A couple of weeks back, Rico penned a post saying goodbye to eBook DRM (digital rights management), following Tor Books’ announcement that it had extended its new no-DRM policy worldwide. The common sense arguments against DRM are laid out in that post, but, despite Tor’s decision, the brave new world of DRM-free eBooks isn’t quite here yet. Many authors and smaller publishers are embracing DRM-free books, but the big publishers and the major eBook retailers are still resistant.
This is not surprising, since an important profit-making strategy for large corporations is to restrict competition, and that is exactly what DRM does. It’s well known by this point that DRM does not prevent digital piracy—the argument usually made for it. What it does is prevent book buyers from moving their files across reading platforms. From a publisher perspective, this could increase profits by increasing the chance that some readers will end up re-buying books in the future, if they ever want to switch to a different reader, or somehow lose access to the account their books are attached to. It makes even more sense from the perspective of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, the major book retailers and producers of the two top e-readers. If you’ve already bought a hundred eBooks from Amazon, and you can’t read them on a Nook or a Sony Reader, you will feel locked into continuing to use the Kindle, even if a competing e-reader comes along that you’d like to switch to. And if you stick with the Kindle, you won’t be buying books from Barnes and Noble or any other DRM-restricted e-bookstore.
There are advantages to staying with a particular eBook “ecosystem.” Amazon makes a great e-reader, can sell you just about any eBook that’s available, and is very easy to use. Barnes and Noble can make similar claims. But whichever you choose, you’re pretty much stuck with that company (or whoever buys it out in the future) forever. And, for the moment, the big publishers are determined to “double down” on DRM, as Cory Doctorow describes here. Hatchette Book Group is trying to force its authors to sign contracts requiring them to make sure that any books they publish, even when published through other publishers, contain DRM. An author who has published with Hatchette and Tor, according to Doctorow, has received a letter pressuring the author to ensure that Tor does not remove the DRM from the author’s Tor books. It seems clear that these companies are not going to give up easily.
Tor has extended their DRM-free book policy across the pond:
As of today, Tor UK, Pan Macmillan’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, has made its eBooks DRM-free and available to purchase from the Tor UK Ebookstore. In a move announced earlier this year, Tor UK has joined sister company Tor Books in New York in removing Digital Rights Management from all its titles so that once you purchase a Tor UK book, you can download it as many times as you like, on as many ereaders as you like.
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.
I’d expect someone to make a browser plugin that draws a “Buy this book at BN.com” button on Amazon pages (and vice-versa), which then facilitates auto-conversion between the formats. I’d also expect BN.com to produce a “switch” toolkit for Kindle owners who want to go Nook (and vice-versa).
China Miéville, speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last weekend, looked beyond tearing down just DRM, predicting the remixing of content at will:
Be ready for guerrilla editors. Just as precocious 14-year-olds brilliantly – or craply – remix albums and put them up online, people are starting to provide their own cuts of novels. In the future, asked if you’ve read the latest Ali Smith or Ghada Karmi, the response might be not yes or no, but “which mix”, and why?
It’s a brave new (publishing) world that has such content in it!
In March of this year, Pyr, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Prometheus Books, celebrated its fifth anniversary. In November, Pyr reached another milestone: publishing its one-hundredth title, The Wolf Age, by James Enge.
The Wolf Age is the third novel to feature Enge’s character Morlock Ambrosius, a wandering swordsman, an exile, and a drunk. Blood of Ambrose, Enge’s first Morlock novel, was on the Locus Recommended Reading list and a World Fantasy Award nominee for Best Novel.…
In honor of this burgeoning Morlock fan base, and to commemorate The Wolf Age’s status as Pyr’s one-hundredth title, Pyr is issuing a free, exclusive, ePub novelette called “Travellers’ Rest.” Featuring a cover by artist Chuck Lukacs, “Travellers’ Rest” is an 8,500 word original novelette, written for Pyr, which takes place before the events of Blood of Ambrose. It is available on the Pyr website, http://www.pyrsf.com, as a free download in ePub format and will also be available via Kindle.
Check out the full press release on Pyr-o-mania and get your free novelette! Congrats to Pyr for a rockin’ five years.
Sure, we want you to buy this book from our Amazon store, but sometimes the competition is so good, that we have to give props. Orbit is offering a different e-book every month for one dollar, each. In February, it will be Use of Weapons, the 1991 Clarke and BSFA nominee by Iain M. Banks. There’s your chance to snag two more squares in your award book collection.
Of course, if you like ebooks and want to save some cash, WWEnd has a few for $0, in our Project Gutenburg ebook page. The 24 authors represented include 14 award winners from our database, including such luminaries as Poul Anderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Cory Doctorow, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Since I travel so much, and rarely stay in the same city more than a year or two, I’ve been investing in e-books for a while, now. Hey, I don’t have to pack as many books when I move, and now I can carry large portions of my library in my pocket, when I fly. These ebooks are readable by any reader (I have two Sony Readers, but I currently use the Amazon Kindle for its built in browser and e-store), and can even be imported in to many smartphones.