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*Freelance Traveller

The Electronic Fan-Supported Traveller® Resource

June 2010

June 2010 Department Article Title Author
From the Editor   Jeff Zeitlin
Essay Question   Jeff Zeitlin
Critics' Corner Hyperlite: The Sirius Treaty Tim Bancroft
Up Close and Personal Jayson McPhearson William Wilson
Kurishdam: Lecture Hall and Library Jump Destination: Zandisill Ken Pick
Doing It My Way Second Life Traveller Jeffrey Schwartz
Multimedia Gallery Urliganar Grav Tank "MAG"

Download this issue: ANSI A (US Letter) format or ISO A4 format

The articles listed and linked above are also linked in their appropriate sections of our website.

From the Editor

Last month, I said I’d be editorializing this month, but I didn’t say on what topic. Upon thinking about it a bit more, I realized that I needed to address two topics that – at least for the pencil-and-paper RPG industry – seem to be related: Digital Rights Management (DRM), and Pricing Strategies.

Most people who purchase e-books, music, or software today are familiar at least in passing with DRM, and it’s likely that anyone that has a long history with computers recognizes it as the latest incarnation of what was originally called “copy protection”. Today, DRM runs the spectrum from merely providing traceability right up through severe limitations on use.

Companies that insist on applying DRM to their products are, consciously or unconsciously, making two assumptions. There is data, much of which is probably classifiable as anecdotal, which call those assumptions into question, but a full treatment is beyond my scope this month. I’ll just list the assumptions, and let you, the reader, decide if you want to research them. I will say here that I am opposed to DRM, but that there is one model that I find relatively inoffensive.

First, there is the assumption that every copy of a product used but not paid for is a lost sale. In other words, if you’re stealing the product, you would have purchased it if it were impossible to steal.

The first assumption leads relatively directly to the assumption that every purchaser is a would-be criminal.

I view DRM – even in its least-offensive form – as bad customer relations, because of those assumptions. When deciding whether to make a purchase, the existence and type of DRM is a negative factor to be weighed in the decision, because I find the assumptions behind DRM to be offensive.

Enough on the emotional arguments against DRM; let’s look at some of the concrete effects of some DRM models. I’ll note in passing that the DRM model that I find least offensive is that of merely “fingerprinting” or “watermarking” the purchased copy of the product, so that the source of an illicit copy can at least in theory be identified, and action taken against that source. This model doesn’t really impair the utility of the product, which is exactly why it is the least offensive model.

Other models, however, impose restrictions on use. I’ve encountered or heard about the following:

Restriction to specific physical media. The product is delivered on a CD or USB “key”, with specific software for access included. The media is written in such a way that the software can detect that it is original media, and attempting to copy the product and reading software – even if there are no errors reported in doing so – will result in an unusable copy of the product (though the original will remain usable).

Registration of reading device or software. The product is keyed to (and may only be read on) a particular reading device or software, or a particular set of devices or copies of a program. The key/verification data may be stored locally, or on centralized servers.

Restriction to Distributor’s Servers for actual access to the product. The distributor never actually delivers a copy of the product; instead, the reader is expected to connect to the distributor’s servers via the internet, and authenticates for access to the user’s library.

Limitation on Number of Times the Product May Be Downloaded. This is usually coupled with the registration model.

All of the above models have their worst problems when the user has to replace a device or reinstall software.

There is one more model that should be mentioned:

Limitation on Copy/Paste and Print. Of the utility-impairing DRM models, this is probably the least offensive, and is most likely coupled with the (inoffensive) traceability method – though some distributors have been known to couple it with the more draconian models. The product imposes restriction on copying or printing, or forbids it entirely.

To the extent that the industry insists on DRM, it has largely been handled sensibly: Most publishers have chosen to allow the user to copy the product between devices and computers, and settle for tracing illicit copies if or when such illicit copying rises to a level that they feel they need to take notice of. Some add to this the limitation on copy/paste and print, but even then, the limits are generally not so onerous that a referee would find it intolerably difficult to make up a compact reference customized to the needs of the specific gaming group’s style.

By and large, the industry has apparently followed the “easy” pricing strategy: Regardless of whether you’re getting the printed product or the electronic product, you’re paying the same price.

The main assumption seems to be what computer programmers call an “exclusive-or” assumption – either a purchaser will purchase the printed and bound edition of a product, or the electronic edition, but not both. In an age where access to computers – and specifically, ownership of highly portable computers – is becoming the “default assumption” in much of the world, there is some question whether this assumption is valid. The biggest argument against this assumption is that carrying the portable computer with the electronic editions on it is probably easier and lighter than carrying the equivalent hardcopy books.

The secondary assumption, which is really the same as the first assumption, but looked at from a different angle, is that every sale of an electronic copy is one less sale of a printed copy. I don’t state the reverse, even though it’s implied, because the default assumption is the printed version, just like with non-RPG books – the electronic edition market is viewed as significantly smaller and less important than the print edition market.

There is one more assumption that deserves to be looked at in a bit more depth: The Consumer is stupid. This is deliberately phrased offensively; a more polite way of phrasing it might be The Consumer is Completely Unaware of Cost Factors or Their Implications.

A detailed cost breakdown is beyond the scope of this discussion; the executive summary version is that there are three areas that costs can be allocated to: Hardcopy production/distribution, Editorial, and Overhead, and that Hardcopy production/distribution accounts for approximately half of the price tag.

Given that, it doesn’t take much thought to realize that, under the current pricing model, the publisher will make more profit from the sale of each electronic copy than from each printed copy – for no other reason than the Hardcopy production/distribution costs are lower or nonexistent. However, it can be argued (and in other forums, it has been argued) that this approach tends to stifle and marginalize the electronic market. (It might take a little research, but not an onerous amount, to get some quantitative costs for verification.)

There are several approaches that might do better at acknowledging the realities of the market, and encourage both purchases of electronic product, and paired purchases (buy one, get the other, either at a discount or both for a bundled price). I summarize them without discussing the advantages or disadvantages (this editorial is verging on too long as-is):

The first approach is the one successfully used by Baen Books: Release the electronic version and the print version of a product simultaneously, pricing the print version according to common industry practice, and pricing the electronic version slightly below the least expensive print version.

The second model encourages paired purchasing: The initial purchase is made at the full price, in either edition, and the purchaser receives, as part of the purchase, a coupon or other proof-of-purchase that will permit the subsequent purchase of the other edition at a discount. Purchasers who are uninterested in both editions are not penalized for choosing one over the other, but those who purchase both are rewarded for doing so.

The third model is very similar to the second, paired-purchase model: In addition to the individual print and electronic editions, a bundled edition of both together is made, at a discount from the price of separate purchases. The purchase of the bundle – that is, of both the print and electronic editions – must be made simultaneously to get the discount.

Ultimately, the idea is to see that the electronic and print markets complement each other, rather than competing with each other, and to market accordingly.