell copies of that book for money. Implications for the second-hand market? Well, that's a nice can of worms we've just opened ...


I've recently found myself wondering whether the argument that digital media (books, film and music) are "software" isn't wrong. In order to access them you need to run software under an operating system on a device (the interface can be pretty hugely hidden like on a dedicated DVD (or bluray) player, or as obvious as running a player codec under $operating_system on a computer) so I'd suggest that digital media are actually data.

Now I'm not going to suggest that copyright can't vest in data, or indeed that copyright can't be assigned to $party for a limited period, but I am going to suggest that ownership of a copy of that data can only be withdrawn if you go to the effort of setting up a specific contract that states explicitly the limits of the ownership, and can demonstrate that the owner had due dilligence knowledge of the terms of contract.


That's almost damning with faint praise, you know, but I did have a go for the last NaNoWriMo. Rocket Girls of the Solarian Patrol does seem to have all the ingredients, including advanced technology, exotic locations, political intrigue, and kinky sex scenes.

I think I went well past what Tom Clancy would dare when I used stabilised dioxygen-difluoride as a component for small-arms ammunition.


Note: those prices for Kindle include VAT at 20%. A wifi+3G Kindle Touch is something like £169 last time I looked (well over US $200).


Null: (a) I'm not a professional consultant. I don't have a charge sheet for bloviating about stuff that is of interest to me. I will confess that this piece did eat up nearly four working days, though, so it's a good thing I'm not invoicing Macmillan, right?

(b) In the longer term, by encouraging diversity and competition at the retail end of my sales chain, while strengthening the hand of my publisher when negotiating with the Great Satan Amazon, this will ultimately improve my long-term income stream relative to a baseline in which a small oligopoly of outlets fuck over their suppliers (Macmillan and, indirectly, me as a supplier to Macmillan). It'll take a couple of years for the cumulative improvement in income to exceed that notional consulting fee, but I'm not in this for the short term ...


I think that list is hopelessly entangled in the problem of the differences between a physical object and a digital object. We have a system of trade which is built on the characteristics of physical objects, chief amongst them the difficulty of making a copy, and and that system is trying to adapt to goods which are trivially easy to copy.

Remember, most of the legal definitions of theft, around the world, are based on depriving somebody of the possession of the object.

The trouble is, we all want people such as Charlie to be able to earn a living from creating these digital objects, and that could need a completely different system of trade than has developed over the last few thousand years. Can we even get there from here?

We used to have a different word for "singularity". We called it a revolution. I sometimes get the feeling that Lennon and McCartney could have been writing about you...


How faint the praise is depends on what I was thinking of at the time; Is saying "this is better than the grand master of the genre does" ever "faint praise", particularly in the context of a blog post which is usually written in minutes?

Being serious, from the title, I'd expect "Rocket Girls of the Solarian Patrol" to have a distinctly "pulp SF vibe" to it (and possibly hope you were channelling EE Smith at the time), but I hope you've read enough of my past posts re 1930s and 1950s SF to know that I would not automatically consider that to be any sort of a Bad Thing!


What you need is a "Charlie Stross" sticker, more than something you can just run off on a desk-top printer, which you can hand out where, before, you signed books. Might be something book-specific for a promotional tour, might be linked to the con you are a guest at, but it's not something that can just be copied.

And then the loyal fan can stick it wherever they wish--in a physical book, or on their ereader, or in a collector's album.

You still have the bound-in signature option for the special editions. You might still arrange to sign book copies for your local dealer.

There's stuff that needs thinking about, but it doesn't sound so crazy.


orlly? I saw you fanboy Banksie at Satellite 2! :-D

Personally, about the only times I've bothered are:-
1) If I have a first ed hardcover.
2) If I'm buying an HC as a present for someone and the opportunity presents itself to get it signed and dedicated.
3) I've got a few models of $character signed by the relevant actor.


I did pay rather a lot less for my Kindle—assorted money-off vouchers—but, figuring in VAT and exchange rates, and looking at the new Kindle Touch, I see a pattern which suggests that Amazon are reluctant to drop below the 100 USD price point.


strongly recommend anyone I know who's thinking about an e-reader to try before they buy for a typical for them extended reading period.


The 7" tablet I just bought handles HTML and PDF... just barely. It's like a time warp back a couple of decades; crazy problems like if I change the orientation of the device, the browser jumps to the top of the file. Font styles and sizes can't be changed. No bookmarking function. PDFs still have those insane graphic-designer-wank margins sucking chunks of the little 7" screen.

After spending some time being disgusted with the device, I got used to its limitations and saw its advantages. This particular tablet is a primitive dead end, but it will do for now.


> page numbers

Back before "pages", you simply said "about six feet down from the top of this scroll."

Referencing text position from the top of the file would be just as useful, and potentially more precise, than a page number.


How about a note on the con program that you are happy to pose for photos with fans (who join the queue and otherwise behave in socially acceptable fashion). Fan can then print out and paste to a book if they wish.


We've got a few nice ones. But it's the personal dedications rather than pure signatures that do it for us. My wife has a nice one: "What's a nice girl doing in a book like this" from Pterry, and we have "Thanks for the eggs" from Catie Murphy.

It appears that collectors, though, seem to prefer just signatures. Go figure.


No DRM is just a start. In order to free people from Amazon, you have find a way to make the purchasing process from your indy store (Powell's, the author's website, whatever...) just as easy as it is from Amazon on the Kindle. People have to be able to easily find anything, and then purchase it with no technical skills.

It has to be just as easy for users of Kindles, iPads, Nooks, to break out of their walled garden, since those are the devices people have.

BTW, My books are, and have always been, DRM-free. (Have any of you pirated a copy? :-)

I ran a storefront on my own web site, but sales though Amazon, B&N, and Apple dwarfed direct sales, to the extent that it wasn't worth the cost of managing my store.


Oh, well, at least you didn't mention Dan Brown.


Seriously, I meant that you're writing better than they are with just blog posting time to do it. It's meant as a compliment.


I'd imagine an ereader with a back covered in the signatures of a load of reasonably well known authors (or even just one) with their entire bibliography stored on it would fetch a quite considerable penny on ebay among collectors (and isn't that an interesting court case waiting to happen).


My only real problem is your first point: '* Claiming users don't own the books they think are "theirs".' With a physical book there's a physical artefact that can be owned -- and we have the long-established first sale doctrine to define this. With ebooks, things get a bit fuzzier. Speaking as a commercial author who earns his living by creating content and selling it via major publishers, I have grave misgivings about extending that to cover electronic documents that can be copied at zero marginal price. If I sell a reader a book, I specifically want to *withhold* the legal right to sell copies of that book for money. Implications for the second-hand market? Well, that's a nice can of worms we've just opened ...

Well, why not accept a functional equivalent of first sale? Eg it isn't infringing for someone who has lawfully come into possession of a book to transfer possession of that book to another by means of rental, lease, or lending, provided that they either also transfer possession of the copy to the second party, or if the second party creates a new copy of the work, that the first party destroys his copy of the work at as nearly the same time as is reasonable. This would allow for people to effectively sell used ebooks without adding to the number of copies in existence (except for the brief period in the midst of the transaction). Making new copies and selling them would remain infringing.

Otherwise, why not just come out against the sale of used books, libraries (public and private), lending amongst friends, etc.?

Also re: signatures, Vonnegut had his asterisk that he would use from time to time. (My mom once made him re-sign a book though, because she wasn't going to put up with that) Perhaps you could devise a meaningful mark simpler than your signature?


I have to wonder how this will affect Public Libraries. Currently stuck in the Overdrive walled garden with a limited number of titles especially in the science fiction genre field will we have to create our own DRM to ensure that our ironically DRM purchase is not pirated or otherwise abused?


It'll be nice to have books DRM-free; still, voracious readers know that not only "converting Kindle ebooks to ePub is trivially easy in the absence of DRM", but that DRM can be removed as well. It is a nuisance, of course, but usually nothing that a plug-in for the excellent book-cataloging\converting "Calibre" app can't solve, at list in Amazon's case.


In order to free people from Amazon, you have find a way to make the purchasing process from your indy store (Powell's, the author's website, whatever...) just as easy as it is from Amazon on the Kindle. People have to be able to easily find anything, and then purchase it with no technical skills.

Nice idea but the advantages of major players is that they present a convinient place to buy not only whatever you like but browse for similar titles as well. Buying direct from an author or indy is fine if you already know them but you aren't likely to come accross them browsing (and if you find them on another site you are likely to purchase again from that site).

Perhaps a convinient price comparison/search engine app would be good but then you would be directly competing said shops against major players unless you made the app restrictive. That begs the question of how it would get popular...


People I know (not just through this blog) say that it's nigh on impossible to find mid-listers on Amazon; you get best sellers or drowned in the self-published slush pile.


It would say it's hard but not nigh on impossible (I'm pretty sure I found Charlie on Amazon way back when Singularity Sky was recently published) but I agree it isn't good.

My point was less of "the big players are good" and more "how would you ensure any method used by individuals and indy shops couldn't be swallowed up by the big players and used to beat the indi/ys over the head with?"


I have replaced the "non-replaceable" battery on my Kindle 2 quite easily. Took exactly 2 minutes. Instructions are on YouTube. Many so-called non-replaceable batteries are, in fact, quite easy to replace and micro-markets have spring up to supply better batteries and instructions on ebay and Youtube.


On the other hand, there is a definite opening for publishers (and/or authors) to provide links to their own site inside the book you've just read. Why have some dumb text listing other titles, when those could be active links through to their site, with full descriptions there and a sales opportunity.

The first sale may be difficult, but repeat sales could be a lot easier, since you've got the enthused customer right there and then, with the previous purchase in front of them.


I wondered the same thing. I suspect that watermarking will help with keeping libraries from being vast sources of torrents. The library can affix a new watermark to each checkout that leads back to the patron until the book is checked back in. If the file is found in the wild, the patron would be liable. Actually, the existing policies for stolen books would also apply so the patron would lose borrowing privileges and be sent to collections as well.

