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

7952632638_36681b49c5_bThe end of DRM is nigh.

Buch Report and 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

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. TheSFReader20 July, 2015

    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…

    1. Nate Hoffelder20 July, 2015

      Indeed. Apple is worth a mention in the post, thanks.

      1. TheSFReader20 July, 2015

        Apple has (had?) the additional benefit of giving no indication whether there is DRM or none on a given ebook

  2. iucounu20 July, 2015

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

    1. Nate Hoffelder20 July, 2015

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

      1. Ori Idan26 July, 2015

        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.

    2. Frank20 July, 2015

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

  3. TeleRead Links: Holtzbrinck goes DRM-free, Pebble Time hits stores, UK may get tough on pirates, and more - TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics21 July, 2015

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    […] Macmillan Parent Company Holtzbrinck to Stop Using DRM in Germany (The Digital Reader) Holtzbrinck, the parent company of Macmillan, is dropping encryption DRM from the books it publishes in Germany. All of the company’s German publishers will cease using the “hard” encryption method in August and will instead use digital watermarks, often referred to as “soft” or “social” DRM. […]

  5. […] is that the German ebook market seems to be going DRM-free. The latest announcement is that Holtzbrinck will take DRM off their ebooks in Germany. The last big holdout in that market is Random House, but one wonders for how much longer. Since two […]

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  7. Anthony Pero6 August, 2015

    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.

  8. […] is that the German ebook market seems to be going DRM-free. The latest announcement is that Holtzbrinck will take DRM off their ebooks in Germany. The last big holdout in that market is Random House, but one wonders for how much longer. Since two […]


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