Tor Books UK Says Ditching DRM Showed No Increase In Piracy

from the of-course-not dept

We’ve never quite understood the purpose behind DRM, and have said so many times. It doesn’t stop infringement, because the DRM is always cracked, and the crack always leads to a clean version. And once you have a clean version, it’s available everywhere. Those who want to infringe will do so. So, in the end, the only thing DRM does is (1) annoy legitimate buyers and (2) lock in certain platforms such that the ebook platform providers (hello Amazon!) have much more power than the publishers. Given that, I’ve been amazed for years that the ebook world hasn’t moved more strongly towards a DRM-free world, which the music industry was eventually forced to embrace (with little corresponding harm). A number of smaller publishers have embraced the promise of DRM-free ebooks, and a year ago, Tor, publishers of lots of popular sci-fi works, made plenty of news for going DRM-free in both the US and the UK.

Zac Morris was the first of a few of you to point us to a blog post from Tor UK talking about the impact one year later with the key line being:

As it is, we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year.

Given the point we made above, this is hardly surprising. In fact, it seems almost silly to look at all the fears some had about the move to DRM-free. In fact, it looked like Tor was a lot more worried about it than its authors. As the blog post notes, when it carefully approached its authors, including some best sellers, they were eager to support the move, with many applauding the publisher for taking that step, rather than being anti-consumer. Tor notes that the very fact that both its customers and authors seemed aligned on this issue made the decision much easier to make in the long run.

Of course, the real question now is who’s next? I’m still amazed that any publisher thinks that DRM is a good idea. Now Tor’s provided more evidence that removing it doesn’t increase infringement rates. So, in one single move, publishers can provide significantly more value and convenience for ebook buyers, and take some of the power away from Amazon without any risk of greater infringement. It’s astounding that publishers aren’t pushing each other aside to make a similar move.

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Comments on “Tor Books UK Says Ditching DRM Showed No Increase In Piracy”

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fogbugzd (profile) says:

You left out one more thing that DRM does:
(3) Costs real money.

DRM is the modern equivalent of snake oil. It costs a lot of money, does not live up to its claims, and may actually damage the health of your digital products.

The costs of come in two forms. Right up front, IP companies pay big bucks to the DRM/SnakeOil companies for licenses. Then there can be enormous ongoing costs that are hidden in categories such as technical support. One of my former students works in tech support management for a large gaming company. He said that over half of the tech support calls involve DRM-related issues. He also said that DRM considerations also prevent them from building a lot of useful diagnostics into their games, and it can be a lot harder to fix problems because many very simple fixes like re-installing or upgrading an old .dll file would bork the DRM.

That One Guy (profile) says:

ebook DRM doesn't prevent lost sales, it causes them

With the stories of people losing books off their various eReaders due to the people who sold the ebooks deciding, for some reason, to pull them, people finding that their ebooks are locked to a specific device/brand and are therefor unable to switch to a new one and keep their library, and people’s desire to actually own what they pay for, DRM for a lot of people is more a reason to avoid buying ebooks, instead of something to drive people to purchase rather than pirate.

Personally, a couple of months back I picked up an ebook reader, a kindle, and despite the built-in ebook store amazon offers, have yet to purchase any of my ebooks from them, specifically due to their DRM, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has done so.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: ebook DRM doesn't prevent lost sales, it causes them

I’m still trying to figure out why people buy ebook readers from them… Sure, they seem like the best ones on the market but the hassle of losing your books and notes is just too much for me.

I have a smartphone that I can download with and work in a tablet fashion. I can read books in full color. Sure, the battery is a problem, but that’s the only one at the moment which is easily solvable by charging it.

When you factor in the convenience of one smartphone to an ebook reader that I have to worry about lost time and resources, the answer is obvious. If you have to set up a DRM system, you’re basically trying to get me to rent your products. That’s fine, but I can pay for the things I want to keep and the reader will never be one of them.

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

Re: Re: ebook DRM doesn't prevent lost sales, it causes them

I won’t lose any of my books downloaded from Amazon because the DRM has been stripped, the files have been converted and are sitting safely on my external hard drive. Same with the music I have bought from Amazon (with the exception of DRM stripping as it never had any).

