David Pogue Revisits DRM Question about Ebooks

In a blog post today, New York Times Columnist (and bestselling O’Reilly author) David Pogue responds to a reader question about DRM (he calls it “copy protection”) in light of all the recent ereader buzz, and he’s very honest and open about his (very natural) reaction to finding copies of his books out in the wild:

As an author myself, I, too, am terrified by the thought of piracy. I can’t stand seeing my books, which are the primary source of my income, posted on all these piracy Web sites, available for anyone to download free.

He then discusses sales for one of his books since we began offering it as a (DRM-free) ebook:

Well, it sounded like it could be a very costly experiment. But I agreed. My publisher, O’Reilly, decided to try an experiment, offering one of my Windows books for sale as an unprotected pdf file. After a year, we could compare the results with the previous year’s sales.

The results? It was true. The thing was pirated to the skies. It’s all over the Web now, ridiculously easy to download without paying.

The crazy thing was, sales of the book did not fall. In fact, sales rose slightly during that year. That’s not a perfect, all-variables-equal experiment, of course; any number of factors could explain the results. But for sure, it wasn’t the disaster I’d feared.

I’m thrilled David was willing to take a look at the data, and at least be willing to consider that piracy is less of a threat than many publishers and authors fear, especially when readers are given great reasons to pay for the ebooks (in our case, multiple DRM-free formats, perpetual access, and free updates).

What’s worth also pointing out about David’s books (and it’s something I tried pointing out in the comments section of his blog post, but at last check my comment is still “awaiting moderation”) is that while his print books continue to sell like proverbial hotcakes (one of his books made up about 4% of sales across the entire computer book market in a recent week), those DRM-free ebooks are also outperforming. The app version of iPhone: The Missing Manual is our best selling app of 2009, and two of his books are #1 and #3 for us on Kindle this year.

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