Writer Jeffrey A. Carver’s DRM Pledge

I saw something very intersting on the Mobile Read forums yesterday. Science fiction author Jeffrey A. Carver posted his DRM pledge. Basically it is his promise to not let customers of his books down, even when the DRM his books are wrapped in fail them. The key portion of the pledge:

If you buy one of my ebooks from a store that uses DRM, and you can’t download or read the book on your chosen device—whether it’s the reader you originally bought it for or another—I want to help. Email me, preferably with some evidence of your purchase, and I will provide you with a copy that works for you. If you want to share it with a family member or a close friend the way you might a paper book, that’s fine with me. If you want to convert the file to work on a different device, feel free. I trust you not to share it indiscriminately. I figure if I treat you with respect, you’ll respect my need to earn a living, so I can continue to write. And you’ll get to read my book and own a copy of it, which was the whole point to begin with.

This is a highly respectable thing to do, and a move that I suspect will engender some goodwill amongst potential readership. Back when I was doing my mobile reading on a Handspring device, I purchased some books from Fictionwise and Peanut Press. Every book I ever bought from Fictionwise I still have access to, and most of those are sitting on my Kindle right now because they had no DRM on them. The Peanut Press books are useless. I suppose I could find some sort of cracking program or a Palm device emulator but really, I don’t care that much. It would be cheaper to me to buy the books again than spend that kind of time recovering access. In practice, I’d never do that because I still feel burned most of a decade on. Having someone make an assurance to me that won’t happen is a very good thing. Even better, I’ve found at least one other author making the same pledge. I’d love to see this become a movement.

I appreciate Jeffrey Carver’s stance and his willingness to short-circuit one of the biggest impediments to getting involved in ebooks from big publishers. Even as they are arguing why they should be charging more than the $9.99 price for the electronic versions, they insist on locking it with DRM that prevents you from using it in the future. Big publishers choose to reduce value to consumer while raising prices.

I’ve come to believe that over the 20 years I’ve had some small dealings with this kind of stuff that publishers are the businesses that are the very worst at business. “Hey, this new product has come along with zero marginal costs to us per copy sold. I can’t see how we can possibly make any money on that! Let’s jack up the prices and fiddle around with customers whose primary interest is reading our books.” Oh boy, I’ve been on this train before and I remember how it comes into the station. When your authors have to put their own balls on the line to protect customers from your business practices, that’s an indictment of a whole industry. One of the interesting side-effects of the pledge is that it strengthens the relationship between Carver and his fans, and weakens even more that between the customers and the publishers. It’s one more step down the trail of publisher irrelevance. The wise publishers would notice that and change business practices to keep themselves in this loop.

I applaud Jeffrey A. Carver for making this pledge, and I condemn all the executives and decision makers who have made it necessary.