The patrons that just make copies for themselves would be harder to tag, but that's an existing problem with checking out CDs and movies that patrons rip to their computers. I don't know that there's a solution to that or if it will be a major problem. As DRM falls away, the built-in decryption in reader may be deprecated so any new DRM solution would probably become a big headache. I dislike the idea of libraries drawing from a separate pool of books, since they're likely to end up paying a premium or being denied service entirely.


The definition of software can be a bit fluid. Your OS is itself usually data to an underlying program. Even x86 machine code (f'rex) is but data to the actual microcode interpreter running in the actual processor. At some stage you reach hardware, but the hardware usually executes only a very, very limited instruction set.

In the case of DVDs, there's a very good argument that they are in fact programs rather than just data. True, most of the content by volume is data, but those menus you see? Code.

I agree that eBooks are another matter, and there may be no code (no programming) in them at all. But they're still software using the less narrow definitions. The concept of software has almost always included the required data as well as the code.

And in the case of PDFs, well, they're funny beasts built on top of a limited bastard version of Postscript. Postscript itself is a programming language (and yes, I have coded in it, only to bring an Apple printer to a halt for about 90 minutes, way back when). PDF may be more limited, but it's still got a lot of code-like stuff in.


How exactly are you planning to watermark text?


I have bought exactly one DRM'ed e-book. When I tried to transfer it to a different Windows PC, nothing worked. Half an hours of tinkering with unhelpful websites was enough, and I replaced it with a paper copy. A deliberately second-hand paper copy.

I have bought several hundred dollars worth of DRM-free e-books: gaming PDFs from Steve Jackson Games. They do well at this market, by selling only from their own e-store, and not through distributors, using no DRM, and maintaining a library of what you've downloaded, so you cna always get it onto some other device if you have an internet connection and your password. Their customers are exemplars of the dedicated-to-a-genre buyer.


Our host has proposed watermarking ebook files as a solution. I don't know what sorts of tricks that would include- encrypted code within the file, inconveniently interspersed text in the margin, whatever. I'm certain that any solution can be circumvented, but without the existing intrusive DRM regime the tools probably won't become as widespread since the majority of people won't need them.

Something as simple as several random permutations of your account number/name inserted in such a way that deleting them would thoroughly bugger up the layout might present a high enough bar to casual circumvention.


You are absolutely correct regarding DRM. I'm on the voracious side - and Amazon's DRM was a major concern to me. I ended up going with Amazon largely as a result of an unrequested Christmas gift. (My wife may have been irritated by my tendency to convert our home into a library...)

I actually am enjoying Amazon's approach to self-publishing. (of course, I'm good at searching) I find Amazon's review-based curatorial role roughly equivalent to the publisher's approach - and probably much cheaper - I see it as having a lot of potential. (I've read much worse in bookstores than any of the free novels I've picked up.)

Baen eBooks runs a highly effective site - but I'm not sure that they're a long-term solution. A large aggregator that took a nominal fee from a range of small bookstores might be more effective.

Personally, however, I suspect that the future of books involves fewer bookstores and the replacement of most midlist hardcovers with early ebooks. It makes me sad.



I am one of the diverse readers with a fairly small static hard copy library of 1-1100 books. And a kindle. And the kindle app on the iphone. And my reading tastes are different:

I like my slush disposable on the kindle - I would not grant some books shelf room - that's too precious.

I like kindle's e-ink, because it means I can read in the garden. But I hate it being in black and white, because pictures to demonstrate craft techniques are normally in colour (cooking, patchwork, etc).

I like the "sample the first chapter for free" factor: there have been several books that have not made it past that filter.

I hate the assumption that I would buy Tesco-store bestsellers from Kindle - I thought, in my naivety that it would be fantastic to have a portable copy of all in my hard-copy library - so I could see what I had read and not read (and possible make notes on a local disk) and do a small review, or similar. That as the space for elextronic files is unlimited, I could call up *anything*... How untrue. And searching for what I wanted was... disappointing...

I will carry on being someone who reads both slush, fiction, genre fiction and non fiction. And who wants to own the words, not to end up with fines from the local library... but ebooks atm are not satisfactory. Not quite good enough.

(Why this will support the midlist: currently Amazon have swamped the midlist among ebooks in a sea of self-published rubbish. It's impossible to find anything worth reading in the Kindle store that isn't a very obvious bestseller. This offers an opportunity for specialist bookstores to offer a curatorial role. I believe the voracious genre consumers are picky enough about what they read that they dislike Amazon's slushpile approach, and will preferentially shop in better organized outlets.



I admit that I eventually lost interest in having authors sign my copies of their books. I can see that people might want the author to autograph a postcard reproduction of the bookcover and/or photo. They could even be traded and bought and sold like cards for team sports figures. Small joke there.


This is also why I don't have one either.

Also, I read far more non-fiction for work (I'm an historian, so do tons of research reading in old tomes and primary dox, including whenever possible the collected, printed papers of Great Dead White Man,etc.), and that just doesn't work out on an eReader. While doing this reading I copy out extracts into my research spreadsheets, with all the citation information such as edition, page number, editor etc. -- for our own bibliographic lists and footnotes and attribution. It's the best way to ensure one doesn't include someone's else's text into one's own without attribution and get into serious trouble, as Doris Kearns Goodwin did in her Team of Rivals.

Love, C.


I read them as a couple of crossings of sf sets.

Love, C.


Nice idea but the advantages of major players is that they present a convinient place to buy not only whatever you like but browse for similar titles as well. Buying direct from an author or indy is fine if you already know them but you aren't likely to come accross them browsing...

Browsing? Sometimes you can't find them when looking! (Anecdote ahead...)

Recently, as an experiment, I tried going to the Big River and looking up a friend's book. No problem, I know her name...and a quick search for her nom de plume gets me nothing but crap. Not only don't I find her book, I don't get false positives from other authors with similar names. I do get many offers to sell me books by a specific well known author (whose name is not similar to the one I entered). I frown, and try again; manually adding an exclusion for that well known author doesn't help. I try searching by title; again, no. After a while I notice the Advanced Search option, which leads me around a few more times (and tries to sell me that famous author again), and I finally discover that by entering the title and author name together, I can find my friend's book! It's only number two on the list of books by that title written by people with her last name. And yes, there are more.

So for browsing, the physical bookstore is best. This should be obvious, since you can skim covers much more quickly there than in the cramped area of your screen, but it bears repeating. Online stores try to optimize their offers, which helps offset how few they can make on any screen, but also means that they're skewed to bestsellers; midlist offerings get a smaller chunk of that, and the self-published books are ignored.


Or, to put it another way: There are lots of people who don't want e-mail notifications and text messages popping up while they're reading a book. (It's the same reason lots of people own dedicated televisions despite the fact they could just as easily watch TV on their computer screens.)

And if you do want a dedicated e-book reader, then it's really hard to beat e-ink displays.

Amen! I love my ereader, and would never replace it with a tablet because 1) the eInk screen is easier on the eyes when reading for any length of time and 2) I don't want to be distracted by music/video/games/websurfing/etc.

If they announced that eInk devices were going to stop being manufactured, I would run out and buy several so that I can keep using them as long as possible.


Oh, I think I shall forgive you.

Have a free ebook.

It's something I wrote a couple of years ago, but how many daring commando raids on the Nazis involve a real spear and magic helmet?


Spear and magic helmet?


Sorry about the anon post, a new firewall here at work is preventing FF from properly establishing credentials and IE 8 seems to be a bit twitchy on this w/s.

I don't necessarily follow Charlie's logic through to the same conclusions on every point, but I can say that watermarking as opposed to DRM is very definitely the way forward for visibly-consumed media (can't say how the trick is done with audio).

I buy a *lot* of PDF versions of the various RPG books I use along with the occasional -c-o-m-i-c- graphic novel, and the watermarking *along with realistic pricing* is, from my viewpoint, a great way to promote selling over sharing.

I also couldn't agree more with the point about crap floodage in the Amazon Basin masking what I was looking for. As for the search, that has always been a total joke. Even searching for an author by full name will return a shirtload of obviously irrelevant "hits" where the search terms have been split up and compared to every conceivable word in each book's entry.

I think they stick with this piece of garbage under the impression people might make an impulse purchase from the not-what-I-asked-for list. There's no other reason I can think of (and I used to design these kind of searchable repositories for a living).

The point on pricing is key for me. Currently, ebook pricing is insane. One can typically save $5 on a bestseller by waiting until the paperback is published to by the ebook. The ebook itself doesn't change one whit, just the cover price.

I'm not asking authors to give away their work (though a recent trip through a certain long-dead author's list of eworks caused me to utter some sharp words on the subject of pricing them as rare antiques), but there should be some premium for a premium price on a work above and beyond the early adopter tax.

A very thought-provoking subject. Thanks for letting us see the article, Charlie.


Good idea. A photo with me and an author I enjoy reading would be much more sentimentally valuable than a signature -- which as Charlie mentions -- is an outdated collectible. Stickers or digital signatures are too cheesy.


I tend to forget how easy it is, with digital photography, you provide an image on the spot. But I am not sure you are going to have a durable image: you really need the image as the datafile.


Agreed, Dave. I would want a datafile of the photo, not just a hard copy.


That being said, the process has to be as easy as possible for the author. Signatures require less time than photo ops and posing too often can be uncomfortable. I would not have a problem with a group photo with the author if the number of people is low enough.


I'm not sure ebook pricing is too high. I do believe that it hasn't adapted to the straight-electronic model.

A really good, well-edited book with a lovely cover is easily worth 20 USD to me. At 10, it is a bargain. I'd even pay a few dollars more for paper.

Problem is...some books are still worth reading but not worth paying an editor and can probably do without cover art...and are probably worth a dollar. (depends...not true for some specialty stuff) Publishers have typically avoided these books - but - ignoring the writer's time - they will be profitable. (Just read 4 books and paid a dollar for the last one.)

