A word of advice for PDF publishers

I suspect sometimes that the average consumer of PDF gaming material is more technically savvy than the average producer of same. Confirming my suspicion is Ginger Stampley’s post against Digital Rights Management in PDFs. It’s not the most scathing, detailed, fiery condemnation of DRM available online or anything, but PDF publishers should notice: your consumers have strong tastes, so strong that they border on moral codes, and they will not put up with your product if it bosses them around. I think that attitude goes with being comfortable on a computer and knowing what you can do. As for less savvy users, well, they aren’t the ones who go online and post all about how great – or frustrating, or sucky – your product is.

So be careful out there.


  1. Honestly, I don’t see how Ginger’s post confirms anyone’s suspicions of anything other than what Ginger’s preference is. It doesn’t represent a trend, doesn’t apply to anyone other than Ginger’s, and relates only one person’s experience.

    While I agree PDF publishers should be watching their market (which is, frankly, flat advice: any businessperson should be watching their market… it’s 101 stuff), I think there’s far greater risk in assuming that one person (or a few people) actually equates to a trend.

    What would be insightful is actual sales figures – you know, facts…

    I have downloaded DRMd docs (although I far prefer the watermarking technology, which seems a very reasonable scheme for all parties). I’ve also downloaded a large number of DRM’d songs from iTMS. I don’t think it confirms anything either (other than Ginger and I “cancelling out”).

    From debates I’ve seen, there’s still a healthy split on savvy users who prefer no DRM, and those who are willing to settle for a reasonable compromise.

  2. You’re quite right; as Ginger admits at the top of her post, she’s just one data point. My other data points come mostly from discussions of DRM outside the purview of gaming.

    Actual sales figures would be great, but if RPGNow makes any public, they’re awfully shy about it. Maybe I’ll give them a call.

  3. Ok, this is not a snarky comment, but a genuine question: Why should there be an issue with anything protected by DRM? I am totally confused. No, I really am.
    When you buy the PHB it clearly states you shouldn’t go make photocopies, and hand them out to friends (I know it doesn’t say exactly that, but you get the idea). So, why should people assume that it’s ok to buy a PDF and distribute it to their gaming group? Or is this an issue of DRM encryption being proprietary, and thus unstable in the far future (meaning if you buy am iTune from Apple, and they go away in 10 years, since they use proprietary encryption…your music collection goes away with Apple?)

    I am just confused…sorry.

  4. Nobody should assume piracy is okay, but should you be allowed to hand your PHB to a friend for an hour so they can prepare for this weekend’s game? Now, how can you do that with a PDF other than copying it? Have your friend physically there, or print it out. Should the PDF prevent printing? If so, what do you do if you want to run something out of the “book” and don’t have a laptop?

    So, 1) nearly all DRM methods prevent perfectly fair and legal uses, along with the illegal uses they mean to target. These are just more hurdles that prevent the stodgier side of the gaming market from adopting PDFs, so really, publishers that use DRM are choking off the size of their market. And 2), anyone who’s really determined to copy your stuff around is going to figure out a way, DRM or no DRM. No DRM scheme *in any medium* has ever completely prevented theft.

    The proprietary angle is a concern too. I mean, I don’t know of any specific PDF products that don’t let you make at least one hard copy, but in the event of many varieties of techie snafu, it would suck not to have a backup.

    I’m starting to think this is all indeed academic unless and until we know how widespread DRM usage is in the gaming market.

  5. While all of that’s true, I think the idea of DRM just gets some geeks’ noses out of joint (aboout 50% as far as I can tell). Witness the recent Slashdot posting for the, ah, vigor with which the debate is carried (subject: “When would you accept DRM”) (link at bottom ’cause it’s an ugly url…).

    Mike: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. To get into the DRM argument, we’d need to know the percentage of DRMd vs non, and then the buying trends within each.

    RPGnow certainly doesn’t use DRM, nor does SJG’s e23. DriveThru does, but the watermarking’s getting much more (apparent) attention. So, the market may be correcting itself.

    That url… http://ask.slashdot.org/askslashdot/05/03/22/2231213.shtml?tid=188&tid=198&tid=172&tid=98&tid=4

  6. I’ve been putting up free games in PDF format once a month since January 2000. I’ve been thinking a lot about DRM because I plan to release a series of higher-quality games in a pay-for-download format later this year. The biggest problem I have with DRM is that it’s (generally) easy to circumvent. (BTW: The DRM on iTunes music store purchases is laughable.) Those who want to circumvent DRM will. It seems that the primary purpose of DRM is to impede the casual copier or thief. This is a legitimate purpose; if you leave your car unlocked and windows rolled down, don’t come crying to me when it gets stolen. Owners of property, be it tangible or intellectual, need to take reasonable steps to protect it from theft. Unfortunately, DRM tends to have, “side effects,” that affect normal, legitimate users. Until there is a DRM scheme that really and truly prevents unauthorized usage, I probably won’t use DRM.

    *** Oh, another thought: DRM is important for you as a consumer. It protects the value of the, “investment,” you made in the media you purchased. If you spend $6 on a PDF, but other people can get it for free, then you’ve been cheated, in a way. You’re subsidizing their ownership of that PDF.

    *** Hey, I wonder if that’s a viable answer? A creator puts up some samples, gives out a few copies to trusted reviewers, sets up a tip jar and says, “I want a total of $100. Once I have that, I’ll release this PDF for free.” Once enough cash has been thrown into the tip jar, the PDF is released. Naw… It won’t work that way. People want to have the toy immediately after purchasing it.

    *** *sigh* Oh well…

  7. On the drivethrurpg.com FAQ, here:

    You can read: Can I put these books on more than one computer?
    Yes, absolutely. This is true of both watermarked and DRM-protected eBooks.

    This is the most common misconception about DRM-protected eBooks. You may put these book on any computer you own. You do not need to download them more than once either. Simply copy them to the other computer and activate the Adobe DRM on the other computer using the same DRM account and password.

    Note that you can only have 6 computers activated at any one time; however, the following is from Adobe Support: “If you have reformatted your hard drive or you have a new computer, you can call Customer Service at 800-272-3623 to get your activation reset. Press 1 for sales.” We have used this number to reset activations with no difficulty.

    Now, I have downloaded may DRM-PDFs myself. I copyed, burned, pasted them on other computers, read them from CDs, all this without any single problem. Ever.

    If there’s something blown way out of proportion, that’s this fear of DRM protected materials.

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