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Tor-Forge Jumped The Gun – Their eBooks Are Not DRM-free

Tor-Forge Books got a lot of attention a few months back when they announced plans to allow ebookstores to sell their ebooks DRM free, and they also got a smaller but still positive notice the week before last back when they reported that they’d followed through on the plan.

Sadly, the process of switching over from DRMed ebooks to DRM-free ebooks hasn’t gone as smoothly as Tor-Forge would have you believe.

One of my readers commented last week that he’d found DRMed ebooks by John Scalzi in BooksOnBoard, one of the larger indie ebookstores. I checked for myself, bought an ebook, and it turns out that he was correct. The ebook I bought still has DRM.

What’s more, that’s not the only Tor ebook with DRM. I checked a bunch of different titles at random, and they all showed a permissions form like the one at right.  Do you see all those disabled warnings? That’s a sign that the ebook is crippled by DRM.

Considering how much noise Tor-Forge made about going DRM-free, this was a considerable oversight. And while I don’t know how they made this mistake, I have confirmed that it happened.

I’ve just gotten an email from the ebook distributor Ingram, and I was told that they’re still in the process of  switching the Tor-Forge backlist over to DRM-free. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll finish the process this week, at which time the test ebooks I bought at BooksOnBoard should be available for download without DRM.

So at the moment Tor-Forge titles are still carrying DRM in at least some ebookstores. So far as I know this only includes the 100+ ebookstores that get their ebooks via Lightning Source (part of Ingram), but there’s a chance Tor-Forge may have missed other distributors or ebookstores. Caution would be a good idea right now; I would be careful if I were you.

There are lessons to be learned here, I think. The process of dropping the DRM clearly required far more work than simply flipping a switch. This could become a stumbling block for other publishers who decide to follow Tor and drop DRM.

image by marc kjerland

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Laura August 1, 2012 um 12:42 am

All my Tor ebooks from B&N are DRM-free now. Although they did jump the gun by a week or so on changing the product descriptions.

DavidW August 1, 2012 um 8:05 am

This report is disingenuous. It should read Tor has missed out on small indie stores. They’ve gone drm free for Amazon and BN. That’s almost the entire market. I think that most of the world couldn’t care less that you had problems with "Books On Board".

LCNR August 1, 2012 um 8:53 am

Not true. Amazing as it is, most of the world does not live in the US , and as long as there are silly geographical restrictions (I can buy p-books on US web sites but often not the e-books) , e-bookstores outside the US remain relevant (last I looked, Books on Board had a UK web site, for instance).

Right after TOR (supposedly) switched to DRM-free e-books, I bought "Ender’s game" from, which is indeed DRM-free (and advertised as such). After reading this post, I went back to the web site to check out their other TOR e-books, and although it is not possible to search all books by editor, the first 50 TOR e-books I found do seem to be — at least as advertised (I did not buy any to check) — encumbered by DRM; on the other hand, all of Orson Scott Card’s books appear to be DRM-free. So it’s not just indie book stores (FNAC being arguably the largest French bookstore chain).

On a side note, I was (pleasantly) surprised to find out that those foreign e-editions are cheaper in EU stores than in US stores, even accounting for the current exchange rate and commission.


Nate Hoffelder August 1, 2012 um 9:04 am

FNac is probably one of the stores supported by LSI.

DavidW August 2, 2012 um 1:45 pm

Actually most of the ebook reading world does live in the US. What matters is are the books DRM free on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo and Sony. The rest of the 2-4% are irrelevant.

David Lomax August 5, 2012 um 6:50 pm

I’m curious as to your source for your statement that "most of the ebook reading world does live in the US." Do you have a more exact figure than "most"? Is it closer to 51% or to 99%?

Nate Hoffelder August 5, 2012 um 8:08 pm

I’m not David, but my guess is that the percentage will be closer to 51%.

Nate Hoffelder August 1, 2012 um 8:53 am

No, they missed an entire distribution channel. That was a big goof.

And what about the people who liked those ebookstores? Don’t you think they should also get access to the DRM-free ebooks?

LCNR August 1, 2012 um 11:11 am

Yes, plus it’s unfair on those e-bookstores who might lose sales to other bookstores where the switch was made.

On the other hand, I would have thought it was fairly obvious that replacing an entire catalogue of encumbered titles worldwide with DRM-free e-books wasn’t going to be as simple as "simply flipping a switch" given the complexity of the distribution channels involved (just keeping track of files on my HDD can be confusing at times!). But this shouldn’t put publishers off from making the switch: we can live with a couple of weeks of confusion if it means getting rid of DRM, and the next publisher can learn from TOR’s or whoever’s mistakes. So let’s give TOR a hand for going against the trend (even if it is in everybody’s best interests) and encourage those other publishers out there to follow its lead.


Ravi August 2, 2012 um 2:52 am

Grumble. It doesn’t look like they’ve gone DRM-free for at least one of my past purchases 🙁

I just downloaded and a non-Amazon reader still wanted a decryption key, even though it can read an Amazon-purchased, DRM-free O’Reilly book just fine. Is there any way to fix that?

Nate Hoffelder August 2, 2012 um 1:12 pm

Go yell at Tor:

nickpheas August 5, 2012 um 11:41 am

And still no sign of mainstream UK DRM free books from tor. I had a test from them saying that they would be available by the end of July, but no sign.

Nate Hoffelder August 5, 2012 um 12:20 pm

That’s one I missed, thanks.

pvince81 February 16, 2014 um 3:52 pm

Just bought a title from Tor/Macmillan on Google Books and I’m not able to download it as epub, but get an acsm file instead (NOT DRM-free). Which means that the switch hasn’t been flipped there either.

That’s probably the last book I’ll ever buy on Google Books (it was also my very first…).
If only publishers would be as nice as Baen books. :-/

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