And other books are probably only work 5 USD, even edited, and I'd rather have them as ebooks only.

The publishers will need to adapt. So will writers. If things follow the music industry, more writers will profit from writing, but fewer will make a lot of money.

And...watermarking is brilliant.



Libraries are already "paying a premium [and/]or being denied service entirely." Many, actually most, publishers won't sell to libraries at all. For example, no amount of money will get me a copy of Charlie Stross's works for my patrons. As for premiums, Random House recently jacked up the price for eBooks as much as 300% for many titles.


I continue to be amazed and depressed that modern media publishers ignore the painful lessons of the copyprotect wars waged in the home computer game market during the 1980s. Even with the ultimate flexibility of being able to rewrite the DRM every six months for new titles by virtue of needing to boot the OS on the game disk, it was a losing battle. The record labels ignored this lesson, the major book publishers ignored this lesson, and the movie labels are continuing to ignore this lesson, despite today's CE DRM being less flexible and adaptable. The only difference is the DMCA made breaking DRM locks illegal in addition to unethical.

I completed my M.S. Computer Science degree the same year you completed your degree, but I have spent my career working in the computer world. With my knowledge of computing I have staunchly refused to buy DRM protected music or ebooks - ever. As a trained archivist, my wife shares this view, albeit from a slightly different perspective.

I remember one period in the last decade receiving a *free* trade magazine that switched from downloadable PDF to DRM web delivery. The proprietary reader software only ran on Windows, printing was broken, at least for our high-end printers at work, and there was no other easy way to share the DRM protected digital magazine with co-workers. In less than a year the publisher (or the advertisers underwriting the magazine) saw the light and switched back to PDF.

In the last week I encountered a PDF that prohibited the copying and pasting of text. This was while doing research for a technical paper I'm writing. Sure, I could simply retype the author and title for my paper's bibliography and the sentence or two I was interested in quoting, but how is this helpful to modern engineering or scientific discourse? Why must we revert to writing methods from the age of electric typewriters after 30 years of using computers to copy and past text between documents?

Your blog post gives me hope the print publishers of the world may soon turn the corner and I can seriously entertain the idea of purchasing ebooks and a tablet to read them on. But, both my wife and I still love settling in with a good physical book - no batteries to worry about. And I still need a printed magazine or book to read while a plane is taxiing and during take-off and landing.


"Anticipating the future of ebook reading technology" -- I am not flogging my unsold series of novels here, through 347 chapters so far, that emphasize my vision of what eBooks and cellphones evolve into by 2020 AD. But I use that fiction to provoke discussion on my serious analysis of the options for future technology. My programming experience goes back to 1966 (46 years ago) in industry and government and start-ups, which is part of why Mr. Stross's fiction so appeals to me, besides tremendous energy, discipline, and prose style.

I forsee the 3-D HoloWeb, accessed by mobile NotePads. The HoloWeb may well have its downsides, as did the old Web and Internet, but it also has the potential to make us collectively smarter, according to open-science advocate Michael Nielsen. Around 2010, in Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science, Nielsen argued that networked digital tools, such as discussion boards and online marketplaces, could make it easier for scientists to pool their data, share methodologies, and find far-flung collaborators. Even non-scientists were participating in large-scale citizen science projects. In Nielsen’s view, however, public policy had yet to catch up to technology. The digital environment will amplify our collective intelligence, but only if there are incentives for people to share. As DRM intends to prevent.

I distinguish two distinct eras, the era of pre-networked science and the era of networked science. What separates the two eras? Is it only the Holoweb, which evolved from the 2-D Web, which evolved from the Internet, or are there other things?

There are many other things. The Internet is a piece of technology that started to be deployed back in the 1970s and obviously has been gradually improved ever since. I’m talking about TCP/IP, the protocol. The point about networked science is that what required for it to come to fruition was actually a whole set of
cultural changes within science. And that has got nothing to do with the technology directly. It’s about what our expectations were, about how scientists behave, about what they are rewarded for, and about
what they see as doing their jobs. And that’s something that is only gradually changing. Year to year, it looks like it is only changing very slightly. But I think that over the past 3 or 4 decades, in fact, it was completely transformed.

The eBook, and Social Networking, and mobile apps, and the skies filled with DIY mini-dones, are all part of that.


#168 - Sir Terry Pratchett now has special small inserts printed with the title of the book, the date, and the location where he is speaking (and a simple and attractive design); he signs them in advance and they are handed out in lieu of signing books. It seems to me that the idea could be used for ebooks.


He's quite a comment history as well.


Have you ever gone out and said "You've got to get the DVD of $title; the menu system is incredible"? ;-) People don't buy DVDs for the menu system! Nor is the menu design what copywrong law attempts to protect.

I'm using the definition of code as "that which tells the computer what to do with a data stream." So the microcode, kernel and X are all code, as is the application I just wrote, but this message is data (or possibly information but I'll not be that arrogant).

I'm well aware that Postscript is (or can be) a programming language; I wasn't aware that it was that closely related to PDF though.


There are enough software engineers around here that we'll know that there are several possible methods of watermarking e-files. Either you know some of them and that there are good reasons for not making the methods more public domain than they already are, or you don't have a need to know.


Thank you. :-D

And thanks for the thought but I don't own an e-reader, and am fairly sure I couldn't get the file through this firewall anyway.


Peanut Press had a successful way of watermarking ebooks back in the day. They'd be encrypted, and you needed to enter your key to decrypt them. Your key was ... the credit card number you'd paid with!

Which is rather a form of DRM than a watermark, right? With unencrypted text you can remove any watermark in no time.


What prevents me from copying the text and putting it in txt\html\doc file?


Other than the blindingly, thunderingly obvious you mean? By which I mean that the files aren't merely not plain text, but also aren't a format normally read by text or word processing software.


Peanut Press had a successful way of watermarking ebooks back in the day. They'd be encrypted, and you needed to enter your key to decrypt them. Your key was ... the credit card number you'd paid with!

I was going to say - this isn't watermarking, this IS DRM. And having been an ebook reader for 20-something years and reading PeanutPress books way back in the day on a non-color PDA, it's not a good longterm solution and it's one of the things that turned me off DRM. [Those books were not natively convertible because of it ... you had to strip the DRM off them with a script in order to change the format. Something I had to do with all of mine (about 500 books) when I got my dedicated e-book reader device.]

Obviously I DID buy lots of books (and still do) despite DRM. But only because I know how to strip it off easily. No DRM definitely encourages more sales, because new encryption stops my purchases until it can be broken.

But back to watermarking!

Printing the credit card number somewhere in the book/file would be (scary!) watermarking.

If you need it to unlock the file, it's DRM.

As someone mentioned above, I wouldn't purchase from anybody that used that, because of fear of theft/hacking/loss-of-reader. I would PREFER DRM to that risk. Although it's a theoretical preference, because I still wouldn't buy DRM I can't strip off ... except that as long as there is DRM, there's going to be a way to break it, probably trivially, very easily.

Sidenote: even PeanutPress was probably aware of the scariness of using the full credit card number and if they could potentially compromise their client's security - the encryption itself only used the last 8 digits and your name.


Watermarking could very much be a form of DRM, but the key part is that the form being advocated is something that is independent of device and vendor. The file you get may be indelibly marked as yours, but you can pass it along if you want to assume the risk. The difference between now and the era of Peanut Press is that the file is likely to be one of a limited number of standardized, reasonably open formats that can either be directly transferred between devices or easily converted.

I see watermarking as a similar to receiving a signed copy of a book with a very personal message that you probably don't want to get out. Imagine a single sheet poem signed across the text by the author with references to your steamy night together and for some reason your phone number-- you might scan a copy for your files or make a photocopy to keep in your wallet. The effort to photoshop out the embarrassing bits before emailing out copies, or retyping the thing would have to be just enough more than buying another in order for the watermarking to succeed in its goal.

I don't know that I completely support watermarks, but compared to the device-locked DRM that we have now it seems much better.


It is in epub format and there are web-browser plug-ins which will read it, so it's about as accessible as you can get.


Speaking of Devices, I just picked up a cute little Android tablet with a keyboard (kind of a netbook, kind of not) for $76.95 (including shipping) from Ebay. I expect to install some reading apps and our friend Mr. Calibre; its capacity is pretty small, but that's why there is room for a memory card. The 32's are almost down far in price enough for me to buy one and stick in it the little guy. Yes, the keyboard is hobbit-size, but so are my fingers. I intend to see about getting Documents to Go so I can work on writing stuff on it (I can do pretty much everything I want on a manuscript in RTF format anyway).

But it will also be a reading device, as well as a travel typer which is not as heavy as my regular laptop and with (hopefully) somewhat fewer distractions, since having email on more than one machine makes my brain all hurty. I might swap out the battery for a better one; but I'm going to play with my new toy first.

Relevance? I'm going to read on it, too (though I also have various apps on my phone as well, but the phone's battery capacity sucks rocks and dies). It can do color as well as a Kindle Fire or my Palm Pilot (which I have two of, one for backup). Oh, yes, and I also have a pretty loaded Kindle. I don't intend to run out of reading material any time soon.

And I buy _lots_ of books.


I agree with starting with _The Atrocity Archives_. I read a couple of the Merchant books, which were written in really good generic American; I didn't even know Charlie was a Brit.

And then I read TAA, and really LIKED that flavor. (I always enjoyed Rowling when Tall Dark and Snarky was on stage, myself). _Saturn's Children_ was FRIDAY with many evil twists, and loved it. I really do have to read more Laundry novels, though (and adored _Rule 34_. Now there's a proactive strategy against spam...).


Watermarking isn't DRM; it's marking. It doesn't control access, or in any way manage someone's rights -- yours or the copyright owner's. All it does is allow tracking.


Look, I really don't understand the point of watermarking. It won't stop any remotely determined pirate. If you can strip DRM, you can strip watermarking. Hell, you can add FAKE watermarking and frame people you don't like.


