(Updated: Nope) The First Domino has Fallen: Random House Drops Adobe DRM in Germany

Penguin-Random-image-[1]News is coming out of Germany today that Random House has quietly stopped requiring Adobe DRM on the ebooks sold by German retailers.

Update: Alas, it has been confirmed as a technical error.

There’s been no formal announcement from Penguin Random House, but lesen.net is reporting that they have numerous confirmations in their user forums that the change has been made.

Readers are reporting that the hard encryption DRM from Adobe has been replaced by a soft DRM, namely digital watermarks. Popular Random House titles like  The Summer of blueberries and The Goldfinch are available as clean Epub files which can be downloaded, transferred, or converted with no hassle.

Digital watermarks are a type of DRM which does not lock down a file but instead adds extra bits of code which can be used to identify who bought the file, and where. This type of DRM is still uncommon in the US ebook market, but it is used widely in the “DRM-free” music sold by Amazon, Google, and Apple.

Digital watermarks are also growing increasingly popular among European publishers; as this infographic from Dutch ebook distributor CB Logistics shows, the majority of Dutch publishers have switched to this type of DRM. So have a number of other publishers in Europe.

At this time I cannot confirm the status of RH titles at Amazon.de, but I do know that at least one German ebook retailer, Libreka.de, is offering the ebooks with the new DRM.  Lesen.net is still waiting for confirmation from Random House about the new policy, so at this time it is not possible to rule out an error or technical snafu.

If this is a new policy then it will be the tipping point. The trade ebook market will have made a transition from hard DRM to soft DRM similar to the one which music went through in 2007 when Amazon was the first retailer to sell mp3 files from 4 of the major record labels sans DRM.

Amazon was allowed to sell “DRM-free” mp3 files because the market was then dominated by Apple and iTunes.  In a similar note, the German ebook retailer Libreka might have gained permission to change the DRM because Amazon dominates the trade ebook market.

I don’t know if that is why Random House made their decision, but I can add that the new DRM-policy is at best confined to Europe. I just bought a couple Penguin Random House titles from Amazon.com and B&N, and both were encrypted with DRM, darnit.

But in spite of the presence of Adobe DRM, I still think the change in Germany was a test and not a technical snafu; it matches too closely with the rumblings I have heard from other major US trade publishers.

As you know, Macmillan switched the SF publisher Tor-Forge Books to DRM-free in the summer of 2012. They have shown no visible interest in expanding that policy to the rest of the company, but I know of other US publishers who are considering similar policies.

Thanks to embargoes I cannot tell you much in the way of details, but I do know of two different US publishers considering radical shifts in their DRM policies. One could be announcing that change next week, but at this point I don’t have all of the details and cannot say for sure what will be announced.

You might want to go pop some more popcorn; the next month or so could be very interesting.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. fjtorres1 September, 2014

    I wonder if they intend to couple the watermark DRM with higher prices.
    A lot of folks have listed encyption DRM as a reason to refuse to pay high ebook prices.

    Plus, of course, allowing ebookstores to sell watermarked ebooks lets them sell into the Kindle market and compete with Amazon on their turf.

    1. Nate Hoffelder1 September, 2014

      “Plus, of course, allowing ebookstores to sell watermarked ebooks lets them sell into the Kindle market and compete with Amazon on their turf.”

      Except no one is doing that aside from a handful of publishers (I’ve been checking). What’s more, Booxtream even had a module to handle the conversion to Kindle.

      1. fjtorres1 September, 2014

        I know they’re not doing it.

        But dropping encryption on epubs does little to open up the market if they don’t do it on Kindle, too.

        1. Loyd1 September, 2014

          You know, if Hachette put watermarks on their books they could format them in AZW with watermarks and sell them to customers through B&N, Kobo, Google, etc., and break Amazon’s embargo.

          1. Thomas1 September, 2014

            I doubt that would matter. Baen sold DRM-free ebooks through their store in MOBI for years and still got complaints from Kindle people because they couldn’t get them through Amazon.

            Most Kindle owners don’t have a clue about how to transfer files and are unwilling to learn.

          2. Nate Hoffelder1 September, 2014

            No comment.

  2. Mike T1 September, 2014

    German ebook online websites clearly label books containing DRM and what type of DRM they use. I suspect customer preference for non-DRM ebooks led to this decision.

  3. fjtorres1 September, 2014

    So much for rationality breaking out in BPH-land.

    1. Nate Hoffelder1 September, 2014

      Honestly, I thought it had. I really do have that other info, so i thought that they were all thinking in the same direction.

  4. Dennis2 September, 2014

    No, they don’t: http://www.buchreport.de/nachrichten/verlage/verlage_nachricht/datum/2014/09/02/voruebergehend-frei.htm

    This statement by RH says that the lifting of hard DRM was just a technical error and soon the books wil be locked away again.

    1. Nate Hoffelder2 September, 2014

      Yes. I added a correction near the beginning of my post.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top