Looking for a New Best Friend

I've been answering questions on this blog for 2 1/2 years now. Can you believe that? I ought to throw a party or something. Instead, I'm throwing a question out to you and hoping upon hope that one or more of you will have an answer for me.

I've been a little swamped lately. Have you ever noticed that just when your job becomes do-able, and you're feeling like you've hit your stride, the boss comes by and throws something at you that is so above and beyond your current skill set that suddenly you're drowning?

That wasn't the question. Keep reading.

We have some game/workbook type products that we're considering but we want to make them available via electronic download, as well as the traditional printed format. So my task is to find a way to create and deliver the e-files that will allow them to be printable and retain their formatting, like a pdf file, but that can't be e-mailed or transferred between computers. Oh, and it needs to be something that I can learn to do in-house.

Any ideas?


Josi said...

I'm not really going to help you very much other than to say I know it CAN be done :-) Mathew Buckley and Eric Swedin are super smarty pants about this kind of stuff. So I'll send them a link to this. And has it really been 2 1/2 years? You haven't aged a bit!

Anonymous said...

So my task is to find a way to create and deliver the e-files that will allow them to be printable and retain their formatting, like a pdf file,

but that can't be e-mailed or transferred between computers.

What you need to do is investigate the myriad ways publishers of music and ebooks use DRM (digital rights management) software. One way I know of is for the content that is downloaded is tied to the computer that downloaded it. Another way is to tie the content to the credit card number that was used to purchase it. If you want to keep your formatting, obviously you're going to need to go with PDF.

Thing is, you can't really expect it to be non-transferable by people who want to transfer it badly enough. I mean, what I visualize from your description is something of a "coloring book" type format, which even in print, people will take it to Kinko's and make copies if they want to badly enough.

Distiller will encrypt and keep the format; it has built-in encryption, but I don't know how it would tie it up to a computer or credit card number (like what I described above).

Mobipocket can do your encryption but not sure it'll keep the formatting. Same with Microsoft Reader.

Anonymous said...

Once MoJo reads this, I'm sure she'll post a more complete answer and include all the reasons why you shouldn't use DRM. And she's right.

But to get things started, your two best choices are to

1. use Adobe Acrobat's DRM features (you'll need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Pro in order to do that).

2. use Microsoft Reader.

MS Reader probably has more of the complete DRM you are looking for -- but it does require that people have it installed on their computer (most users won't) and it limits your sales to customers who are running Windows.

When working with DRM, it's important to balance the need to protect your intellectual property against the hassle that you put your customers through.

I, of course, think the better method is to offer products DRM-free and to include some kind of extra incentive for those who purchase the product (for example offer extra content that can be downloaded by the e-mail address of the person associated with the credit card use for the purchase -- still can be hacked, but most won't bother to do it).

And whatever DRM you offer, you need to make sure that you can support it indefinitely. Walmart recently got a lot of bad press because they decided to shut down the DRM servers for their music store (which would basically render all the music tracks bought from their store useless*).

So yeah, it's a very sticky situation and I think it's more difficult for what you are talking about. With novels, you can at least just make them available in the major e-reader formats (Kindle, Sony E-reader, etc.), but if you want a printable document, Adobe is probably your best bet.

*Not exactly useless, but Walmart's solution was to tell the customers to burn the tracks to an audio CD and re-rip them which would be a huge hassle for their consumers and degrade quality of the songs.

Marion Jensen said...

Allow me to echo the sentiments of not using DRM. DRM really can be a mess, and it becomes frustrating for users trying to use your product, often in the very way you want them to. Look at the recent debacle with the video game Spore. Probably the most interesting game to come out this year, but it's received horrible reviews because paying customers can't get it to work because of the DRM.

May I suggest an alternative? License whatever it is you want to release under a creative commons license.


You can choose what you want people to be able to do with your content (more open, more closed), and then choose the appropriate license.

I use this license all the time, and it really makes things easy. I think we all hear about people who pirate music/video/games, and we just naturally assume that everybody does it. But the simple fact is that most people obey the law, and the CC license makes it very easy to understand how they can use it.

I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you have about this, just send me an e-mail.

Anonymous said...

Super smarty pants for sure that Matthew...


Marion Jensen said...

Sorry, I was in a rush to get to work when I wrote my comment. I went back and re-read your post. Are these game/workbooks type products yours, or do they belong to somebody else? If somebody else, then clearly you can't license them. :)

One more thought on licensing them (if they are yours). It is fairly easy to get around just about any type of DRM. If you send me the file, and I find I can't forward it, copy it, paste it, whatever, I can do a simple print screen. I now have a jpg that I can copy and insert into whatever, and do with it what I will. Of course I wouldn't do that, but the point is that if you put in DRM, the end result is that your customers will end up frustrated, and the pirates will go ahead and do what they would have anyway, which is rip off your stuff.

A better solution is to license it under CC. Put your logo on it, and let people share it under certain restrictions. This may end up with a wider distribution, and positive relation/feelings toward your company. It will be a great way to get your name out, you'll receive positive karma, and a warm fuzzy feeling will permeate the nation, and maybe get some of this cold weather out of here. :)

Anyway, again, if you have any questions, I'm more than happy to help.

Anonymous said...

Wm gives me more credit than I'm due, but I simply sought to answer the question. ;)

I DESPISE DRM. Thoroughly. In fact, I find it unethical and perhaps even immoral. Plus, it's simply stupid. Please read up on the Spore controversy Matthew Buckley referenced.

If I were the target consumer for the product you described, I would not buy it based on the fact that it has DRM--unless it was so unique I simply couldn't resist.

I have a program that cracks DRM'd MS Reader books, so if I can ONLY buy, say, a DRM'd PDF or LIT or PRC, I'll take the LIT because it's an easy crack. By the way, the program is called ConvertLit and I have no issues sharing that. If I wanted to work any harder than that, I could crack any DRM I wanted to.

All that said, we just spent the weekend converting my book into 8 available ebook formats (haven't finished the Kindle one yet) and let me tell you something--if anybody decided they wanted to re-convert my book to a different format for whatever reason--they're welcome to. We're worn out over here at B10 Mediaworx.

Anonymous said...

Also, Wm. makes a very good point about being able to support what you lock. Eventually, people will figure out that Amazon is RENTING Kindle editions of books (as opposed to SELLING them) because they can, at any time pull the plug on your "purchase" via the same Whispernet you bought them on and disallow you use of them if they want to. (They did this with music, so it's not like they don't have a track record.)

The same problem is created if you have a server crash (not your fault) and/or you just can't keep the information for whatever reason.

Re an incentive in exchange for buying a DRM'd product. I don't think there is one that would tempt me to buy a DRM'd product if I weren't already tempted by the product itself.

Now, my next question is this: When you say you want to make it available in a protected, formatted format, do you want the consumer to be able to print this on his own printer once he's downloaded it?

'Cause that opens up another can of worms.

Eric Swedin said...

Wow, lots of comments on this. DRM will always create lots of passions, as well it should. The nature of your question implies that your company wants to dip its toe into e-publishing, but doesn't trust your customers. There is a big paradigm shift needed in how you view your customers and your revenue streams.

Creative Commons is an excellent way to go, but you have to accept that some customers will not follow the rules, while most will.

In the end, if content is made into a digital format, than it can be copied regardless of what DRM that you use. The harder you try to stop this, the more that you will just irritate your customers.

Good luck.

Rebecca Talley said...

Does this mean I'm not your BFF anymore?