Hachette Tells Authors And Tor To Use DRM Because It Is Awesome Or Something

from the publisher-is-always-right-except-Tor dept

It has only been a bit over a month since Tor's DRM-free policy went into full effect. At the time of the announcement, Tor's president stated that the policy change was made at the request of both authors and readers who felt that DRM was a hinderance to their enjoyment of ebooks. As we know, DRM is not an effective measure against piracy. More often than not, DRM is actually harmful to paying customers as they hit restrictions that do not exist in the physical realm. Even with all these reasons against the use of DRM, there are still some publishers out there that feel that DRM is an effective means of stopping piracy. 

Claire Ryan writes in to tell us that Tor's anti-DRM policy is not making some other publishers happy. According to letters received by Cory Doctorow, Hachette UK is telling its stable of authors that they must use DRM, not just for the ebooks it publishes, but for all publishers distributing the same ebooks in other territories. 

I’ve just seen a letter sent to an author who has published books under Hachette’s imprints in some territories and with Tor Books and its sister companies in other territories (Tor is part of Macmillan). The letter, signed by Little, Brown U.K. CEO Ursula Mackenzie, explains to the author that Hachette has “acquired exclusive publication rights in our territories from you in good faith,” but warns that in other territories, Tor’s no-DRM policy “will make it difficult for the rights granted to us to be properly protected.” Hachette’s proposed solution: that the author insist Tor use DRM on these titles. “We look forward to hearing what action you propose taking.”

The letter also contains language that will apparently be included in future Hachette imprint contracts, language that would require authors to “ensure that any of his or her licensees of rights in territories not licensed under this agreement” will use DRM. 

Cory then goes on to describe just how useless such a policy is for Hachette. He points out that doing simple Google searches for certain Hachette published books turns up several DRM-free copies already in the wild. I will have to agree with Cory here when he says that this new demand by Hachette is not going to change that in any way. Those DRM-free ebooks will still be available, the tools to strip the DRM will still be available and paying customers will still be the only ones inconvenienced. 

Even with this severe and detailed rebuttal of Hachette's new policy, it has taken notice and is still standing by its decision to use DRM. In a statement made to The Bookseller, Ursula Mackenzie, CEO of Hachette subsidiary Little, Brown, stated that such policies are the norm in publishing.

Many contracts from all quarters already contain some form of wording to ensure that the licensee publisher does apply DRM and also sees to it that their sub-licensees and e-tailers apply it too.

Our new wording is clearer and we will, as always, negotiate variations of that wording with the many parties with which we trade, nearly all of whom agree with the basic principles of our DRM policy.

Of course being a part of the “norm” in the industry is not what really matters. What matters is that publishers and those that represent the authors actually listen to the authors. That is what Tor did when it made its decision to abandon DRM. What Hachette is doing here is making the claim that it knows what's best for authors and readers. Of course, you can't let a little thing like the opinion of authors and readers get in the way of your high horse.

We are fully aware that DRM does not inhibit determined pirates or even those who are sufficiently sophisticated to download DRM removal software. The central point is that we are in favour of DRM because it inhibits file-sharing between the mainstream readers who are so valuable to us and our authors.

This statement by Mackenzie is even more mind boggling than the other. Here she pretty much states that DRM is not about stopping the hardcore pirates, but simply to stop people from doing things they would normally do with a physical book, such as lending it to friends and family. Of course even that much can be to the detriment of the reader and publisher, as Cory notes.

Readers aren’t stupid. When they discover that paying for books results in locked, crippled editions, and downloading for free (simply by typing the title and “free e-book” into Google or Pirate Bay) gets them the same book, minus the offensive restrictions, they start to put two and two together. After all, DRM is not a selling point. There’s no one who’s ever bought a book because it had DRM. No one has ever clicked onto Amazon saying, “I wonder if there’s any way I can buy a book that offers less than the books I’ve been buying all my life.” People buy DRM e-books because they have no choice, or because they don’t care about it, or because they don’t know it’s there. But DRM never leads to a sale.

For the reader, the DRM'ed ebook is nothing but a headache. If you are not having your book deleted from your reader and account without your permission, you are locked into a specific reader with no way to transfer your legally bought books to another reader. Why would any publisher want to harm their readers in such a way? For the publisher, that means that in today's fast changing world of technology, readers will be less likely to buy an ebook if they know they cannot transfer it to a new phone or other device. That means fewer sales for the publisher. 

It gets even worse for Hachette specifically. According to Cory, at least one agency is taking a stand against its pro-DRM policy. He also warns authors who may consider Hachette as a publisher.

I know of at least one large agency that has told Hachette that it will not market books to them so long as this policy is in force. And Hachette’s authors should pay attention because, in the end, it is they who will suffer from the effects of DRM. Readers probably won’t remember who published the book that nuked itself due to a DRM misfire or was lost due to a platform switch. But they’ll remember the writer whose book they paid for and to which they lost access.

