Trainers, Academics and Engineers adopt cost-effective electronic self-publishing solutions

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Self-publishing complex textbooks, manuals and training materials with 100% of net revenues being received by authors is a long-held ambition of many professionals, academics and smaller publishers. A growing number have found that this is not only possible, but can be simple, secure and economic. Dr Mike de Smith, academic, author and IT expert from UK-based Drumlin Security discusses some of the options now available.

Glowing testimonials from authors and publishers explain how PDF DRM services can offer highly effective document protection at a very competitive price.

Textbooks, Manuals, Reference works and Journal publications are often complex documents, containing diagrams, tables and special symbols, sophisticated layouts, and in many cases, text and images in colour. The print versions of these publications provide the format that authors and many readers prefer, but there are several problems with print-only production, as explained below:

First, there is the relatively high production cost and heavy environmental footprint of printed books with modest volumes of sales. Second there is the relatively small return to authors from the high investment they have made in the work - often less than 10% of the sales value and at best 30-40%. And third, there are many practical issues with physical books: production and distribution costs and time, global availability, weight and size, lack of document search facilities, difficulties in updating, limitations for visually impaired users, and problems of scalability.

A solution to these issues is to make the material available electronically, typically in PDF format that matches the printed book, but augmented with extra navigation, search and accessibility facilities. The problem with this is that PDF files can easily be copied, amended, and distributed, making this model unviable in most instances. A proven and effective solution is to use a strongly encrypted version of the PDF, that displays exactly as per the source PDF, but which is also protected by a Digital Rights Management (DRM) service. However, in the past DRM services have been too complex and not cost-effective for individual authors and small-to-medium sized publishers and training companies to consider using - whether provided by businesses like Adobe, FileOpen and Digify, or offered by web-based platforms such as Scribd or Issuu.

So is there another option? Well, a number of authors, publishers and training organizations have adopted new cost-effective PDF DRM services to solve this problem for them, augmenting the latest print-on-demand technologies with web-based and offline (app-based) content delivery. Publications in disciplines ranging from Engineering to Earth Sciences, Hospitals to High schools, and IT to Investment Management have been made available at low cost to thousands of end users and students across the world using such services. For example, two of the present author's academic publications are provided as free web-based resources for students and professionals (see and, but are also available in print-on-demand (POD) and offline (downloadable Drumlin's PDF DRM format files and ePUB format for Google Books). For these two books the content creation and output for these multiple formats relies on the excellent xml-based editing and publishing software from Austrian-based company, Help&Manual.

PDF DRM is a topic that divides opinion, but can be effectively combined with other forms of distribution to deliver real benefits to authors, publishers and end users alike. For more details see the Wikipedia article on Digital Rights Management and this MediaWiki PDF Knowledgebase. In this author's experience these solutions provide reliable, secure, scalable and fully supported PDF DRM at a fraction of the cost and complexity of most existing DRM systems.

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Dr Michael J de Smith