Harvard Business Review Makes Its E-Books DRM-Free…Sort Of

Techdirt has a fairly long piece on the Harvard Business Review Press deciding to go DRM-free for its e-books. In its on-line FAQ, the HBR notes that it “[trusts its] customers will abide by copyright law and refrain from distributing ebook files illegally.”

At first glance, this seems like an interesting and wise decision. After all, Baen has been doing this for over a decade. O’Reilly has been DRM-free forever, too, and Tor just started recently. But an interesting quirk of the model is that HBR seems to be taking a sort of “hybrid” approach. The cheaper editions of its e-books it sells via Amazon and iTunes will still have DRM, and you’ll pay almost twice as much ($18 vs. about $10 for one example) for a DRM-free version direct from HBR’s website. (Though professors who assign the books as course material can get their students a 50% discount, and organizations buying e-books in “bulk” can get a discount starting at just 10 copies of the e-book.)

Will this strategy work for HBR? It just might. The sorts of textbooks and nonfiction that HBR publishes have a different market with different needs from mass-market fiction. And purchasers of such books might just be willing to pay extra for an e-book they can use anywhere they need without having to crack the DRM first.

The really interesting thing, I think, is not so much how many different publishers are starting to try DRM-free approaches, but just how many different ways they’re starting to do it in. The more things like this publishers try, the more we all learn about what will work and what won’t. And so e-book publishing goes DRM-free, a little bit at a time.

image by Simon Cocks

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