As Hachette continues its push to force DRM on its authors and readers, it will lose business from both. How it expects to survive such a two pronged loss will be interesting to watch. DRM is losing favor in the music industry. It continues to lose ground in the video game industry. Publishing and movies seem to be the only real holdouts on the pro-DRM side of entertainment. With DRM losing favor with Tor and sparking this battle between publishers, we will most likely see more publishers joining the DRM-free side of the debate. 

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Companies: hachette, tor

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Comments on “Hachette Tells Authors And Tor To Use DRM Because It Is Awesome Or Something”

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el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ll only buy a book if it’s DRM free. If it isn’t, I’ll usually buy the paperback and acquire the proper file from the usual haunts. I have a Kindle (early adopter) and my girlfriend has a Nook. It’s nice to be able to go back and forth without having to worry about encryption. I also make it a point to donate to Calibre once per year. The program has quietly made the lives better for people who still choose to read.

sheenyglass (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“The reason they put DRM on the ebooks is to prevent trading. Therefore, youre not supposed to do it”

I’m assuming you are either being sarcastic or are a recent immigrant from another dimension.


Please note that in this dimension, books which are “DRM free” do not have DRM on them. Therefore you can trade without circumventing DRM.

Please also note that in our reality ebooks are not cheaper than normal books. They are cheaper than hardcover but not mass-market paperbacks, the category they are replacing in the market. Abnormal books remain either very cheap or very expensive, depending upon whether they do, in fact, contain genuine incantations for contacting the old gods lurking beyond the edge of reality.

Adjust your purchasing habits accordingly!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Now if we could only convince them to release ebook versions at the same time as the hardcover.

A lot of times this is at the behest of the author (or his estate, in the case of Robert Jordan) and not the publisher. I know in that particular case Harriet (Jordan’s wife) doesn’t understand the technology and, honestly, seems terrified of it.

Divide by Zero (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, see I never got that about Harriet, and why someone doesn’t explain it to her. My husband & I are hanging out for the last book, and had planned to buy the hardcover & ebook at the same time so we could each read it without having to wait our turn. Then lo-and-behold, it turns out we can’t. So instead of getting two sales of the one book in our house, they’re gonna have to make do with one. Their loss, I suppose.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Some of TOR’s authors get it, though. Brandon Sanderson is particularly worthy of applause. He’s insisted (at least recently) that all of his books get an ebook release on the same day as the physical release, and he’s pushed back on Harriet’s unreasonable requests when it comes to the Wheel of Time stories. We need more authors like him.

Loki says:

20 years ago, even 15 years ago, I used to buy about 100 albums a year. I stopped about a decade ago for several years, first due to financial constraints, then because I was boycotting the major labels. For several years now I have again been buying about 100 albums a year (almost all of the digital) because I’ve found plenty of good, readily available non-major label non-DRMed content.

Books are another matter. Where I used to buy 50+ books a year 15-20 years ago, I now buy half a dozen. Why, because I have little need or desire for physical copies anymore and finding good quality non-DRMed ebooks isn’t as easy or convenient as getting good quality digital music.

The simple fact is, that if you want my money, you give me a product on my terms, not yours, or make it awesome enough that I am willing to abide by your terms (which is still on my terms, because it is that awesome).

Another AC says:

I don't get it

Hachette has “acquired exclusive publication rights in our territories from you in good faith,” but warns that in other territories, Tor’s no-DRM policy “will make it difficult for the rights granted to us to be properly protected.”

I fail to see how it’s the author’s problem. If I gave up my rights to my publisher (in good faith even!) for Territory A, and then they realize have a hard time enforcing them in Territory B, so what? If their rights are granted solely in Territory A then what exactly are they trying to protect in Territory B? More importantly, what does that have to do with me as an author?

Our agreement was to confer my rights to them, I have no duty to enforce them on their behalf. Or I suppose that’s what they mean to add by the ‘new language’.

Anonymous Coward says:

so, how about telling Hachette UK to go fuck itself? if it isn’t happy with DRM free books, get into a different business. if it doesn’t like it’s publishers removing DRM, sack them i am sure 99% of them would welcome it as they would be free to earn some money for themselves instead of for others. we all know that wont happen as Hachette UK are making too much money atm off of the backs of others and dont want to lose that ‘nice income for doing fuck all’

quawonk says:

DRM is about control, not stopping piracy. As the article mentions, they want to lock their product to specific devices and even have to power to delete it when THEY decide you don’t need it anymore. I don’t think that has happened yet, but they have that power. But it has happened by accident, so there’s nothing stopping it from being done deliberately.

zegota (profile) says:

Authors won't buy it

Almost all the authors I know abhor DRM just as much as readers; the few who don’t are a vocal minority. Hell, I went to a writer’s conference a few weeks ago and DRM came up. I squirmed as I prepared for the writers on the panel and in the audience to scream about piracy. I was happily surprised that, instead, they spent the whole time screaming about the counterproductive nature of DRM.

