Digital rights management (‘DRM’) technologies are a perennial source of debate among small publishers. This section asked four questions aimed at assessing small publishers’ knowledge of and opinions on DRM:
Generally speaking, small publishers are in favour of DRM and believe it is valuable.
The majority of respondents (59%) reported selling their books subject to DRM. Somewhat worryingly, some 10% of publishers did not know whether their books were subject to DRM.
It is possible that some respondent publishers are mistaken about whether DRM is applied to their ebooks: since most publishers distribute their books through Amazon, which applies DRM by default, it would be surprising if as many as 31% of the respondents were in fact selling books without DRM. Instead, these publishers may simply be unaware that Kindle books are subject to DRM.
Nearly half of the respondents concurred with this statement. This statement was designed to target the dispute within publishing over the effectiveness of DRM; my working hypothesis – based on informal conversations with my case study interviewees and other small publishers – was that smaller publishers might be more sceptical about DRM’s effectiveness, however, this was not borne out by the evidence.
Industry analyst Thad McIlroy suggests that publishers’ in-theory support for DRM largely stems from a ‘deep-seated’ fear about the consequences of unprotected copies being distributed (McIlroy, 2015, no page). Indeed, in Aptara’s 2012 survey, 22% of respondents listed DRM as one of ‘the greatest challenges in bringing eBooks to the market’, though admittedly Aptara’s question was ambiguous and clearly capable of conflicting interpretations (2012, p. 37).
Interestingly, publishers were more sanguine about DRM in practice than in theory, with nearly half expressing no opinion on whether they are satisfied with current DRM technologies. My working hypothesis, informed by anecdotal evidence from readers and ebook producers, was that publishers would be broadly dissatisfied with the quality of DRM technologies available. Clearly, this particular question warrants further investigation.
This question was intended to gather information on the extent to which publishers feel trapped within systems which enforce DRM. My working hypothesis was that smaller publishers might wish to sell their books without DRM, and the evidence bore this out to some extent: 39% of respondents agreed with this statement.
There is an interesting disjuncture between the broad support for DRM as a deterrent against piracy and the wishes of a significant minority of publishers to sell books without DRM. Further, there was a strong relationship between whether publishers were already selling ebooks on their website and their willingness to sell books without DRM.
This indicates that some publishers might be more interested in selling ebooks directly if they could find a workable DRM solution for such sales.