Do Companies Using Copy Protection Think Buyers Are Idiots?

from the just-wondering? dept

In something of a followup to this morning’s post about bad copy protection comes a rather bizarre example that shows just how little thought providers who use copy protection seem to put into using the technology. It turns out that Princeton University is getting ready to offer students digitized text books complete with heavy-handed copy protection, and it’s done in such a way to make it nearly useless. Among the features of the copy protection: the textbook must be read on the computer it was downloaded to, it cannot be burned to a CD or copied anywhere, only small passages can be printed, the textbook expires after five months and the book is not returnable and cannot be resold. The benefit, besides not having to lug around a heavy textbook, is a 33% discount. However, that’s not a very compelling offer for a variety of reasons. The biggest, of course, is the inability to resell the textbook. The entire textbook market practically lives off of the resale value of the books. That’s why they can be priced so high. Students know they can recoup some of that money at the end. For those who would actually like to keep their books, obviously this deal is completely useless. Then, everything else makes this offering less useful than a traditional textbook. Imagine the student whose computer breaks and their textbooks are gone. Copy protection makes the product much less valuable — a lot more than the 33% discount the company is providing. And, of course, that 33% discount is a steal for the publisher, who has almost no marginal cost in producing, storing and transporting the book. The entire offering seems premised on the idea that buyers are stupid and won’t consider these limitations. Certainly, some won’t think it through, but here’s hoping that Princeton’s students are bit sharper than that. Update: Thanks to Ed Felten for pointing out that this isn’t Princeton University, but an independent bookstore serving Princeton University students.

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Comments on “Do Companies Using Copy Protection Think Buyers Are Idiots?”

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VonSkippy says:


People are stupid – I predict that at least for a semester or three, this scam will work great. As the article points out, people would need to think it thru to see the downside, and that’s just not going to happen.
It’s like the whole music/movie industry suing their customers. If people were smart – everyone would just stop buying and renting movies (i.e. boycott them) for a few days. I’m guessing after a week or so of zero revenue, the whole “lets treat our customers like crooks concept” will be reevaluated. It will never happen – people are too stupid to understand that they have all the power (the music industry lives to serve those people – not the other way around).

M Laiuppa says:

I'm not stupid.

I’m taking masters classes right now.

No way would I buy one of these ebooks. It will take me years to complete my masters as I’m only taking one class per semester, three semesters per year. Why? Well, first off I work full time. Second, I’m not independently wealthy.

There are only two universities in California that offer my masters program, neither close to where I live.

Most of my classes are online. That said, I am not a luddite nor computer illiterate.

But I still would not buy one of these ebooks. For all of the reasons listed.

First, I back up everything. If I can’t burn a copy on CD in case of computer crashes, forget it. Second, I have two computers, a laptop and a desktop. If I can’t put it on both, forget it. Third, my eyes are 50 years old and I need reading glasses now. Sometimes I need to print out sections and highlight them and make notes. The book is likely in PDF form and you can’t copy/paste, highlight or make notes. Fourth, I keep my books not just for the semester but until my degree program is finished. You never know when you need to refer back to a previous textbook. I just used two textbooks from a class two semsters ago for a paper I turned in yesterday.

I don’t think it will take even three semesters for the students of Princeton to catch on. Try a few weeks. Once a few students who aren’t observant enough to read the fine print *before* they buy download a few of these books and find out exactly what they bought (and didn’t buy) word will get out fast. Princeton Press will be revising this policy before the second semester. I’d say about February 2006.

Mark Martel says:

My experience with eBooks: Superior to real textbo

I may be an isolated case, but I just finished two years of business school. In year 1, we had physical textbooks and case readers. In year 2, the vast majority were replaced by ebooks with DRM format virtually identical to what you describe here (5 month expiration, etc.)

I vastly preferred the elctronic versions. Why?
1. Portability – I could carry all of my books around with me at all times. Big advantage when you’re using a lot of texts per quarter.
2. Value – You must have gone to college at a generous bookstore. Where I went, you’d be lucky to get 15-20% back on the purchase price. With course readers (printed text of excerpted articles), you’d pay as much as $100-120 and course readers were not returnable. Salvage value = $0. Paying 33% less for an eBook was cheaper.

Maybe I’m doing a lot less re-reading of texts, but I’ve moved about 4 times in the last decade and the number of old college books I’ve moved with me and re-read is in the dozens. I’m glad I had the eBook alternative.

Would I have preferred no expiration date? Of course! But at 33% off, it was still a better value for me to buy the eBooks rather than the full textbooks.

One last point: Those who prefer dead trees can STILL buy dead trees — if not from the college bookstore, than from any number of online textbook bookstores (iBook, BigWords, Amazon, etc.). No one is forcing you to lease bytes.

CMK says:

Looks like it works to me

I had this when I went to school for some refresher courses at a local tech school and it worked fine. Guess what? Without this protection the original publisher of the books (which by the way is not the ebook facilitator)wouldn’t even go near this option. Why? Cause they don’t want to get ripped off. As far as the off chance you break your computer or whatever I’m sure you can contact some at the ebook provider to explain your problem. In addition, just like most ideas for computer applications work for some circumstances and not for others I’m sure the same applies here.

help, my eyes says:

Re: reading online

I dont know how anyone can read online. My limit is about a page worth and then I need to see it on paper. It is quite different reading online and reading a physical book. Aside from the obvious staring at a lit screen all day and night, you cant flip pages and you cant see more than one small window of a book at a time. You lose a lot from physical to ebook. And what do you get in return? Slightly cheaper and lighter.

This may work for text books because most text books suck and are never read anyways, but for something important that you want to learn from and reference later, i seriously question that value.

Mark Martel says:

Re: Re: reading online

Actually, my eyes bother me, too. That’s why I prefer PDF eBook format. You can scale the text up to whatever size you want. Want to read 28 point? Just adjust the zoom. When is the last time you could read with your eyes closed? You can with eBook. Click your mouse and the text is read OUT LOUD to you. I used to listen to articles while I cleaned my room, did push ups or sit ups, etc.

And as for not being able to mark up pages, highlight, etc., Acrobat Reader 7.0 format (current version) which is FREE enables you to add unlimited annotations and highlights right on the text. These are searchable, printable, etc. Very well executed.

Binsky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: reading online

Great news everyone, we’ve got books that disappear! A very very bad idea…What about the folks that take longer then the 5 months to finish? They would have to buy the books twice?

I’m sure some people will prefer to have their textbooks in digital form, but I also always preferred paper.

It’s probably semi-illegal, but I finished my computer science degree without having bought any textbooks at all! I copied the stuff I needed using the school library and it’s wonderful photo copier…I must have saved a couple of thousand euros by doing that! (plus they make a nice celebratory bonfire when you’re finished :p)

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t recall any college level textbooks I needed or wanted to keep for an extended period of time. Seems reasonable to me that an expiration date would be adequate for student textbooks. Though I do understand the need to keep (some of them) at least til graduation.

It seems to me that the reason most publishers do not want to offer ebooks is due to ability to copy data easily (a person who bought could easily resell or share with others) which cuts into their ability to earn a living. I’m quite certain that this challenge will be overcome in some way… given time …. and ebooks will become more popular for many people.

Personally, I would like all my books to be digital AND I don’t want an expiration date. I like to read and don’t have the room for tons of books. And I hate stacks and stacks of papers and books. JUST MY VOTE.

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