In case you thought that Tor’s enlightened stance on DRM might be a sign that the ice might be starting to melt around the Big Six publishers, think again. Today in Publishers Weekly, Cory Doctorow writes he has obtained a letter that the UK arm of Hachette sent to authors publishing with it asking that they demand Tor return DRM to their titles, and advising them it will be adding language to its standard boilerplate contract requiring that any titles Hachette UK licenses for its region must be locked down with DRM elsewhere in the world.
Doctorow is, of course, appalled at this, pointing out that DRM hasn’t stopped Hachette’s works from being available from peer-to-peer networks now, and all it does is hinder consumers’ legitimate uses of the e-books. However, The Bookseller is carrying statements Hachette UK execs have made in response, pointing out that the boilerplate language is as negotiable as any other part of the contract and that a lot of publishers include language insisting licensees use DRM in their contracts already.
Ursula Mackenzie, CEO of Hachette UK imprint Little, Brown and president of the Publishers Association, criticized Doctorow for trotting out the same tired old anti-DRM arguments and said the purpose of the DRM was not to block pirates or DRM-crackers, but to “[inhibit] file-sharing between the mainstream readers who are so valuable to us and our authors.” She says that the DRM “model is working very well” and sees no reason to change at this point.
Is “file-sharing between […] mainstream readers” really that much of a threat? Going DRM-free has seemed to do well by Baen, and that was obvious even as far back as 2001 when the New York Times wrote that Baen was expanding its business by selling DRM-free and even giving away e-books payment-free. Baen shows no sign of changing its position now. In fact, it sells pricier early e-book versions DRM-free as well.
Of course, Baen is a bit of a niche SF publisher, and Tor is a good bit larger. It remains to be seen exactly how well going DRM-free will do for Tor, though I expect a lot of people to be watching closely, including Hachette.
The really funny thing in all of this is that the “good guy” here is Tor, an imprint of Macmillan who not only is fighting the government’s decree against agency pricing, it was the first to implement it in the first place. And the “bad guy” is Hachette, who is meekly settling and presumably allowing Amazon to lower its prices. Just goes to show that publishers are really complex entities, I guess.