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