Speaking of which, how can they justify having DRM on their books but not their music?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: ebook DRM doesn't prevent lost sales, it causes them

I’d suspect that’s a licensing thing. One of the few things the record labels finally woke up to in the digital marketplace is that DRM was not only unnecessary, but fragmenting the market – causing massive headaches for consumers and inadvertently placing most of the power in Apple’s hands. So, they removed the requirement for DRM in their licensing.

Rather than learn from this mistake, publishers seem to be insisting on repeating it, only with Amazon rather than Apple being the dominant player this time. Unless I’m very much mistaken, all of the major publishers insist on DRM before they’ll license their books. Hopefully they’ll wake up to why this is a horrible idea while there’s still competition.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: ebook DRM doesn't prevent lost sales, it causes them

exactamundo, that one guy: my mother-in-law actually bought some ebooks PRESUMING she could lend them out to my wife and/or me, she was madder than a wet hen when she found out that -legally and practically speaking- she could not…

so, guess what ? she don’t buy no mo’ ebooks, just does the ones she can get from her lie bury system…

way to go ebook publishers: pissed off a big spending, normally complacent customer who refuses to buy your crippled products any more…

(of course, i don’t ‘buy’ ANY ebooks: if it ain’t free (not pirated), or on the inertnet archive, or from the lie bury, i don’t get it…)

fuckin’ idjits: they cut their own throats, then wonder where all the blood pooling at their feet came from…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

the real reason for DRM was to give the Publishers the feeling that they were still totally in control of those that had signed with them and it was something they thought they could use as a selling point to convince authors that they would be better looked after, better protected by signing with a publisher that would go ‘the extra mile’ in order to try to protect the works. the problems soon manifested themselves though and the authors wanted out. it was the fault of the publishers that they authors couldn’t leave, that the ‘books’ were crippled and customers pissed off! hopefully now things will change for the better for all concerned!!

out_of_the_blue says:

This only means the current piracy rate is at saturation.

Their content is being pirated as much as it’s going to be, for whatever reasons, most likely not overly popular.

But the question is how do they benefit?

(A possible trick would be to trumpet your “unbreakable” DRM, and/or make a big splash about how pirates are stealing all your great books. But this bit of publicity does nothing for them short term, nor in the long term will ceasing to worry about piracy lead to more readers rewarding you.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This only means the current piracy rate is at saturation.

The benefit is that they current customers will be more inclined to go with there books digitally. I would purchase more digital books if they didn’t include DRM. Till then I will stick with my DRM free physical books. Also the cost of creating a DRM is expensive and only removes value from the product. Also even if it is saturated, it is pretty much more profit if they don’t spend the time and money to produced and implement DRM.

CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: This only means the current piracy rate is at saturation.

I doubt it’s at saturation. We’re still in the midst of a paradigm shift, where the old computer-fearing generations are being replaced by the new computer-savvy generations. There should be more people pirating as more and more people figure out how to do it, so what’s halted the advance?

As for the idea that not worrying about piracy doesn’t lead to more readers rewarding you… I’m afraid Jesus disagrees with you there. Treating people kindly, maturely, and humanely ALWAYS results in people wanting to give back. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Beech says:

Re: This only means the current piracy rate is at saturation.

Piracy rate remaining constant proves that TOR was paying money to license this DRM scheme, and it did nothing. Those who wanted to pirate did so. After they dropped the DRM, those who wanted to pirate did so. So if “managing” your “digital rights” means that those who want to pirate still can, than you have really managed nothing and have thrown a lot of good money after bad.

Beech says:

Re: Re: This only means the current piracy rate is at saturation.

Well, no, yes, maybe?

I don’t think anyone (besides blue) really thinks piracy is at “saturation.” As new tech savvy generations grow up doubtless many of them will pirate as well. The older generations who buy stuff will die off.

All this proves is that DRM wasn’t really stopping anybody from pirating ebooks. I wouldn’t be surprised if that applies to products across the board.

BernardoVerda says:

Re: This only means the current piracy rate is at saturation.

