Harvard Business Review Press Goes DRM-Free And Platform Independent

from the DRM:-keeping-pirates-in-business-since-1995 dept

Despite the growing evidence that consumers absolutely hate DRM, many publishers still hold harbor fantasies that locking down digital goods prevents unauthorized copies from spreading across the internet. Most DRM ends up serving one purpose: to make authorized copies less functional than unauthorized versions.

This practice is particularly prevalent in the book publishing industry. With rare exceptions, most major publishers still keep their products under digital lock and key. There are a few exceptions. Baen was one of the first publishers to go DRM-free, recognizing the limitations far outweighed the benefits to it or its authors. O'Reilly Media has also shunned DRM for the same reasons, noting that unauthorized sharing leads to more readers without an appreciable drop in sales. TOR has attempted to do away with most of its DRM, although it has been hampered by publishers insisting the DRM remain in place.

Perhaps noting, as Cory Doctorow pointed out, that “no one's ever bought a book because it has DRM,” another publisher, Harvard Business Review Press has opted to go DRM-free.

[H]BR have adopted the “buy once, read anywhere model” and that anywhere includes a Kindle. This means their consumers aren’t locked into a device or format. And it means that their purchases are ‘future proof’ to a good degree. It also means that if they want to share a book, there are no ‘technical’ things stopping that. To be sure, selling an HBR eBook is illegal but this mode is more tolerant of sharing.

Here's HBR's official statement, one that treats its customers with respect.

We make our ebooks available to you DRM-free so you can read them on the device of your choice. We trust that our customers will abide by copyright law and refrain from distributing ebook files illegally. Please note that in the case that you download a PDF, it will be personalized with your email address.

This small statement asking readers to respect its copyright is preferable to installing DRM and treating every paying customer like a thief. Additionally, HBR is offering multiple formats which gives readers more options and keeps them from being locked into any particular device.

Joshua Gans points out that offering this freedom to its customers should pay off for HBR, whose target audience is a bit different than most publishers.

[T]he business book market is a little different than other book markets. Many sales are generated by people giving books to each other. The typical case is of a boss insisting all of his underlings read something. But there are also bulk distributions to clients and the like. Amazon and all other platforms do not offer bulk sales so HBR had to do something different. Moreover, to manage that with DRM would just be too hard. So instead they went their own way and so now you can buy eBooks in bulk with a volume discount. A real innovation.

Gans notes that this additional freedom comes at a price.

But there is a cost to this. HBR have not gone ‘all in’ on DRM free. For instance, one of the books they offer is Clay Christensen’s famous book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. Buy it from HBR directly and it will cost you $17.99 (and you can also see there they currently have the eBook ‘In stock’) but on the Kindle from Amazon it is $9.89 and from the iTunes bookstore it is $10.99 (not sure what happened to the most favored customer clause there!).

The question is, will customers pay extra to avoid being locked into a device? In HBR's case, the answer is likely a “yes.” As was mentioned earlier, HBR offers bulk purchases, something Amazon and iTunes don't. Additionally, these bulk rates are discounted depending on the number of copies purchased, bringing the price per copy more in line with its competition. Purchasing directly also gives the buyer three different formats (PDF, ePub, mobi) for the price of one, allowing them to move books from one device to another.

Gans suggests that HBR's ebook policy could lend itself to more innovative offerings, leading to more reasons to buy directly from the publisher and giving authors more reasons to offer their books through HBR:

I have my own eBook coming out with HBR Press in a very short time. I’d love it to be the case that they decided to offer the book on their site with an explicit ‘sharing’ option. For instance, the normal ‘don’t share’ this book might cost the same as Amazon while the ‘sharing’ option may be somewhat higher but would say allow you to assign ‘ownership’ of the book to another person as well.

One of the best ways to avoid locking yourself or your customers into walled gardens like Amazon or iTunes is to give them a direct, DRM-free option that recognizes the reality of digital life. Trying to lock them into a single device or punishing them for the actions of others isn't really giving them any reason to buy from anyone but the lowest bidder. Treating your customers with respect and recognizing that most people have more than one form of “e-reader” is a better way to grow your audience. Once you've decided to stop policing infringement, you can throw that time, energy and creativity into building better, more innovative offerings for your paying customers.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: hbr press

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Harvard Business Review Press Goes DRM-Free And Platform Independent”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

“drm:keeping-pirates-in-business-since-1995 dept”

qft. Why would anyone want to buy a limited install game that craps out when you change video cards?

Or nes games that are tied to the wii and can only be played ccording to the way nintendo set up their emulators without online play, your choice of hardware or any of those other goodies you could have if you just pirated it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Is this another publisher waking up the the fact that in books sales are always much less that readers, even for paper books. Looking at my bookshelves, I have bought about 1 book in 25 as a new book. The rest have been passed down from relatives, or bought second hand. If books borrowed from friends and libraries are taken into account, then I have only bought new about 1 in 200 or so of the books that I have read.
Some of the loans have resulted in purchase of new books by the same author.
More readers will increase sales, as will removing DRM, and platform restrictions.
Cory Doctorow is also of the opinion that free ebook versions increase sale of paper books where they are available. Many people prefer paper for reading books, and a free or low cost ebook allow them to try before buying.

Roy (profile) says:

Just need to point out that while Amazon and others do control their “walled gardens”, it doesn’t mean limiting readers to a single device, as Amazon and B&N apps run on virtually all platforms. I think you’ve mixed “single device” up with “single owner”. Your points are still valid and the emphasis on corporate bulk use and sharing are solid.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...