I don't think there are many "casual pirates", BTW. If you go to #bookz you basically see a few users with huge collections and everyone else just downloads from them.


You are assuming you can spot the watermarking - and generally you won't.

It's relatively easy to make it such that the non-text parts of the file all have variations in them, and that those variations provide buyer information, multiple times. You can even change the text subtly to contain watermarks itself. If you don't strip all of them, you are identifiable as the source.

Worse, if you've uploaded the file and have taken actions to strip the watermarking, you have compounded the crime aspect. Courts love that.


> I really don't understand the point of watermarking.

Once upon a time, someone convinced publishers that DRM can work. If reversing damage from that takes convincing them that watermarking works.. well that's a point of sorts.


Multiple versions of the same e-book, watermarked for different users. Compare those files for differences and voila - you have just found where the watermarks were hiding.


Great. Thing is, what if most of the (non content) book is different between versions? What do you 'strip it out' to? Maybe you want to just go to bare text and then rebuild? Who's to say there isn't watermarking in the text?

For instance, space vs non-breaking space. Each and every instance of a space can hide a coded watermark - which you have to spot and strip.

Plus there is a longer list of sneakier methods - that I'm not going to list here in case I want to use one at some point.

One slip up, ~16 bits of information, and you've got a spotlight on you.


> what if most of the (non content) book is different between versions?

Not exactly sure what you mean here. But if its large amounts weird stuff all over the epub metadata xml files, it's likely just easier to just extract the content html and make a new e-book.

> Who's to say there isn't watermarking in the text?

What if there is? Run a diff on two files and they will show up.

> Plus there is a longer list of sneakier methods

Sure, and being sneaky can be fun. But in the end, as with all obfuscation-based systems, it's just a matter of time and how much motivation there is to break it. The only good thing about watermarking as opposed to DRM is that it takes away almost all if the motivation part.


That's a stellar Guardian article. My only problem with it is the caption under Charlie's photo calls him a sci-fi author. That's been a pet peeve of mine for a long while. I prefer "sci-fi" to mean a video medium, whether that is films or vidgames. For book media, I would rather see the label "science fiction" or "SF".


I will make an exception for a particularly good sci-fi movie and label it "science fiction", but the film must have a script that someone like the acclaimed SF editor Gardner Dozois could not put down before finishing a read-through.


That last depends on the system used—you could use something like PGP to generate the watermark data, so that the digital signature authenticates it as coming from the publisher/retailer.

There are complications, and I doubt PGP would be the best choice, but there's no reason a fake watermark has to be easy to make.


>>>Great. Thing is, what if most of the (non content) book is different between versions? What do you 'strip it out' to?

You realize it is possible to just PrintScreen the book, right? :-)

Of course, copying the text into a new file is even easier.


#226 - I think I've thought of an analogy.

With DRM, you have to provide a password (this may be user-transparent) every time you try to open the file.

With watermarking there is something different about every copy, which need not be obvious to a user. If I run a record company, and suspect that one of, say, 12 radio stations is pirating my artists' work, I send each of them a "new album" with the tracks in a different order. When pirate product of said album appears with "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight" (real song title) as the first track, I then know that the pirates' source works for "Blackbeard FM". You'd need to be more subtle (possibly include metadata that ordinary readers can't access) with a mass release, but I hope you see the principle without us having to discuss stuff that shouldn't be public domain.


What if there is? Run a diff on two files and they will show up.
No it won't, unless you're silly enough to watermark plain text! All diff returns from a binary encode is "files differ". Been there, done that...



The plain text is what matters. If you can see it, you can copy it.


It would be great to walk into a bookshop a buy an ebook, then and there that was drm free and on a small usb stick. Re-useing the usb key for your next ebook purchase.

It would also be nice to have some sort of audible type subscription model for ebooks too. Paying a nominal amount each month to be able to download a set number of books would suit me fine, why has no one done this?


While considering my somewhat light-hearted comment earlier about having e-books digitally endorsed and PGP signed by an author[*] as an analogue of having a physical book signed in ink, I started to think about the other use of digital signatures: proof of the integrity of the signed document.

I can see that having a mechanism to verify that this book is the text as Charlie and his publishers intended it to be is desirable. No one has slyly placed the enjoinder to "eat at Harga's House of Ribs" into the mouth of one of Charlie's characters. Or perhaps, more to the point, no one has trojanned this copy of the e-book so that the act of reading it opens you up to all sorts of nasty exploits.

I can also see that being able to individually digitally watermark an e-book at the point of sale is desirable. And that for maximum effectiveness a digital watermark should contain some surreptitious elements: use of steganographic techniques to hide some extra metadata in the text in such a way that your average pirate would not even realise it was there, and would have to spend some effort to remove it even if they did.

What I can't see is how to do both of the above.

[*] Actually, I agree with OGH here. I've never really seen the point of signatures in books per se. I think the whole book-signing thing is more important as a mechanism for the fan to have and document a (short) personal interaction with the author. A thumbprint or a photo would do just as well, and save on the writer's cramp.


I have a large library, but now I'm going to live on a boat, this results in a few problems. Space, there is none, and water and books don't mix.

How this relates, vaguely, to topic. I don't want to repurchase my library in electronic format, nor be tied into a proprietary format of DRM or hardware. Also many of the titles I have are simply not available as ebooks.

Solutions. are there any plans to offer an exchange for paper/ebooks? (suspect this is wishful thinking)

Are there any automated book scanners?

Any other ideas?


>Their only advantages are battery life and readability in direct sunlight, both of which are under threat.

no, sunlight is the only advantage : the advantage is readability in general, and no LCD tablet will ever rearch this readability, so there will always be a market for e-ink devices.


I meant: sunlight is **not** the only advantage



And just because you can print-screen on a PC doesn't mean you can do it on a tablet/reader/J-phone; even if you could you'd finish up with a series of screen grabs. The electronic equivalent of photocopying the book.


They're not plain text, but they're open enough for a tool like Calibre to convert ePub to mobi and vice versa, so I'm not so sure how they can also be closed enough to inevitably maintain watermarks under conversion.


Watermark the formatting, not the text. Someone wants the raw UTF-8? Sure they can get it without the watermark, but raw text ain't that much fun on the eyeball. And reformatting an entire novel by hand is tedious.


For several years the only books available on the internet were from physical objects plopped down on a scanner, run through OCR software, and posted to newsgroups. If your idea of a good ebook is a big text file, sure - it's even reasonable when there's no other way to get the book. (Long out of print SF novels were surprisingly popular). But ebooks do more now, and once evading the electronic security schemes takes more work than making your own ebook file from scratch, that security is good enough.



The content is html. At least in epubs. Pretty sure it's the same with whatever Kindles use currently. So, yes - you can easily diff the content.

> even if you could you'd finish up with a series of screen
> grabs. The electronic equivalent of photocopying the book.

Well, not necessarily. Haven't checked lately but it used to be that MS Office came with a cute little dll that did OCR. Didn't install by default so you had to check something in custom setup. Can't remember what it was called.. So anyhow, what you do is:

1. open the e-book you just bought in whatever desktop reader.
2. select the page area in reader's window.
3. take a screenshot and save it as bitmap.
4. OCR the bitmap, append resulting plain text to a file.
5. send page down key click to the reader.
6. loop 3-5 until checkums of two last bitmaps are equal.

I actually wrote a little "proof of concept universal DRM remover" a couple of years ago. Took me about half a day. Only problem was that it only supported a limited set of languages.

In non-desktop environment, it gets a bit more complicated. You would end up doing the OCR part on a desktop machine.

And as mr. Stross said above - this will not preserve the formatting.


One thing we should be very clear about: DRM can be easily broken by anyone who makes the effort to get the correct software tools.

A watermark ought to be discreet enough that the casual user, uploading their wonderful new book to a file-sharing sight, doesn't realise it was there until they get the polite warning letter from the publisher. It ought to be secure enough that a third party can't fake a watermark. There's nothing that can be good enough to stop a determined hacker-type from removing an anti-piracy measure.

DRM does not work. Ignore that, and you risk looking a fool.


I got myself a Sony PRS-T1 for my birthday, explicitly for taking it along on a 6-week holiday in Southern Africa.

Believe you me, when close encounters with things with USB ports or even electricity are a week or more apart, e-ink devices are a godsend.

My SO and I were able to get an hour of recreational reading in, each, most of the days, but looking at PDF maps of the area or a more detailed Lonely Planet really sucked down the juice.

I realize that's a rather specific use-case, but I like not having to recharge things every day. Even my trusty old Nokia 3410 is getting on my nerves and that needs to charge twice a week...


No one has slyly placed the enjoinder to "eat at Harga's House of Ribs" into the mouth of one of Charlie's characters.

You sir, are a genius.

Marketing via piracy and product placement. Given that any content is going to be copied and spread, get in there first and do so whilst adding in references to 'coke', 'levi' and 'McDonalds'. You could do it across books, movies, TV - and in particular you could do the product placement where you wouldn't normally be able to go. For your illegal enterprises (eg The Silk Road) it has a great synergistic effect.

And given how amoral most marketeers are, you have to think it's already been actioned.


Yeah, I think I'll just stick with treeware. Never had DRM, and I can read it again in 20 years without having to shell out for a new "device."


There are 2 kinds of pirates...
(1) Organized and technically adept - large volume, probably with cash attached.

Watermarks are probably useless. Legal action won't be.

(2) 'Hey, I loved Stross's new novel so I posted it to' (Hopefully not a real site.)

Watermarks, followed by a nice letter from the publisher might dissuade a few people.



Calibre can "explode" epubs into individual xhtml and metadata files for editing in any text editor. While I suppose this could be used to remove watermarks, the primary use I've had for it is to fix the egregious formatting issues that come with some ebooks (frex: one book had

tags, with the content outside the tags, e.g.

paragraph of text

....why would anyone DO that????).


make that: <p> </p> paragraph of text <p> </p>

(will this work???)


Good thoughts.

