Tor and Forge, publishing imprints of Tom Doherty Associates and a subsidiary of Macmillan, announced yesterday that by the end of July the two popular imprints, as well as Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, will only be offering DRM-free e-books. DRM, which stands for Digital Rights Management, is technology that limits the access and use of certain digital products (MP3s, e-books, etc.) in order to curb pirating and prevent copyright infringement. Although DRM makes stealing digital content more difficult, it also limits the use of the product and can be a disadvantage for buyers.
Currently, almost all of the e-books offered by the “big six” publishers, the major New York City-based publishing houses, and sold through major online retailers are DRM encrypted and can only be used on the specific e-reader associated with the retailer (for example, you can’t — easily — read an Amazon e-book on a Nook, or a Barnes & Noble e-book on a Kindle). This challenge, the results of DRM restrictions, has been one of the issues that keeps ownership of e-books and print books from being synonymous.
The publishers' bold move means that after July readers who purchase a digital book from one of these imprints will be one step closer to e-books that truly function like paper books, in that you can access the work across a variety of platforms.
The imprints' President Tom Doherty said of the decision to stop publishing e-books with DRM, “[Our authors and readers are] a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”
Science fiction writer and Tor author John Scalzi agreed with the publisher’s decision in a recent blog post saying, “I haven’t seen any particular advantage to DRM-laden eBooks; DRM hasn’t stopped my books from being out there on the dark side of the Internet. Meanwhile, the people who do spend money to support me and my writing have been penalized for playing by the rules.”
The ability to move DRM-free e-books from one device to another raises the concern that pirating e-books will become more prevalent as e-book files will be easier to share and hinder sales. (Historically, one of the major reasons to encrypt e-books with DRM is that it hinders one’s ability to illegally reproduce a work.)
The publisher doesn’t seem to be overly concerned that DRM-free e-books will increase the amount of pirating. Senior Editor of Tor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, told Scalzi, “We don’t expect that to change at all, and we hope we continue to get the kind of cooperation from infringed-upon authors that’s been such a big help in the past.”
We are looking forward to watching the developments and seeing if more major publishers will eventually adopt DRM-free e-books. It’s certainly true that technology is ever changing and doesn’t always last forever, and DRM-free e-books mean that, as with print, once you pay for a book you own it forever — regardless of which device you use to read the work.
What do you think about the move to sell DRM-free e-books? Let us know in the comments below. And you can follow our coverage of the publishing industry here or check out our Everything E-Books Page for the latest digital news!