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Happy Day Against DRM

Books are 50% off at O'Reilly today, using code DRMFREE. (This includes my book, Clojure Programming, by the way...) I'm a bit late with this, given the offer expires in 9 hours, but there's still time.

Whether you want to buy books today or not, it's worth pointing out that today is International Day Against DRM!

Day Against DRM

Brand Loyalty. Step 1: Make good stuff.

My anti-DRM article is quickly going to turn into a pro-O'Reilly Media infomercial, so you've been warned.

I am not the kind of person to feel any kind of brand loyalty. I'm the kind of person who deliberately buys a different brand of peanut butter every time I go to the grocery store, to try to screw with the store's customer-tracking database.

O'Reilly is probably an exception. I like O'Reilly. Why is that?

First, O'Reilly books tend to be pretty good. At least, I have yet to buy one that wasn't pretty good.

Allow me to digress. My college's CS curriculum was based around C++. Now, I'm the kind of person who thinks that programming is vaguely enjoyable no matter what I'm doing. Computers are fun. But for a new programmer, coding in C++ is like an hours-long shouting match with the compiler where your goal is to try to get the compiler errors to shut up. Producing a working program is an occasional side-effect. C++ doesn't exactly promote explorative, imaginative programming.

The first class I had in college where I actually enjoyed programming was a class that taught Perl. My textbook was Learning Perl, aka the Llama Book1. What a good book. I still have it. I remember feeling like I learned more reading that book that I had in two years of slogging through C++ data structures. And what fun Perl was.

I remember immediately spending a bunch of money I should've saved for food, and getting Programming Perl, aka the Camel Book1. So good! Who knew a book could be witty and fun, and teach you things at the same time. You can tell when a book is written by someone who knows their stuff, and who enjoys talking about their craft.

Not sure if it was Perl itself, or the great Perl books, or probably some combination. But I've been cemented in dynamic, vaguely-Perly, powerful and fun languages since then. First Ruby, then Clojure.

I'm also likely to buy an O'Reilly book, given a choice between alternatives.

Step 2: Be Humans and give a crap.

A second thing that creates brand loyalty is when a company seems to be made of human beings that you can relate to.

When I heard O'Reilly was writing a Lisp book, and what's more, it was a Clojure book, and what's more, I could be involved in writing it... I was pretty excited.

Our book was written in ASCIIDOC, and lived in an SVN repo hosted at O'Reilly.2 We could upload code with a certain string in the SVN commit log, and that'd trigger a rebuild of the ASCIIDOC on O'Reilly's server, which was compiled into PDF, and then we could download the PDF from SVN to see how the final product would look. Turnaround time was about 10 minutes. It was a nice, programmer-friendly setup, to be sure.

Whenever I dealt with people at O'Reilly, I generally got the feeling that I was working with programmers, or people who cared about programming. There aren't a lot of Clojure gurus there, but there were people who knew why wrapping long lines of could needed to be handled just right.

It's a great feeling to work with people whose goal is advancing the craft, as opposed to some kind of Death-Star-like entity whose goal is wringing extra pennies out of customers' bones.

DRM sucks

So does O'Reilly actually give a crap? Well, fiiiiiiiiinally getting to the point: O'Reilly's stance on DRM is pretty much spot-on. O'Reilly books are sold without DRM. DRM is not the way to make good stuff. DRM is a good sign that you don't give a crap. DRM doesn't advance the craft, but rather does the opposite.

I leant a guy my copy of K%R a while back. Now there's one more person in the world with a bit more knowledge of C. This is a really good thing. If my copy of K&R was a DRMed ebook that I couldn't lend out, the world would be a tangibly worse place.

I highly recommend this article by Mike Hendrickson at O'Reilly where he talks about piracy, DRM, and making books. Also this one by Tim O'Reilly where he talks about the same.

Now that my name is on a book, have my opinions about DRM changed? Not really. I'd obviously prefer that people pay for my book. I pay for books. It's only fair.

At the same time, I would be really disappointed if my book was sold with DRM all over it, and I'm glad it isn't.

Treating your customers like thieves a priori is not the way to build brand loyalty. Thinking that DRM is going to stop anyone from pirating a book is pretty much delusional. Using DRM to maintain some kind of iron-fisted control over stuff you're selling to other people is morally sketchy.

DRM is not the way to advance the craft. Advancing the craft is the important thing.

When you make smart decisions like not selling DRMed books, the result could be dorks like me spending an hour or two unprovoked, writing an article about how good your company is. And yeah, this is surely a bit self-serving because I want to sell my book, but I'd have written this same article two years ago too.

  1. One way to tell a good book is if it's widely known by an affectionate nickname or acronym. K&R? TAOCP? SICP? The Camel Book? You probably know what I mean right away.

  2. Obviously I'd have preferred Git, but I'll take what I can get.

May 04, 2012 @ 6:23 AM PDT
Cateogory: Rants

1 Comment

Quoth numerodix on May 04, 2012 @ 6:33 PM PDT

Congrats on the book!