What are risks and disadvantages of publishing DRM-protected books for an author?

Clearly some authors think that there are disadvantages of using DRM since they publish books without (e.g. Eric Flint).

Please note that I'm looking for hard data, not opinions.

"DRM reduces sales" is an opinion. "Switching from DRM to non-DRM raised sales by 30% for author XYZ" is a fact.

"People prefer to buy non-DRM books" is an opinion. "Sell-through, or buys-per-click from publishers with DRM for the same book is 20% less" is a fact. "A survey of XYZ large sample of users confirmed that 50% won't buy DRM-protected books" is a fact.

  • Side note: This is limited to authors, NOT publishers. If you have relevant advantages that pertain to entire publisher and not to individual author, please buzz me in comments and I will create publisher-centric question as well.
    – DVK
    Dec 29, 2013 at 14:06
  • 1
    Shouldn't these two questions be merged?
    – Sekhemty
    Dec 29, 2013 at 14:12
  • 1
    @Sekhemty - not really. The answers would be entirely distinct.
    – DVK
    Dec 29, 2013 at 14:45
  • 1
    Vote to leave open, clearly asking for non-opinion based answers. Dec 30, 2013 at 11:48
  • 1
    Vote to leave open.
    – K7AAY
    Dec 30, 2013 at 22:03

3 Answers 3


Self-published authors (who are going to be the only authors with the opportunity to decide on DRM vs DRM-free) will need a support mechanism for handling DRM-related problems. After all, any distraction from writing limits your income (see the famous clam sundae digression, p.25 in RA Heinlein's The Cat Who Walked Through Walls for an example.)


DRM doesn't work so why bother with it. I've stopped putting DRM's on my books. I've had no more or less piracy. So the benefit of DRM which is to protect your books. Well it doesn't so again why bother.


Briefly : Watermarks do offer some protection with very limited risk or disadvantage.

If you wish only facts, I can tell of my own experience.

My first point is that, for many reasons including some that I will not elaborate because you might consider them opinions, I just do not buy books with DRM. I have more DRM-free good book than time to read them. I know other people who do the same.

One reason that it is definitely a fact is that DRM are often a way for the vendor to keep control over the book, and, for example, it may allow him to erase the book from my library at any time. See for example the infamous 1994 book deletion by Amazon. Less conspicuously, it may allow the vendor to spy on my reading activity

This control may also imply that accessibility to my own books may be contingent on the vendor staying in business, and there is no knowing at this time how the ebook market will evolve.

Snooping on customers and profiling them is a major (marketable) resource for large corporations such as Amazon and other big publishers/retailers. This may motivate DRM, beyond authors protection (see further remarks on author protection), since DRM forces the user to regularly connect his reading device. Howver it is of nearly no utility to authors. But the digital infrastructure needed to manage indefinitely the DRM for every copy sold is very costly for an author on his own, or for a small publisher (I discussed it with one small publisher / retailer) though it is much more manageable for larger commercial structures.

The reason usually invoked for DRM is the protection of authors' copyrights. When I started using ebooks, I knew much about digital copyright (I have been working and even publishing about it), but very little of the actual ebook market for a private customer, for such things as prices (list prices and actual prices), available formats, types of DRM used, existing retailers, sales organization, etc.

So I tried to see how I could get digital versions of books I already owned, so as to focus on the type of books I was interested in. I discovered that most of these books (mainly SFF classics) were either in the public domain or sold with DRM. But before I found that, I discovered very quickly several sites that were making them available for free. Not legally of course. The conclusion is that DRM do not afford really strong protection. They merely discourage people who will not try hard to break them.

Now, a cheap way to get weak protection to discourage illegal copying is to use watermarking, i.e. information inserted in the book to identify the original buyer, so that he will hesitate to incriminate himself by duplicating the book for the benefit of others. This require no cosly infrastructure on the vendor site (just a file associating customer and watermark, much simpler than controling every use of the book for DRM), no snooping of readers, and no intrusive constraints on the use of the book.

Watermarking is actually used by some publishers such as O’Reilly (who can be expected to be proficient on digital matters), and some distributors such as bookfunnel.

And there are also publishers who do not use any form of copyright protection, such as Tor, Wildsidepress, Smashwords, Phoenix Pick.

AFAIK, there is no objective public evaluation of the effect of DRM or Watermarks on ebooks sales, and my owletionn experience is that decision making on DRM is largely ideological.

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