The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that DRM is for the dinosaurs, and the only way the media industry can avoid the mistakes of the past is to face the fact that, no matter what they do, content will be passed around—and the best response is to leverage the enthusiasm that led to that sharing, rather than kill it with threats and intimidation.
I'm not talking about large-scale piracy here. Obviously, the rampant copyright and trademark infringement seen in China and elsewhere must be fought doggedly. No individual or corporation has the right to profit from that which you own. I'm talking about one-on-one social sharing. As I pointed out in a blog back in April, there is nothing new about such activity, and attempts by publishers today to stamp it out will prove no more successful than those made by the record companies that tried to stop illegal taping in the 1980s and 90s.
Most people in my generation discovered favorite artists via the mix tape, and the Sonys and Warner Brothers of the world squandered oceans of goodwill by making enemies of those kids who did all that guerilla marketing for them. Meanwhile, bands like the Grateful Dead, who blatantly allowed "tapers" to record and sell tapes of their live shows, raked in the cash from their legions of passionate, devoted fans. That's long-term thinking for you! (Never mind what the Dead might have done over the years to affect their short-term memory ... )
So what should publishers do? Well, I was reminded of all this recently by a blog post from publishing industry guru (and Book Business guest columnist) Richard Nash, titled, "Why We're DRM Free (and it's not because we trust you)." Nash believes social media sharing should be tolerated—even encouraged—because there is nothing more convincing than a friend's endorsement. At the same time, if you make content easy to buy, people are less likely to pirate it.
The biggest problem with the New York Times' paywall is not the fact of having to pay—it's the amount of money and time commitment required up front and the lack of choice in packages. (What if someone only wants to buy today's edition, or only wants the theater section? They'll just end up getting the news and information elsewhere—or find other ways to read those articles.)
"You put a lot of money down right up front, and you get a lot of content, but [paywalls are] a big barrier for a lot of people, because ... you may only want some of it," noted Ben Oaks, Co-Founder of muCash, at the recent mediaIDEAS meetup in New York. "That's where micropayments come in."
muCash is a micropayment solutions provider, but Oaks' point is a good one. People have become used to paying for things online even as they do more and more bouncing from one social media-recommended site to another. "That's [publishers'] chance to interact with them and make some money off of them," Oaks said.
So this is the critical juncture where Nash's two points come together. If you make content easy to share, you'll create new fans. If you make it easy to buy, very many will buy it—or buy other content from the brand or author later on. But you've got to grease the wheels. For him, that means enabling tools such as allowing readers to browse the full text of a book online for free.
"And if they do, and love it," he writes, "somewhere down the turnpike they buy a paperback., or another digital download, or a limited edition of the next book or a previous book or a class."