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Have you paid your Adobe tax today?

I was writing the post earlier about the new ebookstore and it inspired me to pen this little rant about DRM on ebooks. I’m going to focus today on Adobe because that’s one of the dominant form of DRM on the ebook market.

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time then you know how I feel about DRM. I hate it and I feel I am being punished for the actions of others.

And then there’s the fact it doesn’t actually prevent piracy.

But most importantly,  DRM doesn’t make sense even in theory.  The idea is that you lock down all digital copies in the hopes that no single copy is hacked.

At a minimum, applying that idea to ebook DRM ignores the "analog loophole". This is a colloquial term given to scanning a paper book and converting it to digital form. It’s called a loophole because no matter how secure the DRM on an ebook, someone will always be able to take a print edition and scan it. That scanned copy can then be pirated and thus the DRM is moot.

But the main reason that DRM makes no sense in theory is that it involves locking down all copies, including the ones belonging to people who lack the desire to pirate the content in the first place. This is done in the hopes that the skilled pirate won’t be able to remove the DRM. The expense of locking down a copy and then handing it to someone who has no interest in pirating it is a waste.

And there is a real expense in locking down each copy. Adobe charges ebookstores $0.22 for each DRM-encumbered ebook that you buy. Do you know those free ebooks you get from Kobo, B&N, etc? If you download those ebooks as Epub then you just cost the ebookstore 22 cents.

That 22 cents is a tax that Adobe collects for each ebook.

Guess what? There is a second Adobe tax, and this one applies to ebook readers. Adobe charge $75 thousand per year  tens of thousands of dollar to certify ebook readers as being compatible with their DRM. Do you own a Nook, Kobo, or Sony Reader?  Part of the price of your ereader went to pay that fee.

Do you know why I call this an Adobe Tax? Because like any tax a number of taxes I pay, Adobe’s DRM takes money from your pocket without actually giving you anything.

I wanted to give you another reason to not like DRM. Not only is it a hassle, it also directly costs you money. That’s my $.02.

image by Images_of_Money

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sara August 17, 2011 um 2:52 pm

"Because like any tax, Adobe’s DRM takes money from your pocket without actually giving you anything."

wow, that’s a strong anti-tax statement you’re making there! I’m pretty sure that in a well-run society, you get quite a bit back for paying taxes. Maybe you’re thinking of extortion?

Nate Hoffelder August 17, 2011 um 2:57 pm

You’re right, that is a little strong. I’ll go edit it a little.

Thanks for catching that.

Paulo Ney August 17, 2011 um 3:07 pm

Not only that … but it also fragments the market and the products – this charge is the sole reason why you can’t sell a PDF eBook on the Kindle or iPad, forcing publishers to look for alternative formats like Topaz (Amazon) and FixedLayout (Apple)… at the same time, not so optimal looking products are put on the market.

It is pretty interesting why Amazon or Apple have never applied their own DRM’s to PDF avoiding Adobe all together.

mikes August 17, 2011 um 3:11 pm

@sara, in the case of a lot of taxes, it goes into free meals for those who don’t need them and out-of-control defense spending. So he’s correct.

fjtorres August 17, 2011 um 7:45 pm

It can be argued that governments in general (and the US in particular) have abundant and effective alternatives to taxes to fund government functions and that taxes' primary function is to encourage/discourage specfic forms of behavior, just as DRM taxes seek to regulate behavior.
And with comparable lack of success.

Sweetpea August 18, 2011 um 1:56 am

But it has a purpose! It stops people from buying ebooks. And thus the publishers will be able to say that people don’t want ebooks so they can safely ignore them…

Have you paid your Adobe tax today? « Paul Kater August 18, 2011 um 2:13 am

[…] As found on The Digital Reader: […]

Anne-Marie Concepcion August 19, 2011 um 10:20 am

Hi Nate, I’m confused. Are you saying that Adobe requires publishers to implement DRM? How could that be possible?

Or are you saying that Adobe requires Apple and Google and B&N etc. to only sell DRM ebooks?

I assumed this was more of a "publisher tax" since (I thought) it’s the publisher who decides if their ebooks should have DRM or not.

Nate Hoffelder August 19, 2011 um 10:32 am

The money goes into the pocket of Adobe and that’s why I call it an Adobe tax.

I didn’t say anyone had to do it or was forced to do it; my only point was that the money is being wasted. And a fair number of people in digital publishing feel the same way.

fjtorres August 19, 2011 um 1:06 pm

Adobe established their DRM scam by convincing the publishers that without *their* DRM their thieving customers would rob them blind because, at the time, both LIT and MOBI DRM had been cracked.
And then Adobe’s DRM was cracked in 24 hours after release.
Of course, by then all the contracts were signed and ADEPT DM was a "standard" used by "all" epub bookstores and readers.

Anne-Marie Concepcion August 19, 2011 um 2:53 pm

Hey … I’m not in favor of DRM at all (all the eBooks my small company sells carry no DRM) and I don’t work for Adobe nor am I their apologist.

But in my opinion you’re hurting your own integrity and legitimacy writing stuff like this. Can you post an invoice or charge showing the money you’ve paid to Adobe for their "tax"? I looked on my receipts from Google eBooks, Kindle, and iBookstore, and Nook Store, and don’t see it.

Publishers that want their books DRMd overwhelmingly use Adobe "solution," I know. How does part of what the publisher has voluntarily taken on as a publishing expense translate to an "Adobe tax" for the publisher’s customer? I doubt they’re directly adding the cost to the fee they ask for the book. Even if they were, that’s their decision … you could call it the "Random House tax" because they should instead take it out of their profit margin.

It’s like saying users are paying a "Book Cover tax" because most publishers choose to hire someone to design a book cover for them.

If you don’t like DRM, don’t buy any books w/DRM. That’s the only way the publishers will see it’s a stupid encumbrance.

Nate Hoffelder August 19, 2011 um 3:21 pm

I don’t think this post hurts my credibility. Look at the number of peolpe who agree with me. These are just the ones who re tweeted it.!/thDigitalReader/status/103900120868847617

And as for the "If you don’t like it, don’t buy" argument, it’s nonsense. Silently refusing to participate does not convey any information to the publishers. One has to speak up to be heard.

fjtorres August 19, 2011 um 6:19 pm

Bear in mind, ma’am, the Kindle, B&N, and ibooks stores don’t pay the Adobe tax because they don’t use Adept DRM. Kobo, Sony, Google and all the independents do. (And Kobo goes through some serious contortions to minimize the bill, which in itself is proof the tax crimps their operations.)
On the hardware side, everybody but Amazon and Apple pays it.
Vendors don’t break it out because they roll it into the sale price just as many taxes and import duties are rolled into the product price.

The bottom line is that the adobe tax is one of the reasons Amazon can undercut competitors at will; they *own* all the tech underpining Kindle ebooks and Whispernet so their operating costs are intrinsically lower than their competitors. And it is one of the reasons Adept-dependent reader vendors and ebookstores are at a permanent disadvantage competing with the big three.

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IDPF Now looking into Lightweight DRM Options – The Digital Reader May 18, 2012 um 6:49 pm

[…] doesn’t bother the user,two, isn’t quite so expensive to use (here’s why, and here’s why),three, has less onerous hardware requirements, andfour, still acts to minimize or discourage […]

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