One comment on eInk vs. LCD, I had a Nook Color, and gave it away. You are right that eInk has limitations, the biggest being lack of color, but LCDs glare and the Nook Color gave me bad headaches after reading for about 20 minutes.

I was nice to be able to check my mail, play games, and do other tablet sorts of computing things, but what I wanted was a book reading device that was simple, long-lived, and would allow me to carry a lot of books around with me.

Until the cure the glare issue, eInk will remain a viable technology for eReaders, and LCDs will not be as good.

As to the whole imbroglio about DRM, there are already so many applications available to remove the various forms of protection that it might as well be dropped. More importantly, the publishers have to drop their limitations on use of eBooks by public libraries. I use the library frequently, and after a few experiences with the delays and difficulties of eBooks from the library, I will stick with the paper editions. Maybe that is what the publishers want, but it sure is costing tax payers a lot more money to provide the service to their constituents.


I think there is also a large volume sort of piracy driven by the egoboo. I'm not sure that the piracy-for-money business can be as significant for digital goods as it can be for physical goods. I've seen some pretty dodgy stuff sold at computer fairs, but now you can just download it.

On the other hand, you can earn a reputation if you can crack protection, and your torrents don't trigger anyone's AV software. And maybe you get the thrill of living dangerously.

I think there might be a weakness in any strategy that links piracy only with money.


A tablet with E-ink screen on one side and LCD (or better AMOLED) on the other would be divine.


"but I hope you see the principle without us having to discuss stuff that shouldn't be public domain."

Sorry? There are programming things that should not be publicly known? Odd concept...

Oh yeah, security through obscurity. Widely derided, and so it should be.

The sort of watermarking you are discussing is trivial to remove. Convert the file from one format to another (or, as Calibre can do, from one format to the exact same format). Just make sure that any formatting that can be manipulated for watermarking purposes (various options to represent a space, or a hyphen, or whatever) is changed to one standard system, and anything not strictly text or formatting is removed.

And yes, there really are groups of pirates dedicated to finding and breaking this stuff - they find it an invigorating challenge, and make the methods to strip it as public as can be.


Yeah hi @JFM I am the author of that piece you links to about citation. Thanks for that.

I have to say that Charlie Stross' piece resonates with me quite strongly. My University library now has a policy of 'buying' (leasing? renting?) new books mostly in electronic editions, and these of course nearly always have some horrible form of DRM attached, either Adobe's horrible software of some other type (and it's massively annoying to have to maintain more than one way to read these files!). You have to really beg the library and convince them that some book is important enough that they buy it physically. I did note recently that OUP/Clarendon give us access to straight non-DRM PDFs, but chapter-by-chapter, with a simple note that you should not be naughty and steal it or just print the whole thing out.

Citation is however a whole other story. I find most proposed schema to be deficient; mostly they all assume the dead-tree edition is "standard" and just try to find a way to make any generic electronic format be always referenced to the "codex" format. (Codex is the technical term for what we call "the book format", with bound pages, printed on recto and verso).

The interesting thing is that electronic formats are closer to the idea of the scroll, which the codex eventually replaced, in that they are "continuous" and page divisions make no real sense, in this case because they are entirely arbitrary divisions based on the device it's read on and user choices like font sizes or device orientation. In this case it makes far more sense to use a citation style which directly references the text (rather than its format). Sometimes a document's genre is more important than its delivery format - for example legal documents that always have heading and paragraph numbers, or poetry that must actually have explicit lines for their metre to function.

If we consider that paragraphs and sentences (in prose writing anyway) are probably never going to go away then that's why citation formats should change to use these instead. Classicists use this format in our primary text (each text has its own standardised scheme depending on its needs) because our texts are usually transmitted through a format change from scroll to codex (much like is happening now from codex to electronic screen!). Its not classicists that use this format: a Shakespearean scholar would too, probably lots of others like that (scholars of poetry for example, or those of some literature pre-1800 I would imagine suffers from the issue of non-standard pagination across different editions).

Sorry all for the long comment.


Reformatting by hand may get tedious, but I and others have been starting to write programs to reformat ebooks automatically? Why? Because far too often, the ebook formatting I've gotten from legitimately purchased ebooks was crap, crap, crap.

In one case, I shrank the compressed epub size by some 50%, and in the process of removing all of the Microsoft Word crap that was infesting the HTML, allowed my ebook reader to resize the text to different font sizes. (The MS-Word-generated HTML hard coded an explicit font size in every paragraph, which wasted space and which meant that an ebook reader which respected the HTML font sizes didn't change the text size when you hit the "increase font size" button. The only thing that grew in size was the chapter headings, since that formatting was supplied via CSS.)

So given that the compressed epub size shrank by 50%, I'll let you figure out how much "junk DNA" was in the uncompressed HTML. And sure, it would be easy to hide lots of watermarking information in there. But you know what? Most ebooks don't employ a lot of fancy formatting, at least not the books I prefer to read (not being a fan of e. e. cummings). So stripping out all of the HTML formatting and replacing it with new, competently generated formatting is something a program can generally do relatively easily, and there are plenty of motivators for people to do this even without thinking about "sekrit" watermarking.


I know how ugly the MSWord HTML output is. I still have, somewhere, a paid-for copy of Lotus Smartsuite. That created good HTML. OpenOffice and LibreOffice do a decent job. And, on fiction, I recall even more wasted bytes from MSWord. Every typographical quote turned into dozens of characters. It wasn't even a portable &quot;, but all the data on selected font and size, surrounding a character-code.

The ePub format is essentially a compressed-file containing HTML files. I don't know about others.


I have yet to read Atrocity, (I started with Rule 34/Halting State), but I have read the Merchant Princes series. While I enjoyed the series quite a bit and Charlie did a good job of imitating American dialect, as a native speaker of American there were still a handful of language choices scattered throughout the books that were red flags for his being a Brit. Almost there, but the books could really have used an (or perhaps, another)editing pass by an American copy editor to clear up those few inconsistencies.


Hah, yes. I remember being amazed at the hundred or so lines of junk that some versions of word would spit out for an empty document.

I concluded after inspecting the document that Word was using a sort-of superset (a validator ignoring all the Word-specific crap would still consider it invalid) of HTML in order to be able to round-trip the document losslessly.

Subsequent encounters with Word's HTML generator have made me ponder writing a tool to correct that kind of idiotic markup, like comment #262 mentions (what kind of person uses Word to generate epub anyway?)


> Because far too often, the ebook formatting I've
> gotten from legitimately purchased ebooks was crap,

They are often that and they are also without exception in violation of epub spec. Last i took a look at it, epub specified rather limited and sensible subset of html that was allowed in e-books. I have yet to see a single epub that actually conform to those limits. Other than those i have re-formated myself. Every time I have to do that, god kills a typographer.


A tablet with E-ink screen on one side and LCD (or better AMOLED) on the other would be divine.

Well, there's at least one display technology, the Pixel Qi displays originally developed for the One Laptop Per Child project, which supports both modes in a single display--- a backlit color mode for dim light, and a black-and-white reflective mode that's readable in sunlight.

(Then again, if your main problem with E-Ink is readability in the dark, as it is for some people, there's also the combination of E-Ink and a clip-on booklight. Something like the new B&N "Glowlight" Nook, which has the booklight built in --- might also serve...)


DId you actually just say "there is no security benefit in applying a 'need to know' principle to your encryption and/or watermarking technologies"?


Seems to me like you watermark fans don't know enough about the formats/tools being used today. I don't either cause I don't (need to) care but from what the other commenters here said, it's pretty clear that watermarking just CAN'T work on open/documented formats like epub. (Encrypted formats can be OCR'ed easily with formatting retained/improved).

A conversion will strip all hidden metadata/weird characters encodings/steganography so all publishers can do is add typos (will be eliminated by auto correction) or phrases which will stand out during reading or be talked about books on forums. How many unique variations that aren't obvious can you put into a book when you sell 50k + copies? It's not like a telephone book or address book where you can sneak in transposed digits.

As for the 2 types of pirates, guess whose version will be uploaded to the interwebs? Long story short, watermarking is as pointless as using DRM and publishers would be well advised not to spend money on that snakeoil.

You can use language however you want, but I would not recommend making that change in your own usage.
I'll abbreviate 'digital restrictions management' to DRM, and I'll not use the misleading 'digital rights management' phrase. I'll continue to call Burma "Burma" (because fuck the military junta), and Bombay "Bombay" (and fuck the racist religionist politicians). I'll continue to say that a theory is a hypothesis with evidence, and not just any old thought. So, there are various reasons for me to use different language, including political. In this case, it's because the term 'e-book' is ambiguous (two websites, one is an 'e-book' and the other not?) and unnecessary. There are already other short terms to cover most possible usage cases. These include: website, electronic text, 'book-like', the various forms (such as novel) already mentioned, etc. In the cases where there isn't a term, the term 'book' does not clarify matters any. You still have to explain what sort of book ('a book of mostly photos with some commentary', rather than simply 'a book').
English already has an unambiguous word for a group of pages bound at the edge between covers: codex (and binder, hardcover, and softcover). It also has a word for a long text (of words and pictures) intended to be read and reproduced as one unit: book (which, if you read the OED, originally just meant “writing, record”). Someone proposing to narrow the usage of book would need to find a one or two syllable word to replace the broad meaning, and would face infelicities such as “Is the textbook a book? No, the textbook is a file not a book.” A lot of books don't have a concise and specific genre title (imagine a book of photos with commentary).
The first definition given by Wikipedia last time I looked was that a book was a bound volume (or words to that effect). Then a small tacked on sentence about e-books, an e-book being a book in electronic form. Right, a bound volume in electronic form. How's that make sense again?

OK, the OED says that an e-book is an electronic form of a print book. That makes sense. Except that people use the term for 'born digital' texts as well!

Also, if book is meant for long text, then what do you call a "children's picture book" that is reproduced in electronic form?

