Tor/Forge to Go DRM Free

As you may know already, on Tuesday afternoon Macmillan division Tom Doherty Associates--comprising the Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen imprints--announced on their blog that their entire list of ebooks will be available DRM-free "by early July." In a separate, following notice, Tor UK said that it will do the same. They added that "we are consulting with our authors at the moment and we will announce our plans in more detail in due course."

President and publisher Tom Doherty writes: "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." The company says that as part of the move, they "expect to begin selling titles through retailers that sell only DRM-free books."

Executive editor Beth Meacham notes in the comments section that they continue to work on expanding their ebook list as well: "We've been working for more than a year to get our backlist converted to ebook format, which is more complicated than just file conversion. Sometimes we need to acquire rights, often we need to create files from archived hard copies. But it's happening. It's just that there are a lot of books."

Author John Scalzi asks Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden "what going DRM-free will mean for the publisher's efforts regarding online misappropriation of author copyrights, because I know that this is a very real concern for many writers." Hayden writes back, "Just in case anyone is worried: I can tell you with complete confidence that Macmillan and Tor/Forge have no intention of scaling back our anti-piracy efforts in the e-book realm. We expect to continue working to minimize this problem with all the tools at our disposal."

Forsaking DRM, and/or experimenting with "lighter" DRM schemes that allow more customer freedom, has been under discussion at a number of houses recently, intensified in the wake of the agency pricing lawsuits and settlements. Tor/Forge are the first "Big Six" imprints to make this move, though Pottermore's recent release of DRM-free Harry Potter ebooks (watermarked in some versions; still encrypted if purchased for the Kindle or Nook platforms) remains the most prominent. The Tor move raises the likelihood that other big publishers will head in the same direction, and also increases the chance that they may do so by division or imprint rather than companywide.

Among other DRM-free programs are Harlequin's Carina Press and other genre publishers such as Samhain, Ellora's Cave, Baen, Angry Robot and eReads. O'Reilly and F+W Media are among other publishers who are DRM-free. Sourcebooks is among those experimenting with DRM-free books, through their recently-launched Discover A New Love ebook subscription club. (The company has invited other publishers to participate, while acknowledging that the DRM-free might prevent some publishers from joining them.)

There has been debate online about whether lifting DRM will expand the retail marketplace for ebooks or actually strengthens the hand of the largest ebookstores and platforms (and those willing or able to discount the most on non-agency books). For readers with large ebook collections on one particular platform, lifting DRM on new titles without liberating their already-purchased books may have little or no effect (and it will produce some grousing in comments fields, as well)--plus it's hard to imagine significant market effects unless and until the change is adopted by a wide swath of publishers. It's certainly customer-friendly, and enhances the value of ebook purchases for some customers. And it makes business-model experimentation and direct selling by publishers much easier to execute.

The implications and possibilities will be widely discussed in coming days; this was already on our agenda for one publisher at the Publishers Launch BEA Conference on Monday, June 4, and we've just added a focused discussion session on the topic as well. You can still register for our event at the early bird price for another week or so (and save $75) via the regular BEA registration form (and you can view the current program here.)