Friday, November 14, 2008

Copy-protected books

Suppose you’ve published a book—or perhaps several books—that are of particular use in a certain niche that has an ongoing demand. To take the example that was presented yesterday on a publishing list, your customers might be doctors in a specialty who provide your books to their new patients. And there are always new patients, so there is a steady demand for your books.

Now suppose—continuing with yesterday’s example—that you send out a promotional mailing to your customers advising them that they can stock up on your books at a substantial discount for a limited time. Easy decision for your customer, right? The orders should roll right in.

But suppose the orders don’t roll in. You investigate a bit and hear from customers who say, yes, they love your books and they hand out copies—photocopies, that is—of certain chapters to their patients all the time.

Okay, doctors are well enough educated that they should know such copying is illegal. But apparently a lot of people don’t have any sense of guilt or shame about stealing from you. And you don’t want to engender hard feelings in your customer base by siccing your lawyers on the offenders. Not to mention that it would be hard to discover who all of them are.

Well, I had an idea this morning. Yes, that happens occasionally.

Try scanning a $100 bill—okay, a $20 bill—and opening the image in Photoshop. In theory you won’t be able to. (Yes, a sufficiently devious criminal or the government of North Korea can do so, but this post is about people who see themselves as law-abiding citizens and who just have a blind spot about copying books. Locks are only intended to keep honest people out, as my mother used to say.) The reason is that the Secret Service, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, scanner manufacturers, and software vendors got together and implemented a technology that allows systems to recognize currency automatically.

I think a derivative of this technology can be designed to prevent wholesale copying of book pages on typical office copiers and scanners. Apply the appropriate digital signature to your pages in Acrobat if you choose to do so; print the book, either offset or digitally; and when a secretary puts the book on the copier and presses Start, blank sheets come out. The concept is proven; all that’s required is development.

Sure, it would take two or three years to develop the technology and another six to ten years to deploy it to offices everywhere as copiers cycle out of service. But why not start now? Publishers unite! You have nothing to lose but your shirts.

And remember you read it here first.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like it! I've not encountered the idea elsewhere.

I imagine it would take a decade or so for technology and practics to catch up with the idea. But it's great.