What we have is a problem of definitions. I suggest the term 'text' ('e-text'). That reference text, or study text, is in electronic form (as a PDF/epub/some stupid propitiatory form that no one will be able to open in two years time/whatever), rather than in book form. It's also not in scroll form. What's wrong with: 'Is the reference text a book? No, it's a PDF'?

What happened is not that I'm trying narrow the meaning of the word book, but that it is being expanded! It never meant any old electronic file. It never meant a scroll, or a tablet.

My biggest problem with the term 'e-book' though, is not that it broadens the word 'book', but that it is actually quite undefinable. What if I make a website. I take a lot of photos, put them up, and add commentary. Is that a book? No, it's a website (perhaps a 'photoblog' if the photos were posted at intervals, and could be found via the date they were posted). Now, what if I offer a "all in one file" which will show all the photos at once, with the commentary. In some linear order, perhaps the order I put them on the site. Is that a book? I would still say no, as it is just a single HTML file with inline images. What if I offer that same content, in the same order, as a downloadable (very large!) PDF file? What if I then put a fancy 'title' 'page', with a copyright 'page', and so on? What if I send that PDF to a print-on-demand printer and get a few copies printed and bound? What if I send that PDF to a proper publisher, and they put a nice ISBN on the content and sell it in $your closest large bookshop chain$? What if they then got and make an 'e-book', from their printers proof (and not from my PDF). When does my content 'become' a book? I would say, it doesn't. The content is the content. The book is a physical form it could be found in.

You didn't tell me if you thought one or other of the two sites I linked to previously were books or not. Nor if one was a book, but the other wasn't, what the difference was.

Your parallel with digital music is interesting, because we still talk about “songs” or “tracks” (a short piece of music) and “albums” (a collection of tracks). An album was originally a book with space to insert pictures, notes, and signatures, and a track was originally a spiral carved into a record!
Exactly. We talk about songs/tracks and albums. We don't talk about e-cds, or e-vinyl. And yes, well, OK, regarding 'tracks' maybe it would have been better if another term had have jumped the format shift.

paws4thot responded well to this as well I think.

(Also, paws4thot, if you go by some definitions of 'e-book', they could well be plain text...)

(Sorry I took so long to respond, I didn't notice I had JS turned off for this site. And the error message "invalid request" is not exactly informative.)


What happened is not that I'm trying narrow the meaning of the word book, but that it is being expanded! It never meant any old electronic file. It never meant a scroll, or a tablet.

I see.

Presumably those dictionaries (such as Collins) that happen to include scrolls as books are to be ignored? And that the word originally derives from the term for a beech tablet is also irrelevant?


Collins "Book" (n) -
2) A written work or composition
4) The libretto of an opera, musical etc
5) A major subdivision of a written composition, as of a long novel, the Bible etc
7) A record of betting transactions
8) A number of tracks that must be won at cards before any trick has a scoring value.


Go look at 'scroll' too.


Roy, those books were sold to an American publisher and copy-edited by an American copy editor. And checked by American proofreaders too. The mistakes you're looking at are simply evidence that Torvald's Law ("given enough eyes, all bugs are transparent") applies to all forms of text too -- and that current production processes for books are not sufficiently labour-intensive!


Long story short, watermarking is as pointless as using DRM and publishers would be well advised not to spend money on that snakeoil.

Yes, but it's non-harmful -- at least compared to DRM -- and if it gives the less CS-aware executives a chew-toy to play with, what's the harm?


Well, maybe I'm wrong (wouldn't be the first time). But regardless of if I'm wrong about what 'book' means or not, I'm still not convinced that 'e-book' (or 'ebook' if you prefer) is a useful or definable term (unless you restrict it to mean solely an electronic version of a physical codex (what ordinary people call a book). I.e. if it's not published on paper first, then it's not an e-book.


Watermarks are obviously not an unbreakable deterrent.

However, while searching for some of Glen Cook's ebooks, I found a site quite similar to It sold subscriptions to content uploaded by its users and presumably disclaimed any responsibility for what its users uploaded. (megaupload's kid brother?)

Watermarks do have the advantage of making it slightly harder for unknowledgeable people to upload content, which would tend to reduce the number of people uploading to those sites.

They have the further significant advantage of not having significant disadvantages such as platform lock-in, annoying failures, or software incompatibility.

Basically, they're mildly better than nothing and let people feel like they're accomplishing something.



If that's the site I'm thinking of, they're in the process of being sued into a smoking hole in the ground.

While quite a number of authors will sigh and ignore individual file sharers (it seems to vary depending on how set in their ways the author in question was when they first met the internet), there is one thing guaranteed to get us all riled up: that's someone selling our work at a profit and not cutting us in on it.

Regardless of where you stand on file sharing, taking work that doesn't belong to you, selling it for money, and pocketing the proceeds, is a crime; covered by one of passing off, forgery, or fraud, or just plain old-fashioned theft. And it lacks the ambiguity of peer-to-peer sharing insofar as sales of the pirate copy are directly cannibalizing the author's own sales.

Luckily such websites tend to have bank accounts into which to deposit their ill-gotten gains. Which means there's an audit trail and an identity and someone to sue. (IP addresses are a very dubious handle, but a bank account takes formal ID to open due to money laundering regs.)

And so, when I find such a site I point my publishers' lawyers at them -- and so does just about every other published author I know who's in a position to do so.


Hoddy, there is no reason to loose your ebooks when your reader is damaged or lost. Most ebook marketers will let you re-download your purchased ebooks.
Also, you can copy your ebook files to off-ereader storage. In my case, I keep my 700+ ebooks (been reading them since the stone age ... er, Palm Pilot days) in three different storage devices. (Yes, perhaps that is overkill, but I have lost data before.)


If that's the site I'm thinking of, they're in the process of being sued into a smoking hole in the ground.

Oh, good. Keep us posted on developments, please; this is the sort of good news that can cheer up folks. Authors need to be able to buy beer and cat food, and readers shouldn't have their money diverted.


Yes, but it's non-harmful -- at least compared to DRM -- and if it gives the less CS-aware executives a chew-toy to play with, what's the harm?

Well, I've never considered the lesser of two evils to be particularly desirable but besides the extra cost for implementing watermark technology (that inevitably will increase the price for consumers), the major harm will be the delaying of inevitable changes to their businessmodel when publishers are lured into a false sense of security.


"Did you actually just say "there is no security benefit in applying a 'need to know' principle to your encryption" [snip]

Are you actually advocating security through obscurity for encryption? Given that that approach has been totally debunked for years, now. Have I missed a sarcasm tag somewhere?


"DId you actually just say "there is no security benefit in applying a 'need to know' principle to your encryption and/or watermarking technologies"?"

Damn straight. Security through obscurity is bollocks, and anyone dealing with it should know that by now. If they don't, they need to read some Schneier and his friends.


Good news about the lawyers. I didn't list the site because I'd rather not offer free publicity. (That, and there appear to be at least 7 similar glen cook epub. Sometimes the internet feels like a hydra.) Btw, the correct google answer would be baen ebooks for at least some of his novels.* I hope that lawsuits will remove 'organized' financial motivations. I'm honestly not sure that the ROI on lawsuits is sufficient in the publishing market to allow prosecution of smallish foreign sites.

I'm optimistic and believe that watermarks might end up being a moderately effective deterrent to P2P filesharing.

This might be heresy, but...watermarking can be made somewhat difficult to remove if it is incorporated directly into the novel. Remember there are portions of a book that can probably be randomized in a highly fault-tolerant, grammatically correct, way and that the watermark for a really successful book only needs to be about 24ish bits long. That's not a lot of information. (examples would be randomly choosing between British and American spellings for a set of 32 words chosen by the author...or changes to punctuation.) (I may get slapped for this...)

Nothing will stop a highly motivated and competent person who wants to distribute ebooks for free. For instance, doing diffs of a few watermarked books will always allow the removal of most of the identifying information.

OTOH, A lot of things will stop someone who's just a bit worried that they might end up being sued if they put their ebook up on bittorrent.

I'll guess that writing a program that takes an epub and a 'watermark file' and applies a few watermarking methods would less than a week's work for a competent programmer.

Continuing costs would be ~1 hour of the author's time and a small, probably negligible, decline in the ebook quality.

I'll also guess that it would reduce the number of people posting copyrighted works by about 50%. Unfortunately, given that someone searching for a book only needs to find 1 copy and most people searching for free books probably would not buy them...I'm doubtful about the actual effect on sales. I'm an optimist - and I'll guess that watermarks (even counting costs) will be better than DRM and also better than nothing.

*Baen is great. Shame they don't have more SF&F available. Amazon also supports them well. Direct download to your Kindle and automatic archival of files. Amazon's future business strategy I'm not certain of, but, for now, they seem pretty open to competition. I won't claim that they're good, but they seem less evil than M$.


Btw, how are lawsuits handled regarding the sites that: (a) claim to be file-sharing sites
(b) encourage users to share files
(c) comply with DMCA takedown notices
(d) charge subscription fees
(e) rely on businesses being unable to keep up with/afford to sue over the sheer volume of uploaded copyrighted material

They're clearly evil. But, I wonder, particularly for companies based outside of the US, how they can be dealt with in a cost-effective fashion.



Btw, how are lawsuits handled regarding the sites that: (a) claim to be file-sharing sites ...

No idea. As long as they comply with DMCA notices they're able to take advantage of the safe harbour provision -- although there might be ways round that if a pattern of corrupt/illegal behaviour could be proven under some other law.

Yes, they're difficult. But the bigger they are, the bigger the target they offer.

287: is one example.

Verizon v Google/YouTubeis another.

(That's one example of state action, and one example of private action.)


This actually the DRM used by B&N. The encrypted books aren't keyed to some on-line server. Rather, the encryption key is derived from the Credit Card Number used to purchase the book.


Keying the DRM to the credit card number sounds brilliant at first. Until you realize all the cards you've had to replace when they were lost, or you closed the account. What was your credit card number 10 years ago?


