Macmillan Parent Company Holtzbrinck Opts for “Soft” DRM in Germany

7952632638_36681b49c5_bThe end of DRM is nigh.

Buch Report and Lesen.net are reporting on Monday morning that the Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group is dropping encryption DRM from the ebooks it publishes in Germany.

Holtzbrinck is the parent company of Macmillan (which operates in the US, UK, and Australia), and in Germany it owns a number of publishers, including Droemer Knaur, Argon, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Rowohlt and S. Fischer. According to my sources, all of Holtzbrinck's German publishers will stop using "hard" or encryption DRM in August. They will replace it with digital watermarks, or what is often called a soft or "social" DRM.

Digital watermarks is the common term for adding customer-specific information to the metadata of a file so that a pirated copy can be tracked back to the original purchaser. Some would dispute whether  watermarks count as DRM, given that they do not prevent a user from sharing or pirating a file, but it still meets many of the same requirements and is equally effective at stopping piracy as encryption DRM like that used by Amazon, Adobe, and Apple.

Holtzbrinck's announcement follows only a few short weeks after Bonnier made a similar decision to go DRM-free, and given Holtzbrinck's  much larger size and the Tor-Forge connection it is arguably an even bigger story.

When Tor-Forge Books (a Macmillan imprint) went DRM-free three years ago today, many pundits hoped that the move marked the imminent demise of ebook DRM for at least one major global publisher. However, despite reports of no negative impact, Macmillan and its parent Holtzbrinck had shown no sign that they were going to expand the policy company wide.

But it turns out we were right; we had simply misjudged  the glacial pace of change in the publishing industry.

I have no info as of yet on Macmillan going DRM-free, but the most likely cause for delay (besides corporate inertia) would be making sure that the distributors offer digital watermarks as a DRM option.

For example, the Kindle Store does not offer this option yet, forcing publishers to choose between no DRM and Kindle DRM (there's a similar issue in iBooks). In the long run this could lead some to decide to go with social DRM everywhere but the Kindle Store.

image by gruntzooki

About Nate Hoffelder (11591 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

8 Comments on Macmillan Parent Company Holtzbrinck Opts for “Soft” DRM in Germany

  1. Well, actually, here in France, Amazon is not the only e-bookseller that doesn’t do Social DRM : Kobo and Apple don’t either, and with Kindle they are the majority of the market… 🙁

    So far, distributors haven’t been able to influence the Big Ones to implement social DRM. Hopefully with big publishers switching to watermark, there can be some change…

  2. This watermarking business is a waste of time. It’ll be trivial to defeat. Just go DRM free and be done with it.

    • No need to defeat it. It can simply be ignored.

      • It can be ignored if you are the legal user. If you plan to illegally transfer it you may wish to remove it.
        However I do not agree with iucounu that said that it is trivial to defeat. We have a social DRM that was not defeated yet. I don’t say it is impossible, all I say is that it is more then just removing the visual part of it.

    • How trivia is digital watermarking to defeat?
      Watermarks may be hidden in the noise of the file, making it hard to remove.

  3. It can be randomly encoded in the text of the book itself. You would have to have a clean copy in order for a program to compare to to remove watermarks like that. The music industry has been watermarking files since the early 90s. The watermark is in the actual music. Its pretty much impossible to remove without removing bits of the music.

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