Tuesday, April 24, 2012

ALERT! Tor/Forge Books Go DRM-Free!

Previously, I took a look at Digital Rights Management (DRM) protections on ebooks, and concluded that they have a mostly negative effect on the burgeoning ebook industry. Prominent SF authors agree, for example Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross.

Today, Tor/Forge--one of the biggest names in SF/Fantasy publishing--announced that their ebooks would, heretofore, be DRM-free. As per head honcho Tom Doherty:
"Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time....They’re 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."
Amen, brother. This was interesting, though:
DRM-free titles from Tom Doherty Associates will be available from the same range of retailers that currently sell their e-books. In addition, the company expects to begin selling titles through retailers that sell only DRM-free books.
Not entirely sure what that means. It definitely means that Tor/Forge intends to sell its DRM-free titles through Amazon, B&N and iBooks...for now.  However, it also seems to mean that, later down the road, those retailers will have to demonstrate they've ditched DRM altogether if they want to get Tor/Forge titles.

Pressure on the bigs to scrap DRM is a good thing, but I'm not sure how much pull Tor/Forge has, and I'd feel mighty bad for Kindle/Nook owners (who are stuck with a proprietary format) if they were suddenly cut off from all the goodies Tor/Forge has to offer. That said, something's got to give, and if enough publishers made the same commitment, maybe we'd see the end of DRM on ebooks.

What do you think: necessary move or unfair to Kindle/Nook users?

UPDATE: a few of my favorite author-bloggers have weighed in on this. John Scalzi explains why the move from DRM benefits customers:
As an author, 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 books of mine they have bought have been chained to a single eReader, which means if that eReader becomes obsolete or the retailer goes under (or otherwise arbitrarily changes their user agreement), my readers risk losing the works of mine they’ve bought. I don’t like that.
...and why it doesn't really hurt publishers:
Does this mean it’s easier for someone to violate my copyright? It does. But most people don’t want to violate my copyright. Most people just want to own their damn books. Now they will. I support that. And I believe that most readers who like my work will support me. They get that if I don’t get paid, they won’t get books — and more than that I really do believe most people who can support the artists whose work they like will support them. So personally I don’t think ditching DRM will mean people will stop buying what I and Tor have to sell.
Plus, now it looks like Macmillan may follow suit.  Charles Stross has the skinny here.  His conclusion--dropping DRM won't suddenly save the publishing industry from its existential crisis. However:
Longer term, removing the requirement for DRM will lower the barrier to entry in ebook retail, allowing smaller retailers (such as Powells) to compete effectively with the current major incumbents. This will encourage diversity in the retail sector, force the current incumbents to interoperate with other supply sources (or face an exodus of consumers), and undermine the tendency towards oligopoly. This will, in the long term, undermine the leverage the large vendors currently have in negotiating discount terms with publishers while improving the state of midlist sales.
Net win.