...there is no reason to loose your ebooks when your reader is damaged or lost. Most ebook marketers will let you re-download your purchased ebooks. Also, you can copy your ebook files to off-ereader storage.

Unfortunately, downloading a new copy only works for as long as the marketer is still in business and retains its records. Which is particularly problematic for DRM-protected files (presuming some effective DRM system[*]); if the vendor stops stamping out new keys, even local backups won't save you, as they won't work on a new device.

(I'm not a huge fan of Wikipedia references, but their page on DRM lists, under "Obsolescence", a large number of DRM-media vendors who have stopped re-keying purchases, even if they're otherwise still in business.)

[*] Yes, I know most DRM schemes aren't effective, in the sense that they're trivially breakable by people with the right tools. However, that presumes that the tools remain available --- the DMCA in the US already attempts to make their distribution illegal --- and that the companies involved keep screwing up their engineering. Neither is guaranteed...


I agree with most of this, but this:

"Why this will support the midlist: currently Amazon have swamped the midlist among ebooks in a sea of self-published rubbish. It's impossible to find anything worth reading in the Kindle store that isn't a very obvious bestseller. "

seems off-base. The web is, in effect, a gigantic slushpile -- larger than Amazon's catalog by orders of magnitude. Yet somehow I still find more good stuff than I have time to read. How does that work?

The let-everyone-publish-anything-and-sort-the-crap-later approach has worked pretty well for the web as a whole. I see no reason it can't work for ebooks as well.


It may just be a function of 'lack of time', but I have also had a lot of luck finding decent reading material through Amazon - including some stuff that I'd never have found at the local bookstores.

The recommendation algorithms still need work. However, with time, I expect them to work better than the current publisher-curation system. (There are a few printed books that made my eyes bleed.)

OTOH, I do expect that mid-list authors will experience a lot of extra competition. There seem to be a ton of aspiring writers who are either insufficiently driven or not quite good enough to get published who can self-publish easily. They are quite readable. Couple that with the tons and tons of older novels that will be republished as ebooks and new mid-list authors are going to find it very difficult to sell many books.

On the bright side, older mid-list authors should expect a nice continuing income the money will move mostly just move around. I suspect that, overall, more money will go to authors - so that's probably good.



Yes, I know most DRM schemes aren't effective, in the sense that they're trivially breakable by people with the right tools. However, that presumes that the tools remain available --- the DMCA in the US already attempts to make their distribution illegal
And how is that working out considering that CSS (DVDs) and AACS (Blu-Ray) were broken immediately and are still today? Do you really think there won't be any backlash from other countries that are fed up with getting US laws forcibly extended to their jurisdictions (all because of some copied media, no less)?


(I may get slapped for this...)

Probably cause your argument is mostly wishful thinking. There aren't enough *subtle* permutations to watermarks to identify a buyer without pissing off your paying customers who most likely will have a different idea about what constitutes a negible decline in quality. You also assume (incorrectly, IMO) that your customers can't buy anonymously or pseudonymously.

Unfortunately, given that someone searching for a book only needs to find 1 copy and most people searching for free books probably would not buy them...I'm doubtful about the actual effect on sales. I'm an optimist - and I'll guess that watermarks (even counting costs) will be better than DRM and also better than nothing.
There's your contradiction right there. If there's no effect on sales why is it better than nothing and why bother?


Er, for you to "break" $publisher's watermarking, post the results and keep getting away with it, you have to correctly identify and remove or change every watermark in every file you post. All they have to do to get enough for a warrant and/or cease and desist + takedown orders, and possibly a suit is find one file that you've missed one watermark in.
If you think you're that good, then perhaps we can consign you to the troll bin.


If you think you're that good, then perhaps we can consign you to the troll bin.

Actually I rather think that all examples of watermarks in this thread are that bad.


Even for the text watermarks, I'll assert that, in currently published books, I notice 5-10 spelling and word choice errors per book. (Not Stross, of course.) I probably miss 15-30 more (based on correction rates from others). Therefore, 30 bits of randomized mistake can be easily inserted without a noticeable decline in quality. Given that some authors like to play with spelling and grammar, automated algorithms will not work ideally. Add in alternate spellings and innocuous word substitutions, and really, even pure text watermarks are practical and reasonably difficult to remove.

Of course, reducing piracy probably won't change sales _much_. There's some sort of multiplier, of the order of 0.1-0.2, from what I remember. (For every 10 pirated downloads, 1-2 actual songs would be sold.) (Don't cite this. I don't remember what the source was.) So, assuming a 30% change in piracy as a result of watermarking (optimistic), and a 20% multiplier, and assuming that piracy is comparable in volume to purchasing (possibly reasonable, according to one author's blog), then you're looking at a sales change of 6% on books that maybe make 100k?, so about 6k USD. On the bright side, watermarking doesn't cost much, so, it will probably be worth it.

Anonymous purchasing, while perfectly possible, already establishes that buyer as either motivated or technically sophisticated...and nothing will work there (except the brain implant).



I know - it's still DRM, however. You can't natively convert the format from epub to mobi without stripping the DRM off first.

Being locked into a format is just as problematic as being locked to a device, in my opinion. Fortunately, it's trivially easy to strip it out - but it's still DRM, not watermarking.


"Anonymous purchasing, while perfectly possible, already establishes that buyer as either motivated or technically sophisticated"

1) Register for a new Amazon account using a throwaway email address (Hotmail, Gmail, whatever), using a public wifi connection.
2) Input number from prepaid Visa card purchased for cash at the local convenience store, if you're an "honest" pirate, or a stolen credit card number if you're not.
3) Buy book.
3) Strip watermarks (or don't -- it won't matter in the slightest in this case since there is absolutely nothing tying the watermark to the pirate).

That requires neither an excessive degree of motivation nor technical sophistication. The downstream pirates won't even have to do this much; just the first guy.

Watermarking, while certainly less objectionable than DRM, isn't going to deter piracy in the slightest.


Given that some authors like to play with spelling and grammar, automated algorithms will not work ideally.

No need to. They just need to mess up the watermark enough so it can't be tied to the purchaser. As they would.

(Don't cite this. I don't remember what the source was.)

Which renders your entire math and conclusion moot.

Anonymous purchasing, while perfectly possible, already establishes that buyer as either motivated or technically sophisticated

OR he simply is interested in privacy and does not want any more profiles on himself stored by some (greedy) corporation.


Lemme the risk of feeding trolls...

To be clear, once again, nothing works against someone competent who wants to spend a bit of time. OTOH, it is possible to make an unintrusive watermark that is pretty difficult to remove from a single book.* Bear in mind that watermarks can be made highly fault tolerant if encoded with lots of extra bits.

Fine, I'll be less lazy. Turns out that, for music, a reasonable estimate of the ratio of lost sales to pirated copies is 0.2. Music isn't books - but I suspect the ratio might be higher - main point being to establish a reasonable order of magnitude.

There are perfectly legitimate reasons for anonymous purchasing. OTOH, anonymous purchasing has very little relevance to watermarking because most people don't do it. It isn't relevant, for most people, to deciding whether or not to upload a file.


*Even sticking to alternate spellings...assume 170k words in the English language in common use...and about 1000 words with alternative spellings...and 200k words per book.... There's room for a 1000 bit watermark that spell-check and grammar check won't catch. Even if you stick to 100 bits...that leaves about 3-4x of redundancy - which means that you do need to do a decent job of removing the watermark. Of course, you could easily write a dedicated program that bypasses this - and any other identified watermark, but the risks involved (10k lawsuit, infected watermark remover, ...) will reduce the number of available files significantly.

Besides, I spent more time on the above paragraph than I did thinking about the watermark problem. I'm reasonably confident than any industry insider could figure out roughly 30 other equivalent watermarking schemes.


All praise to Tor, but they're not exactly "groundbreaking." We at OR Books have been tootling along DRM-free for nigh on three years.

-- John Oakes


They're as groundbreaking as a subsidiary of any of the Big Six is able to be. Or is OR an imprint of, say, Penguin-Putnam?


Lemme see... at the risk of feeding trolls...

Lemme see, you claim relevancy to numbers you admittedly pulled out of thin air or got from "reasonable estimates" and I am the troll? Yeah, right.

Bear in mind that watermarks can be made highly fault tolerant if encoded with lots of extra bits

Bear in mind that you just can't do that with plain text because a) the customer will notice and hate it and b) you'll get backlash from writers who feel their work of art is being violated by your word permutation games (especially when they see it uploaded to filesharing sites anyway).

It isn't relevant, for most people, to deciding whether or not to upload a file.
But it is relevant for people to deciding whether to "lend" it to their friends as they have been doing with physical books like forever.

Of course, you could easily write a dedicated program that bypasses this - and any other identified watermark, but the risks involved (10k lawsuit, infected watermark remover, ...) will reduce the number of available files significantly.

Which is why Slysoft (AnyDVD) and Fengtao (DVDfab) have been sued out of existence years ago? Oh, wait...

Besides, I spent more time on the above paragraph than I did thinking about the watermark problem. I'm reasonably confident than any industry insider could figure out roughly 30 other equivalent watermarking schemes.

Which will be exactly as effective as all the previous watermark schemes that got dumped over the years. Don't know why that is so hard to grasp for you guys. Of course, if you feel more comfortable just doing *something* and paying watermark providers tons of cash, by all means, just go for it.


So you're making an unsubstantiatable claim that you can beat any watermarking scheme that the rest of us can come up with, and yet somehow we're the ones who're trolls? Yeah right! ;-)


To be fair, Tech may simply feel strongly about the watermark issue. I sort of doubt it, but it is possible.

And, to be honest, the estimates that I believe are realistic hardly establish that watermarking is vital - probably a net profit - but not a significant change in profitability.

OTOH, even a small, easily bypassed deterrent can be fairly effective.



A would-be competitor to Amazon says how they can't economically stock DRM-managed material:

Nothing they say will be much of a surprise to anyone who's read this far, but it may still be useful to point to a case of the logic actually working it out in the real world...


