Image from Flickr by pasukaru76.

There’s one question that seems to crop up more than any other in my email inbox, and when I’m talking about self-publishing.

And that’s: How do I stop people stealing my book?

A lot of new indie authors are worried that publishing in digital format means it’ll be far too easy for readers to get illegal copies of their book for free, instead of paying.

In some cases, they’ve heard of DRM (Digital Rights Management) – or are at least wondering whether or not they should tick that box when uploading their book to Amazon’s KDP.

But here’s what I always say: Don’t worry about piracy. Worry about obscurity.

DRM Unfairly Punishes Readers … and Doesn’t Stop Pirates

When you enable DRM, it makes it tough for readers to transfer your book between devices. If someone buys my book, I want them to be able to read it on their computer, their Kindle, their iPad, their Kobo, their phone … whatever they want!

Unfortunately, what often happens with DRM is that it penalizes the customers of your book. Many readers like to have access to their digital books on multiple devices. However, DRM can prevent them from having access to the book they bought on non-Kindle devices.

This can be annoying to the customer and may even result in lost book sales as some readers will refuse to buy books that are DRM enabled.

(Shelley Hitz, The Pros and Cons of DRM, The Future of Ink)

While DRM makes it slightly trickier for your book to be pirated, if someone is determined to steal your book and put it on a file-sharing site, they’ll still be able to do so.

I don’t have any sort of DRM enabled on Lycopolis or my Blogger’s Guides: I don’t think it’s fair to make life hard on all my perfectly legitimate readers just in case someone might steal my work.

Combating Piracy: Make Your Book Easily Available at a Fair Price

So what can you do?

I believe that people pirate books (and music, films, etc) for one of two reasons:

  1. They’re opposed to paying for their entertainment at all.
  2. They can’t easily get access to a legitimate copy at a price that they’re willing to pay.

In the first case, there’s nothing you can do to sway them. And why would you care? They’re not going to pay for your book, so it’s not like you’ve lost a sale.

In the second case, though, it’s clear that what you need to do is make your book widely available at a fair price.

(If you price your book far too high, you’re unlikely to make any sales anyway.)

Most book readers aren’t going to even consider pirating your book. They may well not have any idea how to do so, and even if they do, they’re unlikely to begrudge paying for something they genuinely want.

The hard truth is that, for most indie authors, we’re far more at risk from obscurity – no-one knowing our name, no-one knowing our books exist – than from piracy.

I know this is a touchy issue with authors, and I’m very open to hearing the other side of the argument! Whatever your thoughts on piracy and DRM, please feel free to add a comment below.