Saturday, September 13, 2008

DRM = Destroy Remaining Market

Spore's Piracy Problem
Electronic Arts had hoped to limit users to installing the game only three times through its use of digital rights management software, or DRM. But not only have those constraints failed, says Garland, they may have inadvertently spurred the pirates on.

On several top file-sharing sites, "Spore"'s most downloaded BitTorrent "tracker"--a file that maps which users had the game available for downloading--also included step-by-step instructions for how to disassemble the copy protections, along with a set of numerical keys for breaking the software's encryption. For many users, that made the pirated version more appealing than the legitimate one.

"By downloading this torrent, you are doing the right thing," wrote one user going by the name of "deathkitten" on the popular file-sharing site The Pirate Bay. "You are letting [Electronic Arts] know that people won't stand for their ridiculously draconian 'DRM' viruses."

Emphasis added by me.

How many times does this lesson have to be learned before intelligence and sanity prevail?

I just quoted Wil Wheaton the other day on this issue. I will repeat it:
[...] Apple is slowly catching up to Amazon MP3 and realizing that given the choice between fucking goddamn stupid DRM and no fucking goddamn stupid DRM, we’re going to choose no fucking goddamn stupid DRM every time.

Why should any of this be a mystery to anyone?

Back in the early 1980s, I had a Commodore 64 and 1541 disk drive. I used EasyScript for word processing. EasyScript had a copy-protection scheme that caused the drive head to bang against the 1541 drive's housing. The usual end result of this was to eventually misalign the drive head, rendering the drive useless.

This was in the day of online speeds being 300bps (bits per second). Within weeks, hackers had stripped off the copy protection from EasyScript and made a "DRM-free" free version available for download. As a legal owner of EasyScript, I had no qualms downloading it from CompuServe. I put away my legally-bought copy and used the "illegal" copy. But how many people who never bothered to buy EasyScript went on to grab a copy of the "no-knock" version? How many sales were outright lost from that point on? We'll never know. But I do know this: Had EasyScript not come with copy-protection, the odds of people putting it up for trading on a national network such as CompuServe would have been very, very low. Because at 300bps, it was a real investment of time as well as money to get it. Back then, you paid for every minute of connect-time, with an hour (if I recall correctly) running $3.00-$3.50 (my memory might be off; I do recall remarking that the per-hour fee was higher than the minimum wage at the time!). EasyScript itself cost something like $20.00 back then, which was sort of miraculous for a program of its capability.

People didn't feel cheated by its price. They felt victimized by its DRM.

That was over twenty years ago.

Now it still happens today!

Sure, there will be eejits who will grab anything they can that has FREE slapped on it. But would they buy it? Are they a lost customer or just some freeloading pig?

Kids -- which includes those up to college age -- don't usually have an understanding of the economic realities of life. How rent and electricity and employee paychecks all must be met. Anyone whose product targets that market must deal with that reality. But the absolutely wrong thing to do is to alienate that market to begin with! Kids are vindictive when it comes to being treated unjustly. They won't simply seek redress, they will incite revenge! Thus Spore is now virtually a freebie across the entire planet, instead of a viable product with strong sales and a loyal base of customers.

With kids, a "Screw you" from a company is turned into a "Screw you back -- cubed."

This is also why I join with David Rothman of TeleRead and many, many others when it comes to pleading for no DRM on eBooks. eBooks will generally address a market of adults, who understand that writers need to pay rent and eat and provide for their families. Even if copies escape onto the DarkNet -- and they will -- I believe that most writers -- writers, not publishers -- will see that as an opportunity to gain new readers who will then pay for the next eBook. Leakage -- shrinkage as the retail industry terms it -- is inevitable. The best way to deal with that is with a realistic attitude that does not alienate good-will paying customers.

And for those publishers -- of any thing, be it game or eBook or music -- check your contract with the eStore selling your goods. You are likely to find that you are not making money on every copy to begin with. The iTunes Store and Sony's eBook Store allow one copy to be installed on more than one device. This means, for instance, that one copy can be shared by up to five people in the real world. So get those dreams of every copy equaling full retail price out of your head. That's not happening in your contract! Your retail price is already being divided by up to a fifth -- legally, and you agreed to that!

And when it comes to eBooks specifically, please, please, please get rid of the idea that it should sell for the same price as the just-published printed version. That's a customer-alienating strategy. (If you're a writer, get on the phone with your agent to clarify this issue. Too many times these days, it's not the publisher who insists on a print-like price, it's an agent! Stop committing suicide by gouging and killing your fanbase! If your agent won't listen to reason, get an agent who lives in the 21st century.)

It's time to kill DRM. It doesn't do what it alleges to do: prevent theft. It encourages it.

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