O’Reilly and the psychology of DRM-free books

I just bought my second O’Reilly PDF/e-Book: ‘Programming the Semantic Web: Build Flexible Applications with Graph Data’ by Toby Segaran, Colin Evans, Jamie Taylor. O’Reilly sells their Books as open, unlocked, DRM-free PDFs and e-Books. I love this model. I can read it on a laptop screen as a nicely typographed PDF, or on my N900 as an e-Book (The new version of FBReader for Maemo is great).

Being DRM-free, I could easily post it to a web-page for all to download, so it’s a brave sales decision from O’Reilly. However, as far as I know, there are not loads of free download sites for these O’Reilly books; at least I can’t find them with Google. There are a few O’Reilly books that have found their way onto file-sharing sites, but no complete libraries. So, it seems that people who are buying these books are keeping them off the ‘P2P sharing net,’ thus respecting and protecting the DRM-free, ebook business model. I myself would not share this book, unless it was a case of genuine need (unlikely given the subject matter!).

So the evidence seems to be that selling DRM-free books is working for O’Reilly. Similarly, Apple iTunes and Amazon are selling DRM-free music files. Why then are none of the big online booksellers selling DRM-free e-books? I had a Kindle and enjoyed it, but when it died (the text became paler and paler until eventually it was indistinguishable from the gray background), I did not have access to the small library I had accumulated, and this brought home to me the stupidity of paying a company forever for access to material from a third party. Fortunately, there exist solutions (mobidedrm2.py anybody?), but the arms race of DRM always evolves and some DRM may be uncrackable.

Living very far from the nearest bookstore, I would love to have access to new books in a digital form. The Amazon Kindle access model is very powerful. But I refuse any more to be locked out of books that I pay for, and so will have to wait for Amazon and B&N to see the light. In the meantime, I guess I’ll be buying some more geek-books!