Tor’s DRM-atic Announcement

Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, will make their entire list of e-books DRM-free by July. The imprints had a combined 30 New York Times bestsellers in 2011.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies are designed to give the seller control over the transferability of content after it has been delivered to the consumer. E-books in the Amazon Kindle format, for example, are readable on that company’s devices, but not those of its rivals. DRM is justified as an anti-piracy measure.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “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.”

Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing reacted by breezily predicting –

[More] to follow, I’m sure; I’ve had contact with very highly placed execs at two more of the big six publishers…

On the other hand, Laura Hazard Owen at CNN Money questions whether Macmillan itself, the big company that owns Tor, will adopt this policy across the board  –

One should not necessarily infer, from the changes at Tor, that Macmillan is close to dropping DRM across all of its imprints. This decision could be related to competition within the genre (sci-fi/fantasy publishers Baen and Angry Robot are also DRM-free) or to Doherty’s specific role at Macmillan.

Presumably, John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, who made the final decision to drop DRM on ebooks from Tor/Forge (according to Charles Stross) will watch how it plays out.

A move affecting only the sf/fantasy market still benefits fans wanting the freedom to store and manage their ebook collections on any device they choose.

One of Tor’s top authors, John Scalzi, is in favor of the change. He thinks DRM is an unnecessary impediment to sales. 

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.

Charles Stross has posted arguments he was invited to make to Macmillan brass about the decision to drop DRM. He admits DRM makes no difference to those who buy a few top bestsellers a year, however, he told execs it makes a big difference to some of the most devoted book buyers.

The voracious 20-150 books/year readers are a small but significant market segment. These people buy lots of titles. They frequently have specialized interests which they pursue in depth, and a large number of authors who, although not prominent, they will buy everything by… Previously they bought paperbacks and hardcovers from specialist genre bookstores or, failing that, from large B&N/Borders branches. They will go to whatever retailer they can find online, and they find DRM a royal pain in the ass — indeed, a deterrent to buying ebooks at all.

It’s no secret he’s talking about sf fans, since he mentions us explicitly a few lines later…