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Platform exclusivity, DRM, and independent authors: A cautionary tale

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GNU

Imagine, for the sake of argument, that you wrote a book. You've worked on it for years, and you want to share it with the world. You want to reach as many people as possible, but it would be nice to be compensated for your hard work. How many weekends did you spend at home, polishing your manuscript instead of going out with friends? How many sleepless nights have you spent staring at a blank page, looking for inspiration?

While researching the best way to publish, you hear horror stories about authors finding their books sold on counterfeit Web sites or distributed gratis without the author's consent. You read stories about authors feeling violated as their hard work is stolen in such a way.

As you read about these activities, you also see mentions of companies that claim that they would protect your work against it. Should you publish your book through them, your book would only be available through their application. People could only access it through their store, and they wouldn't even be able to open the file on a device that isn't vetted by the company. The app is very popular, so most people use it anyway, and authors do not have to worry about a lack of interest. Only dealing with one store would also make things easier on your end. You won't have to manage different things. They'll even format your book for you. Sounds easy enough, so you take the deal.

Weeks pass, and you make a few sales. It's by no mean a huge success, but you got a few positive reviews, mostly from family and friends. You keep mentioning your project to everyone you know, and find some limited interest.

One day, a friend you hadn't talked to in a while asks about your book. They say that they don't like the app your book requires, and they don't want to buy it through the one store you signed an exclusivity deal with. They explain that Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) restricts their freedom to read the book on their device of choice, and won't even let them make backups of the file. They tell you how they once used a similar app, but were locked out of all the books they purchased after moving away from said application.

After hearing your friend's story, you decide to give them a DRM-free copy of your book. After all, you wrote it so people would enjoy it first and foremost, and you want your friend to see the fruit of your labor.

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