Cory Doctorow’s experiment in DRM-free business

by Jason Preston on May 5, 2008

It’s abundantly clear by now that the internet is a double-edged sword for business ventures: On on the one hand, the rapid dissemination of information and content can lead to mass market exposure with the lowest cost-benefit ratio in the history of mankind.

On the other hand, this very same process can often take a gigantic chunk of the “benefit” by effectively killing a business’s ability to monetize that same content.

I saw today on Chris Pirillo’s blog that Cory is releasing a new audiobook completely DRM free AND with a generous license to re-hash the content (up to 30 minutes can be redistributed wherever). This is from the e-mail Cory sent to Pirillo:

The audio book comes with the author’s sampling license: once you own it, you’re free to take up to 30 minutes’ worth of material from it and remix and then redistribute it as much as you like, provided that you do so on a noncommercial basis, make sure that it’s clear that this is a remix and not the original, and make sure that you tell people where to find the original. This is in addition to all the fair use remixing that you’re allowed to do.

Anybody who embraces DRM-free internet distribution with a paid product is undoubtedly forfeiting a good chunk of potential revenue.

In the future I think that the “widgetization” of content will allow businesses to monetize their content via ads regardless of where it goes. But for now, when is the right time to let your product go? Should you risk the lost revenue for the possible gain in exposure?

I’d be really interested to see some data on this. Finding and downloading content of all kinds—music, movies, audiobooks, etc—is so easy already that the amount of revenue captured by DRM has got be relatively minor. For the most part, people who will steal the book will steal the book regardless of whether it is a DRM release.

Given that assumption, I’d say it’s almost always the right decision to release content without DRM. Enabling open sharing will help drive the technology to monetize it using some new model. What do you think?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chiwan Choi 05.10.08 at 11:13 pm

I have been following Cory’s blog for a while and I think this idea is really worth trying, even if it is hard to wrap our heads around it.

As a person who recently launched a small publishing company, I have been trying to find different ways to build an audience first, so that even if our first book doesn’t sell much, the second might sell more, and so on. Interestingly, I have had a hard time convincing the authors of pursuing things such as DRM-free downloads or some other sort of easily tradeable/shareable forms of the books.

2 Jason Preston 05.20.08 at 11:08 am

@Chiwan – I think you’re right, it’s an experiment well worth trying.

I think the problem you are finding with authors is that you need to convince them that the sharing of content is what they want. They’re scared of DRM free downloads because they think of every hand-off as a lost sale, and therefore lost possible royalties.

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