Claire Ryan (user link) says:

This has three major issues:

The first being that Hachette thinks it can dictate terms to other publishers in territories for which it has no rights. The arrogance of this takes my breath away. It’s one thing to not want to follow a particular business model, but it’s quite another to try to force a competitor not to follow it as well!

The second is that they may not have any standing to demand this. Who the authors license their work to in other territories, and under what conditions, is none of Hachette’s business. But they can apply pressure, with the implicit understanding being that the authors will not get another book deal if they don’t comply. Strong-arm tactics at their finest.

The third is that they are actually asking authors to take a hit on their livelyhood just to please them. We know DRM is ineffective. We know that it’s so trivial to remove that there’s no ‘hardcore’ stuff involved; the mainstream can do it easily, if they want. (And they will, if they find out that their books are restricted in stupid ways.) So they don’t really have a leg to stand on here – they’re essentially saying to authors, “You have to tell your other publishers to do something that will likely piss off your readers and damage your hard-won reputation for no benefit whatsoever, because we say so and we’ll take our ball and go home otherwise.”

This is honestly all kinds of ridiculous, and should be a giant red flag to authors everywhere that Hachette don’t know what the hell they’re doing and are not worth pitching their books to in future.

sheenyglass (profile) says:

Re: This has three major issues:

“The third is that they are actually asking authors to take a hit on their livelyhood just to please them.”

Exactly. This places the onus on the authors to negotiate terms with one publisher that benefit a second publisher. If the first publisher doesn’t want to use DRM, then the author will have to give something up in order to get them to do it. Meaning it will likely reduce their compensation.

Alternatively, if the first publisher takes the position that no-DRM is non-negotiable, then the author has a narrower choice of publishers, leading to a weaker bargaining position and, once again, less favorable terms.

Androgynous Cowherd says:


Anyone else suspect the real reason for this is as an anti-competitive move? They’re scared of Tor. So they are colluding, like a bunch of retailers where one just lowered prices making a pact to a) keep their prices high regardless and b) boycott any supplier that deals with the renegade retailer.

I wonder if there could even be an antitrust case made against the non-Tor publishers here. If it can be shown that they are actually making agreements among one another to include “must-use-DRM” in their contracts with all authors, then it looks like a violation.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Welcome, Hachette, to the new normal. Glad you could make its acquaintance. I hope you too can learn to prosper before you tie that bloodied rope around your own necks.

It’s funny, the things that people do, when rules serve a game nobody wishes to play any more and the kid that made up the rules of the game is left with a some dirt and some rocks that they’re made to kick and throw as if that would entice people to come back and play. A bit sad, actually.

Anyway, welcome again. And, if you find that you can’t get along then perhaps you can play with these other media asshats. They’re very much into that dirt kicking, rock throwing game. They’re very adept at playing with themselves as well.

Good luck and happy reading.

PaulT (profile) says:

Hachette UK, you say?

*adds publisher to list of people I won’t buy from*

Hmmm… a shame. Looks like they own the publishers who publish some of my favourite authors, but that includes the morons who think that Stephen King’s new novel is worth more on Kindle than the Amazon hardback price. No loss then, they just seem determined to make themselves an unattractive purchase provider, I’ll buy from others, no big deal.

DebF says:

"They make ebooks cheaper than normal books because they arent meant to trade."

“Who’s “they”. Go on, name one publisher that routinely makes their ebooks cheaper than paper/hardback on their initial release.”

PaulT – the one that springs instantly to mind is Baen, who are, of course, the pioneers of the DRM free movement – and regularly publish hardcovers containing CD’s with previous ebooks by that author. They do this because they’ve determined they actually GAIN sales as a result.

If I like it, and I lend it to a friend, and they like it, they’ll buy it! What an amazing concept! Something that would NEVER have happened in treebook publishing….

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: "They make ebooks cheaper than normal books because they arent meant to trade."

Yeah, that’s the exception rather than the rule, which is kind of my point. Our trollish friend above seems to be suggesting that pricing ebooks below the physical price is routine. Baen do well with what they do, but sadly very few are following suit right now, especially in the mainstream arena.

Nonya says:


Publishers don’t want to sell ebooks…consumers demand books in electronic formats (ebooks) but publishers are fighting tooth and nail, dragging their feet, doing all that they can to slow the adoption of ebooks. They know they can’t win this fight, but they are determined to lose it sas slowly as possible. Consumers demand ebook versions of the books they want, and at significantly lower prices than paperback prices, and without DRM that restricts what they can do with legally purchased ebooks. We are seeing the beginnings of this, but most publishers are gonna fight it as long s they can.

KD says:


This is funny. I have never read an ebook. I will never read/buy an ebook. I have no interest in owning non-physical copies. This is certainly not going to convince me to switch.

DRMs are annoying, especially in video gaming. They caused me to sell my PS3 cause it was a PITA for some of my games and an impossibility for others, to transfer those games when my first hard drive crashed. I have not played a ps3 game in over 18 months. I have switched to online FTP games. The console gaming industry can kiss my @$$.

Maybe these idiots should have taken a good hard look at what happened with the music industry.

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