The publishing industry's major companies are still invested in anti-piracy software, but self-published authors benefit when they give it up, according to a recent study. AuthorEarnings.com, a site that studies how authors can best make money, recently took a detailed look at Amazon's e-book bestseller list on a single day — July 14, 2014. Those listings were then used to draw some conclusions about unit sales, gross earnings, and author earnings.
This was AuthorEarnings' third study. The site hopes that after it builds up a significant archive of studies, done quarterly, it will be able to spot emerging trends in ebook publishing. This information could then empower authors to make informed choices about how they publish their work.
DRM will set your sales free...we think
But onto the anti-piracy findings. AuthorEarnings says its study shows that self-published works, which it claims accounts for 31 percent of total daily ebook sales across most genres, actually sell better when they are sold without digital-rights management (DRM). About half of the self-published books on Amazon's bestseller list come without DRM. But those DRM-free self-published books accounted for 64 percent of total unit sales for self-publishing.
That's an interesting result and would seem to reinforce a growing notion that DRM is not worth the trouble for publishers or authors. After a year of selling DRM-free titles, TOR Books reported in 2013 that it hadn't seen any discernible rise in piracy of its titles.
Copy protection can easily be stripped from any Kindle e-book with the right set of software tools in a matter of seconds. DRM is also explicitly anti-consumer, since it prevents anyone who buys a DRM-laden product from changing digital platforms — be it taking Kindle e-books to the Nook or playing iTunes movie downloads with VLC.
Even so, it's probably still too early to trumpet DRM-free e-books as the best path to more sales on Amazon or any other e-book retailer.
For starters, Amazon does not publish its sales data across any product category. To come to its conclusions, AuthorEarnings creates estimates of Amazon e-book sales based on data from authors on the bestseller list who have shared their sales numbers. Nevertheless, it's clear that self-published authors are a growing part of Amazon's bestseller list and that many of those titles are being sold DRM free.
What's not clear, however, is whether customers are aware they are buying DRM-free titles. Amazon's product details do not explicitly state that books come without anti-piracy technology. Instead, it says "Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited." How many Amazon customers are actually aware they are buying DRM-free books? Could this just be chance?
AuthorEarnings says it's not, since its estimates indicate that DRM-free titles outsell DRM-laden books at numerous price points. It's definitely an interesting result, but as the saying goes, "further study is needed."
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