Monday, August 3, 2009

Me, the Hypocrite Apparently

Today, I saw somebody tweeting about signing a petition to get DRM off of the Kindle. I tweeted that the best way to "vote" on something like that is with your dollars. If you buy a Kindle and then sign a petition about the DRM on it, you haven't really given Amazon much motivation to stop using DRM. Since you bought it, you obviously didn't care enough about DRM to not purchase it, so if Amazon doesn't stop using DRM… well, they've already got your money and probably will continue getting your money in the future. At least from the point of view of an MBA, such a petition is essentially meaningless; it has about as much significance as the mewling of kittens. Money talks more loudly than petitions.

Now, I consider what I tweeted to be a truism. I wasn't particularly intending to take a stand on DRM by posting it. I was just stating a simple fact: If you feel strongly about DRM (or anything else), you shouldn't buy a product that uses it because your dollars are the only meaningful way of voting when it comes to for-profit corporations. If you want a DRM-free Kindle, you should refuse to buy a Kindle until Amazon stops using DRM.

Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of DRM, but I'm not much of an ideologue, either. I'm practical about the whole thing. With some products, the benefits outweigh the potential harm of DRM, with others, they don't. With the iPhone, for example, the convenience and benefits outweigh the negatives by a long shot. Sure, I would rather the iPhone didn't have DRM, but I'm not going to stop using it because it has it (although it is almost certainly true that I buy less music and movies as a result of the fact that they are delivered with DRM). And, yes, the threat of having purchased apps deleted by an un-appealable decision by some unnamed person at Apple is a fear but, in reality, it's not enough of a threat to make me give up my iPhone. Maybe someday it will be, but today it's not even close.

There are other products, like the Kindle where, for me, the DRM tips the scales enough in the other direction that I don't buy the product. They don't offer enough of a benefit for me personally to offset the threat of having my books deleted behind my back, for example. Obviously, based on how well the Kindle has sold, the value proposition of the Kindle is different for me than it is for a lot of other people.

The long and short of it is that DRM is just one factor among many that I consider when making a purchase decision. Or, in other words, I'm pretty standard geek consumer.

Anyway… a little while after I tweeted that, I was basically called out as a hypocrite for making that statement because my publisher puts DRM on the electronic versions of my book. The implication being, it would seem, that you can't say anything about DRM unless you give away all of your creative output for free? Yeah, that makes sense.

Frankly, I do not like being called a hypocrite. Over the last two years, I have probably given away the equivalent of at least a thousand hours worth of my time (and probably much more) writing tutorials and sample code for my blog. Additionally, I spend at least an hour a day helping other people with programming problems over e-mail, IM and Twitter, none of which I get paid for. Now, I enjoy doing all that, but idiots like this "John Doe" sometimes make me really regret the time I've spent in that way. If I had used all that time doing contracting work or writing an additional book, I would be considerably wealthier right now.

Here's the simple truth of the matter: I have no input into how Apress delivers their eBooks. I have no contractual right to control that part of the process. I wouldn't be tempted to do so, but if if I did decide to make some ideological stand on DRM by, say, refusing to finish my current writing obligations unless Apress stopped using DRM, Apress would likely (and rightly) hold me in breach of contract. It's unlikely to the point of being ridiculous that they would stop using DRM as a result of one author being an asshole.

To state it simply, I'm an author, not a publisher, and just one of literally dozens (maybe hundreds) of Apress authors. Heck, I'm not even the only author on the books I work on! I have a great relationship with Apress and I very much like the people there that I interact with there. But I'm not them. And yet I still have opinions. Fancy that.


Randal L. Schwartz said...

In my experience, almost everyone who wants you to give your work away for free (in whatever license being discussed) has never in their life produced something that you'd want to download.

So take criticism on this issue carefully -- it's the people who are takers but not givers who are complaining the most loudly.

Jeff LaMarche said...


Yeah, I know. I'm just venting :)


AlBlue said...


I, for one, appreciate the work you've done in your tutorials and blogs. I blog a fair bit (about Eclipse, rather than iPhone) and I know the amount of time that you need to put in to writing a post, which often exceeds the time of purely writing the code by a factor of two or three.

In any case, I wanted to voice my support publicly for you on this issue - keep up the good work.


Patrick said...

I enjoyed your book, but was disappointed that I had to shell out more for the PDF. I've already bought the book!
I say that as a general criticism of publishers, rather than you. They seem a bit short-sighted... do they really think that in the age of the Kindle, iPhone and iTablet people are going to want to haul around a dozen books like Sherpa Tensing?

Michael said...

Me too Jeff (I appreciate your efforts).

Personally I don't how you find the time . Take the criticism as you would a negative review of an App store app - with a pinch of salt.

Regards, M.

Jeff LaMarche said...


I understand your complaint, I really do. In a perfect world, books, music, movies, etc., would be sold in a way that's perfectly 100% fair and respectful of customers' rights. You wouldn't ever have to pay more than once to have that information in different formats (except, perhaps, a small charge to cover the cost of the new media) and wouldn't have to deal with DRM.

But, then again, in a perfect world, there would also be no piracy, either. In a perfect world, it would take longer than five minutes with Google to find a pirated copy of our eBook.

We don't live in a perfect world, so I've got to respect my publisher's decision about how to run their business.

Non DePlume said...

I'm grateful that you and people like merlyn are around- I only blog a little weekly blurb about my gardening, and I'm amazed at how much it takes.

There are far more people out there who deeply appreciate what you're doing than you'll ever know. That said, take praise and negative comments with a grain of salt and just keep doing what you want.


ScottYelich said...

What I object to is being told how and/or when I can use/access something. If I purchase a CD -- I should be able to do whatever I damn well please with the CD and contents of the CD -- for personal/non-profit use. Hey, wanna share the *score* of an NFL game?

Apple has proved itself to be ridiculous/pathetic with the app store / approval process -- it drives junk apps and stifles innovation. Yay, I pay $99 a year so I can put apps that I want on my own device. Lovely.

ImDisaster said...


Just for the record, you have taken a bored housewife and turned me into an iPhone developer in less than two months. I have all of your books and I don't care how much they cost!! I greatly appreciate everything you have taught me!! You and Dave are my "Rock Stars." I read and watch everything you put out. I also notice how you have helped others on various other blog sites. You answer so promptly - thank you!!

Everyone developing for the iPhone, for the most part, is trying to build some type of business. I, for one, will continue to invest in my education whether it's a download supplement or book.

So, for those who complain, choose another platform. Jeff, I will use you as an example and pass along my knowledge to anyone willing to learn.