Tuesday, January 22, 2008

POD, DRM and E. S. Posthumus

We were discussing again in Friday's Podcast about Print On Demand (POD) publishing and whether or not it has any place in publishing legitimately, official and of appropriate quality (in the writing, not in the printing) works of fiction / non-fiction.

There is still a massive lack of faith in it - despite overwhelming stats suggesting cheaper, more efficient publishing (even though one POD publisher said they'd managed 10 million prints in 10 years, and are now able to do 10 million in 11-13 months) - however there is a time and a place. Certainly, I believe established writers would be better off following this route to cut out the middle man of the publishing industry (that ultimately takes all the money) just as Radiohead attempted with their latest album (obviously ignoring the "choose your own price" philosophy). George Michael has promised to release his next album free on the web too, DRM free!

As part of this unrelenting drive towards MP3s and eBooks, the big companies must protect their investments, therefore relying on DRM - Digital Rights Management - iTunes do it to prevent users from downloading their music from the store onto more than 3 PCs. iPods plugged into pcs won't allow DRM'd music to be downloaded. If you want any control you have to burn the music to CD and rip it out again.

Microsoft's XBox 360s won't allow users to upgrade to a newer / bigger XBox and take all their files with them (saved games / downloaded movies). Saved games can only be transferred by buying a cable from Microsoft that must be destroyed afterwards ("This cable will self destruct"!)

There was recently an article bemoaning the use of Netflix and newer HD monitors / TVs. As far as I'm aware, Netflix allows users to download movies to watch and keep (just like iTunes and their MP3s - which aren't really MP3s, but... just don't question, alright?). By connecting a new HD screen forces the software to update its drivers / software, resulting in any files / movies that it does not deem as Netflix official being deleted from your system - any movie the user has downloaded from another service provider!

Then, of course, there is the Amazon Kindle, preventing users from sharing their eBooks, preventing portability, and even suggesting that if Amazon suspects misappropriation of the Kindle / eBooks, the service will be revoked from that user... for ever - Muwahahahaha!

But what is DRM for? Who does it protect? The Artist? The Novelist? Or the Man... the Company?

Last night, I stumbled... finally... upon E. S. Posthumus's website for the 1,000 time in eight months. And there, after 6 long years of waiting, I discovered that their new album - Cartographer - that I had for so long waited, was finally, finally available to buy!

You have no understanding of how long I've waited: E. S Posthumus were instrumental in really invigorating a lot of people's love for the music in movie trailers. Their calling card Pompeii was used in the original Spiderman trailer back in 02. Quickly followed by hundreds of other trailers - you all remember when Moby released his multi-platinum selling album Play back in 99, and it was suddenly everywhere, in movie trailers, soundtracks, TV adverts? E. S. Posthumus had similar success, albeit still in the independent circuit (it was still three years after I first purhcased the album from CDNOW.com that I saw it in the shops over here in the UK - three years).

Anyhoo, why is this important? I'm off to New Zealand at the beginning of February and having watched E. S. Posthumus's website like a nerd waiting for the postie to deliver the next piece in his monthly subscription to "Build your own woman from matchsticks in 20 years" for yonks, eyeballing the meager updates and the promise that there will be more news about the album in the Summer of 07, then October, then November... the promise that the album will be released in December, then the beginning of January 08, and finally sometime in February.

It was released on the 17th January and I only realised last night - my problem still being that there is no way that the album could ship over from the US in under two weeks in time for me to rip it to my MP3 player (stay with me here... I do link this back to writing). My choice was one of two things. Buy and download the double disk album (yes, two amazing CDs) legally from iTunes, or from CDBaby.com.

iTunes were selling the CDs separately. You'd have to pay £7.99 for each. So £15.98. CDBaby, on the other hand were offering both together for $19.98 (£10.20). Of course I purchased through CDBaby, but the price wasn't my only consideration, and here is where we finally return to my thoughts on the future of POD.

iTunes use DRM. It's possessiveness to protect its own music prevents me from copying the files onto my MP3 player, take them to work, and most importantly, prevents me from copying them onto my music server at home, thus preventing me from listening to it through my Squeezebox (the most amazing bit of musical kit I've ever bought - I love it!) and the wonderful world of surround sound. As I said, above, I'd have to burn the music to CD, then rip it back to MP3 (all the while losing sound quality).

CDBaby avoids DRM because of two things: 1) they respect their users, and 2) they respect the artists who sell through their site. I suppose the clincher was that they give 91% of the sales to the artist themselves. 91%! So, from my purchase, E. S. Posthumus have just made at least £9. That is far more than I'd imagine they'd make by selling through an outlet - far more than the overpriced iTunes.

It is clear to me that DRM works to protect only the man and his company. The Artist hangs on the far end, waiting for their meager cut. Is this right? Should we, the consumer, be supporting this? I don't think so.

The counter argument is that these artists, and / or writers who sell through independent websites, and POD publishers aren't going to generate the same amount of sales - well, last night when I hurriedly paid my money, I couldn't get on the site to download the music I'd just paid for. It was fine this morning, but I guess there were just too many people getting hold of their much anticipated music.

Word of mouth is a wonderful thing when those speaking the words truly love the product and aren't getting paid a penny to do so. My money is on POD having a future in the publishing industry, sans DRM and with more of the loot going to the creators.

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