So you're making an unsubstantiatable claim that you can beat any watermarking scheme that the rest of us can come up with, and yet somehow we're the ones who're trolls?

Actually, the only unsubstantiatable claims so far have come from you guys referring to watermarking PLAIN TEXT. You don't need to be a coder (I ain't) to realize that's not gonna work. And yes, the fact that ALL schemes so far have been broken suggests you guys won't come up with anything better. Sorry.

To be fair, Tech may simply feel strongly about the watermark issue.

Thanks but actually I rather feel strongly about clueless rightsholders believing that easily bypassed deterrents can be fairly effective but when they don't, are running to government to get draconian laws passed that harm the public.


I think there is a difference between obscurity protecting a system, and obscurity protecting a choice of system.

If there are three or four possible watermarking systems, well known and being tested by outsiders, I think there might still be an advantage in being discreet about which system you use.

The point about a watermark is that the publisher, or their authorised enforcement agent, is the only entity that needs to be able to read it. That is different from the effects of DRM, which has to control who reads the data.

Heck, if there are multiple systems, a publisher could use a different system next year, and nobody would notice.

I'm not sure it would be a security advantage, but I think watermarking does sit in the grey area between security by obscurity and need-to-know.


I am not so sure that a site which takes money is as well protected by DMCA compliance, but I may be misremembering a passing reference else-net. It may be that a distinction is made between paying for the file and a general site-subscription.


Screw e-books, paper is best. Amazon will lose it's paper book business soon because of this.

.............The EBM is a book-making machine that automatically prints, binds, and trims --on demand-- library-quality paperback books with 4-color covers indistinguishable from their factory made versions. The EBM will print, bind and trim a 300 page book in about 7 minutes - a little more than the amount of time it takes to get a cappuccino across the way at Bert's Cafe...................

Just like burning your own CD is inherintly more efficient than buying preburned stuff, print on demand will always be cheaper than anything Amazon can do. Better than bookstores shipping unneeded books, also. I believe the cost of returning Kevin J Andersons unsold crap last year was over $15 billion.


#312 and 313 - I spy spammers!!!

[[ Now gone ]]


DRM does not impact me as I refuse to purchase any device (hardware) or product (hardware/software) that locks me in to begin with. Okay, I have to research and know which chipsets are in a handheld device to know to avoid it, so that does impact me.

Root / Admin Access = Smart Device (anything else is less smart)

As to DRM on products, music and videos, if I buy it, I expect to consume it as I see fit. That might be via my handheld (need a new one, probably will be a rootable Android), my tablet (rootable Linux version in my future), my netbook, my desktop or even from my server whenever I want to.

I use to purchase lots of books, not as many because they closed down the nearest bookstores and am well within your range. Though I have stopped for now, will purchase again in the future, but ONLY from DRM FREE sources.

For pro DRM companies, if I have a source for the product you are selling that is DRM free, I will buy from them.

To earn my future purchase, just go 6 or 7 years without doing stupid things like DRM and proprietary un-niceness, and I may consider you again.

However if you get silly and create a proprietary anything limiting my consumption choices, than my 7 year "no-purchase from you clock" gets reset, FYI. Which means you just lost my business and the business of many of my friends who truly understand why this is necessary. You dared to do it.

You earn our business by your actions over time...good behavior is rewarded with our hard earned money. Bad Behavior is not rewarded. It is that simple.

We still pay for software that does not limit/prevent our installation/consumption choices...FYI. That does not ONLY allow installation via the Internet. That does not allow us to use only on your preferred Operating System, after an unnecessary update (for any other reason but your software).


You haven't looked into the cost of running an EBM, have you?

Turns out that the books they print cost an order of magnitude more per book block than regular offset printing: we're talking paperbacks costing high single-digit dollars to low double-digit dollars per book to print. Especially once you amortize the cost of what is basically a big fast laser printer bolted to a fancy dye-sub color printer (for the cover) and a collating/binding/trimming machine. The machine itself costs enough that they're available from the manufacturer on a leasing agreement and nobody has yet actually rolled them out to a bookstore chain -- presumably due to maintenance and cost issues.

EBMs are not, I think, going to revolutionize bookselling. This will come as no surprise to anyone who owns a laser printer and needs to print novels on a regular basis ...


DRM does not impact me as I refuse to purchase any device (hardware) or product (hardware/software) that locks me in to begin with. Okay, I have to research and know which chipsets are in a handheld device to know to avoid it, so that does impact me.

Ah, a visit from the hair shirt brigade!

(I wondered when that was going to happen.)

I understand where you're coming from, and it's okay. However, I think you ought to bear in mind that around 90-99% of the public just don't care.

Also, your 7-year feedback loop is far too long -- businesses run on rolling quarterly profit/loss, feedback that's 28 accounting periods in the future is so far over the horizon that it has no credible impact on business planning. (That is: they will shrug and ignore you, because there is a very good chance that in 7 years the company will no longer exist, and in the meantime you're not paying their bottom line.)


I think one of the big London booksellers advertised something similar...

Blackwell's, Charing Cross, three years ago, and I didn't get anywhere with finding current information on their website. I wonder if it is still there.

It's standard enough for that sort of high-end machinery to be on a lease. I don't have the figures to do more than make a wild guess, but it would have to be assembling several hundred books every day to make sense, financially, and at 7 minutes per book that starts to look difficult. It has to be running more than one book through the system at the same time.

Something similar must be behind the print-on-demand operations but I can't see it working for walk-in retail. There's too much uncertainty in the demand, too often when there are either no books to be printed, or too many.


The EBM is a book-making machine that automatically prints, binds, and trims --on demand-- library-quality paperback books with 4-color covers indistinguishable from their factory made versions. The EBM will print, bind and trim a 300 page book in about 7 minutes...

Yes, I'm aware of this; have you seen one in action? There's one at Powell's Books (they talk about it here), and it's not just feeding their website purchases, although it does that too and you can conjure up a physical book to be delivered. No, they put it out in the middle of a room for customers to gawk at and become curious about. It's not magic, it's just a big laser printer with some paper handling machinery bolted on; I worked out that getting a trade paperback made was competitive with printing up a stack of letter size pages at Kinkos around the 100 page mark - assuming you skipped the one-time document setup fee. Oops.

If you're looking for a paperback under $10, forget it. But you could, at least in theory, walk in the door with a USB stick and walk out half an hour later with a physical book still hot off the printer.


....You haven't looked into the cost of running an EBM, have you?.....

I remember when a laser printer cost $5 grand. The cost is coming down. Ten years ago the EMB cost $100 thousand, that dropped to $50 thousand a few years age, I don't know when the next generation is coming out.

I would assume the viability of things are on the same curve as 3D printers. An expensive toy today, sure, but I bet by the end of the decade large scale printing of books will be replaced with this thing.


#319 and 320 - I spy Spammers!!

[[ On it already, but thanks ]]


Charlie, what is your opinion giving the consumer an option to bundle the ebook with the paper copy? I've always wanted to see amazon or someone let you buy the hardback for $xx then also get the ebook version for $1-3 more. I could have the format I prefer for when I'm at home reading on the couch, but still have the option to take it with me on a trip and not lose 1/4 of my luggage space.


Charlie, I think that this instance of Torvold's Law is an example you could add to your essays on the necessity for the publishing industry's editorial system!

That said, I probably spotted only one or two apparent mistakes per volume, which for a six volume series is certainly not bad. And I'm sure I could persuade myself that at least a couple of those are a regionalism within the US ;)

And while we're discussing the Merchant Princes series, I also want you to know that I would love to see you continue it, whether along the lines of the preliminary outline you discussed on this blog, or something else. I enjoyed the whole series, but I also DO want to see you do something with the larger multiverse and backstory that you started to hint at!

I also enjoyed the hell out of Halting State and Rule 34, and especially enjoyed the dialect, which—as an American—I can only assume was 100% flawless.


The world is full of mobile phones, iPods, and iPads, that are charged every night and are more than two years old. That's ~700 recharges.

Of course the batteries don't last forever, no-one is claiming otherwise. But to use a number as low as 200 rechargings strikes me as ridiculous.


So somehow you're right and every testing facility in the World quoting the life of a LiIon cell as "200 full charges" is wrong?


It depends on whether you consider 'good for 200 charges' as 'good for 200 full charges' or not. For many people using such items, it's still 'good' even if it can only reach, say, 80% of a full charge.

Seemingly Maynard does.

For me, it depends. If it means the phone that normally lasts 32 hours now lasts only 24, but I charge it every day anyway (because 30 hours wouldn't get it through the second day), it's good. If it drops it from 16 hours to 12, then it's gone from 'runs from getting up to going to bed' to no longer doing so.

And of course, if the maximum charge level is still dropping, well, heh.


I got hooked on e-books when a friend with a Palm asked me if I liked sic-fi and then transferred all the books he had from the Baen Free Library and suggested I read "1632" first. Many books later I ordered the first Kindle (second batch shipped out as I missed the first). I was reading a PRC formatted book on my Palm, looked at the page I was on and selected a reasonably unusual word, copied the book onto my new Kindle with no modifications needed and searched that unique word. I picked up and read the rest of that book and have never looked back. Note that "1632" does not have DRM nor did any of the other Baen books. Note also that PRC is native to the Kindle (it is a form of Mobi). There are many, many books from other sites that are not encumbered by DRM. I will buy a book from Amazon that has a zero price that has DRM, but if it fails then I have lost nothing and I can just delete it. If an author insists on having DRM on his book then he does not want me for a customer and will probably lose more in real sales than he would lose in piracy. Note here that I am NOT locked into the Amazon format for reading material on my Kindle. I have almost 4000 files in Calibre. Not all are books, but all are readable. I find the paranoid restrictions on PDF files to also be annoying. I cannot even save a document onto my computer for reading later, which gets resolved by deleting the article in my browser.


Mods - "gartentisch" at 326/327 is spam.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 24, 2012 4:24 PM.

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