How Can I Protect my eBook from Being Stolen?

When a prospective client asks us about "Protection from Sharing" he or she probably means "DRM" or Digital Rights Management.  This question is frequently asked, along with inquiries about how to sell your book from your own website. These two ideas and questions seem to go together--security and selling from one's own website, more than DRM as provided by Amazon, B&N, iBooks, and the rest of the e-tailers.

 What is DRM?

DRM, or "Digital Rights Management" is simply an acronym that means, encrypting an eBook so that it will only work on a specifically-authorized device.  In other words, if you, Jane Doe, buy a book from Amazon, they ensure that those books are downloaded only to your registered devices.  This is primarily intended to deter what is called "casual theft." If you are old enough, you'll remember that software on floppy disks, way back when, like "Lotus 1-2-3," was frequently stolen by folks taking the disks home, copying them, and then passing those along.  DRM is crackable, by any remotely determined hacker, or even a 13-year-old kid with some technical capacity.  But generally, DRM works to prevent casual theft--where Susie likes your book so much that she "gives it" to her friend Dolly, who gives it to her friend, and so on and so forth.  These folks don't mean ill; but without thinking, they are stealing from an author's livelihood. 

For most authors and self-publishers, DRM will be provided by the digital retailer:  Amazon, B&N, iBooks, KoboBooks, Sony, etc.  And they'll never have to worry about it. But...what if you want to sell from your own website?

Can I Sell My Book From My Own Website?

  • If you are selling from your own website, you can embed a form of "digital watermarking" (as opposed to DRM--DRM discussed further below in this list)  in every book you sell, in which you would embed your own information and the customer's information. This can be done visibly or invisibly. However, it should be noted that there's no way to do this in such a fashion that a determined person couldn't find a way to remove it, fairly easily.
  • If you plan to do this, you'll need to either hire someone or have a fundamental understanding of how the eBooks are made, because this has to be done individually--book by book, customer by customer. There is no "ready set go" instant way to do this. You have to open the book file, enter the information (type it, basically), encrypt it, and then save the book file again (or in the case of MOBI, rebuild the entire Kindle book file)--one at a time.
  • If you are selling through the major retailers, there is, quite simply, no way to do Digital Watermarking (in lieu of DRM), because they won't tell you who is buying your book, and it is they, not you, who are performing fulfillment. They simply make a copy of your book and send it to the buyer, after applying their own DRM, assuming you've opted for it. You never see/know the "copy" that is being sent to Jane Doe versus Susan Smith.
  • If you choose to sell from your own website, you'll want to investigate Adobe Content Server, for DRM for the ePUB versions. It costs about $6200.00 USD (yes: Sixty-Two Hundred Dollars) to license it, and operators trained in performing the DRM-application are generally paid ~$2800.00/month or more.
  • There is no available private DRM scheme for selling MOBI (Amazon Kindle) format from your own website. That DRM is proprietary and is owned, entirely, by Amazon. Therefore, your Kindle books will not be able to be DRM'ed if you are selling them from your own site.  Obviously, you can use Amazon's DRM, if you are selling from there. 
  • The DRM is part of what you are paying Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobobooks, etc., for, in the percentage of your sales that they retain. 
  • Oh, don't forget--if you plan to sell from your website, you require an optimized digital cart that can handle encrypted digital files, like the watermarked ePUBs and MOBIs, or the ACS (Adobe Content Server)-encrypted books. Most web "guys" don't know how to add this type of cart, so be sure you have the suitable web capabilites.
  • We don't/can't put encryption on a book that we give to you, because then you couldn't give it to someone, or upload it anywhere, or sell it. We'd have to de-encrypt it each time (like providing Adobe Content Server and running it _for_ you, essentially).  As I mentioned above, applying/managing DRM is part of what you pay Amazon, B&N, iBooks, KoboBooks, etc., for.  
  • Note that Smashwords does NOT provide DRM at all.  

But The Bigger Obstacle Is Tech Support

Frankly, in terms of selling from your own website, the single biggest obstacle is the Tech Support, which is needed for the dozens or (hopefully!) hundreds of buyers that won't know how to get the book to their device or reader.  I emphasize to clients, repeatedly, that you have no idea how onerous tech support is until you are forced to provide it.  Unless you are prepared to take phone calls, answer emails, and explain the "how' of how to sideload eBooks, for those dozens/hundreds/thousands of buyers who won't know, then an ePDF is likely your best way to go.  That, or stick to the big retailers.