Why iambik doesn’t use DRM

We decided early on not to use digital rights management (DRM) at iambik audiobooks. Here is our explanation, adapted from what we sent to partner publishers who asked us about it. (*see below for a definition of DRM).

People who buy digital media — that is, our customers — don’t tend to like DRM much, though publishers seem to, and there is an awful lot of rhetoric about DRM afloat on the Internet, on both sides.

But for iambik, the decision not to use DRM is not rhetorical, but rather practical.

Your DRM Decision Is a Business Decision

Publishing is a business, so when a publisher makes the decision to use or not to use DRM, the decision should be based on this question: what is best in the long-run for my business?

It seems so often DRM gets tied up in moral arguments — on the one side you have the anti-DRM freedom fighters, on the other side you have the anti-piracy DRM absolutists. In schoolyard lingo, this is the battle between the “thieves” and the “fascists.”

While the moral arguments are interesting for philosophers, historians, sociologists, BoinBoing commenters, and others, for a business, the question must descend from moral abstraction at a certain point, and come back to the reality of deciding what is best for business.

What Is Best for Our Business Is What Is Best for Our Listeners

And it is our belief at iambik audiobooks that what is best in the long run for our business is what is best in the long run for our listeners.

If we do everything we can to make our listeners happy, we believe we will have much more success as a business, we will grow in a sustainable way, we’ll sell more audiobooks, and make more audiobooks, make more money for our partner publishers, narrators, and authors. And more money for ourselves. And more money means that we can keep doing what we want to be doing: bringing great audiobooks to people who want to listen to them.

Where Are the Studies Showing a Link Between Agressive DRM & Revenue Growth?

You often hear about studies claiming astronomical sums of publishing sales lost to piracy — with the implication that DRM is the best way to address that problem.

What you never hear about is studies showing an increase in revenue as a result of aggressive DRM policies. And if DRM doesn’t increase revenue, what’s the point?

DRM introduces cost into the system (adding DRM to your files means paying a DRM vendor for the right). It introduces complexity into the process of publishing digital files. That cost is passed on to the consumer, and more importantly the complexity is multiplied many times for the consumer.

The clear desire expressed by consumers is for digital files that they can use on whatever device they want, however they want, with as little headache or complications as possible. DRM blocks so many simple/obvious things that legitimate customers want to do. DRM almost always causes headaches, at some point.

So a publisher must ask: is whatever benefit might come from DRM worth the headache to my customers?

We’d Rather Spend Our Time Helping Our Customers

We say no, and we would much rather spend our time helping our customers find and buy great audiobooks, than blocking them from doing things that they rightly believe they ought to be able to do (eg. moving files from one device
to another, or passing on files to a friend or family member).

DRM has not proved effective in its implementation in other audio businesses, notably the music business which has, more or less, abandoned DRM.

This is the trend in audiobooks as well: the big publishers are going DRM-free for audiobooks. Macmillan is the exception, they are sticking to a hard-stance on DRM and piracy.

I predict Macmillan will spend lots of time & money fighting piracy, and eventually will find what other businesses that have done the same have found: in the end it is better to invest in meeting consumer demand than in fighting piracy.

Maximize Customer Happiness

But back to the beginning: our desire at iambik, as at any publisher, is to maximize happy customers, maximize sales, and maximize revenues for all our partners. We believe the best way to do that (and the best way to address piracy) is by making great audiobooks easily accessible and usable to the people who want them, at reasonable prices.

Without DRM.

* Definition: Digital Rights Management (DRM) in common usage is technology employed to limit how digital files can be used, generally used to combat unauthorized copying and sharing of files, or as the media industry likes to call it: piracy.

DRM is usually what stops you from moving your files from one device (say, your iPhone) to another (say, your daughter’s iPod), and is supposed to stop people from posting unauthorized copies of your music, books, movies, or other digital goods, to the Internet – for instance on bit torrent sites.

Friends, Listeners, Internetpeople . . . Open Your Ears

Well, we did it . . . we’ve got Iambik Audio—a new kind of audiobook company—up and running, and we’re pretty excited about it. Iambik comes from some ideas I’ve had for a long while, ideas that flow out of LibriVox, a project I started way back 2005 that offers free public domain audiobooks (!).

What is Iambik?

The gist is this: There are an awful lot of great books out there that aren’t available in audio. And there are an awful lot of excellent independent audiobook narrators in the world who make wonderful audiobooks.

At Iambik, we’d like to connect those great books with great narrators to make great audiobooks. And if all goes well, it’ll be great for everyone: audiobook listeners, authors, publishers, and narrators.

Our First Collection

Our first collection, launching today, is made up of 11 literary novels from wonderful independent presses in the US and Canada. Among the collection, we have one giant of American letters, Gordon Lish; one Pulitzer Prize finalist, Lydia Millet; a number of new and upcoming writers like Felicia Luna Lemus and Laird Hunt; and one expert in late 1940s mixology.

To check out these books, just follow this link to iambik.com; or see below for a list of authors, books, and publishers we’re working with.

We have more collections in the works, some crime, some science fiction, and more.

A New Kind of Audiobook Company

Up there at the top of the page, I said that Iambik is a new kind of audiobook company, which warrants some explanation. We’ve got three main constituents that we’re trying to serve, and here are some ways that we’re a bit different, maybe a bit special:

For Audiobook Listeners

  • We’ll be bringing you hand-picked collections of books, a little off the beaten path.
  • We’ll keep our prices low.
  • We’ll provide our audiobooks in mp3 and m4b (soon!), other formats if we get lots of requests, with no DRM.
  • We’ll ask you, the listeners, for requests of audiobooks you’d like to hear, audiobooks that no one has bothered to make yet.

For Publishers and Authors

  • If you make good books, we want to make them into audiobooks.
  • We approach everything as a partnership: we want to help you sell print and ebooks, as well as audiobooks.
  • We give you a good slice of the pie.

For Audiobook Narrators

  • We also give you a good slice of the pie.
  • We’ll try to get audio rights for books you’d like to record.
  • We’re more like a collective or a co-op than a traditional audiobook company.

We’re not sure how radical all this is, but it’s fun. The first batch of books sure was, and we hope you’ll like them.

Our First Batch of Books

Here they are:

Thanks to all who helped get iambik off the ground, our great team: Janina, JC, Andy, Christine, Gesine and Julie; our advisors Richard Nash, Don Linn, Gene Quinn, Chris Goringe and Dan Parsons; our narrators, and partner authors and publishers; and of course our prooflisteners: Betsie Bush, Linda Andrus, Nadine Eckert-Boulet, Diana Majlinger, Mary McCullough, Elizabeth Medeiros, and MaryAnn Spiegel.