Future Tense

Sci-Fi Publisher Ends Digital Rights Management on E-Books

A fair goer tries out the textunes eBook reader app on an Apple iPad at the Leipzig Book Fair on March 15, 2012 on the fairgrounds in Leipzig, eastern Germany. From March 15 to 18, 2012, more than 2000 exhibitors from 44 countries present their products of the publishing and media sector. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT MICHAEL (Photo credit should read ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images

The sci-fi imprint Tor will start selling all of its e-books DRM-free, a move that could change e-publishing in the long run.

Thomas Doherty Associates, which includes Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen and is owned by Macmillan, announced yesterday that by July 2012, all of its titles will be released without digital rights management.

President and publisher Tom Doherty said in a Tor blog post that both readers and authors have asked for this change. He wrote, “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.”


Digital rights management allows book publishers, as well as music companies and the like, to dictate how their products are sold and used. Publishers use DRM to prevent piracy and therefore secure revenue. But readers hate that it makes it more difficult to share books with friends and can even make it possible for a company to remotely delete a purchase, as Amazon did in 2009 with Nineteen Eighty-Four.


Charlie Stross, a British science fiction author, has helped push for DRM-free e-books and shared his perspective with Thomas Doherty Associates while they considered the switch. The DRM-free model, he says, would allow users to keep digital books forever and transfer titles from one e-publisher to another and onto a back-up storage device—which will be important as e-reader devices change rapidly over the coming years.


Stross adds that abandoning DRM will give smaller booksellers a fighting chance in a market increasingly dominated by companies like Amazon. Instead of having to buy a Kindle-friendly book from Amazon, customers could buy the e-book anywhere, no matter which device they use. “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,” says Stross.

But Tor going DRM-free does not necessarily mean that Macmillan (or the rest of the industry) is nearing a total switch-over, according to Paid Content’s Laura Owen. “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,” Owen writes.

E-publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin gets e-reader hopes up by reporting rumors that other companies may indeed consider going DRM-free. He wrote on his blog, “I heard a rumor from a very reliable source that two of the Big Six are considering going to DRM-free very soon. The rumor is from the UK side, but it is hard to see a global company doing this in a market silo.”