Digital Lysenkoism

Cory Doctorow has a splendid article in Publishers Weekly about the futility of DRM in the publishing industry. In it he compares the industry's belief in DRM to the disastrous beliefs of Trofim Lysenko, the Stalin-era Russian pseudo-geneticist, that led to mass starvation in the Soviet Union. In some sense, there's not much point in telling this to Irreal readers: they all know the arguments and despise DRM already. Still it's a good article and points out some interesting facts.

Most of the line staff at the publishers know, like Stalin-era geneticists knew about Lysenkoism, that DRM won't work and that it's really hurting the publishing industry while failing to do anything to stop illegal copying. The problem is that their leaders, like Stalin, do believe in it and refuse to consider the possibility that their faith in DRM might be misplaced.

Doctorow tells the story of how one publisher is planning on sending all its ARCs out as encrypted PDFs. ARCs are the Advanced Reader Copies that publishers send to reviewers before the book is actually published in the hopes of getting a good review. As Doctorow remarks, most reviewers get far more requests for a review than they can honor (Doctorow says 100-to-1 in his case) and that the idea a reviewer would put up with the annoyance of dealing with a “book” that couldn't be loaded into whatever e-reader he happens to use or couldn't be conveniently read on a plane, say, is wishful thinking. Instead, those crippled PDFs will be ignored and the publisher and author will miss out on advanced publicity.

Again, there's nothing in the article that we don't all know but it's a good take on the problem with some interesting inside information. Well worth a read.

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