Admittedly, I’m not a regular on this forum, but:

I’m beginning to suspect that this “out_of_the_blue” guy is a phony — an entirely fictional (rather cardboard) character, created as clickbait (or comment-bait, if you prefer). How else can one credibly explain his uni-dimensional posting history (even shills show more texture and creativity)?

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: This only means the current piracy rate is at saturation.

Actually there are people like that. They refuse to accept the truth. There are Christians for instance that when confronted with dinosaur bones will go to great lengths to deny evolution and stick with creationism such as stating that those were put there by God to test men faith.

You see, he’s firmly stuck in his “creationist” belief (PIRACY!).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This only means the current piracy rate is at saturation.

OOTB is a paranoid maximalist who rants about piracy, Open Source, and socialism/communism/collectivism all in the same breath on a blog that no one reads. She believes she’s “pushing back” against teh ebil pirates!1eleventyone!! and can be seen gushing bile on the tech blogs in an effort to persuade us to embrace The Man, SOPA, CISPA, and the erosion of our rights in the name of a system that rewards the real grifters, i.e. the **AAs, not the actual artists.

Try to point this out, even with examples, and she just ignores it, screaming about how evil we are to demand that the principles of a free market be actually implemented.

In the minds of people like her (I know who she is), only via licensing and walled gardens can innovators and creators be properly rewarded for their work. This denies the established fact that the rightsholders are usually NOT the actual creators, they just own the rights. Work for hire, anyone?

Any proof of the above fact is generally ignored because it contradicts her views. She’s a walled garden herself, and only views that mesh with hers are welcome in her world.

Trolling this blog is an effort to promote her views, but she’s done little to convert anyone. Being unwilling or unable to accept information that contradicts one’s views as fact can’t possibly win anyone over. The ad hominem attacks on Mike are hardly a demonstration of a position on the moral high ground.

As is often the case of people like this, she doesn’t have much to offer herself, this is merely an effort to make herself seem important. It’s not working.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This only means the current piracy rate is at saturation.

A) Their content is being pirated as much as it’s going to be.
B) How do they benefit[by not wasting money on DRM development, research, maintenance, and deployment]?

They benefit by not wasting resources on something with 0 return.

Do you know how businesses even operate?

Ezekial says:

I love how all these people say DRM is useless because pirates will pirate stuff whether it has DRM or not and it only causes problems for legitimate buyers, but the same liberal hippies that want everything free are all for trying to ram laws through to restrict the second amendment, when just as in the DRM case, gun control only causes problems for law abiding people who dont use their guns in crimes, since the criminals (pirates) will still get and use guns as they are already criminals and dont care about laws

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

What about the hypocrisy of 2nd amendment
advocates who totally disregard the 1st
amendment rights of those who disagree with

What do you mean by ‘totally disregard’?

If you’re suggesting pro-2nd advocates are trying to have the government silence their critics under threat of arrest or sanction, then I will agree with you, that’s a hypocritical position for them to take. I would also point out that no one on the pro-2nd side has actually done this.

If you’re suggesting that merely arguing back is somehow the equivalent of ‘totally disregarding’ the free speech rights of their critics, I’d respectfully conclude that’s nonsense. In other words, your free speech rights aren’t being infringed merely because someone disagrees with you or says you’re full of crap.

Michael (user link) says:

eBook DRM isn't about piracy...

As has been pointed out, DRM (most notably Adobe Content Server 4) is easy to break and does not discourage piracy by those intent on breaking it. However, the challenge for rights holders (read: authors, publishers) is that the law (the first sale doctrine) does not speak clearly about digital “products” and whether or not someone can resell a digital book in the same way they can resell a physical book once they have purchased it. Absent this clear decision by the law, if rights holders don’t do due diligence to protect their interest in the intellectual property they own then they are opening themselves up to allowing the marketplace the ability to resell ‘used’ eBook files and completely cut them out of the transaction. IOW, if I am a publisher and I have not taken the necessary steps to protect my content under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, then I am in essence giving the marketplace permission to do with my content as they please after they have paid to access it. Piracy is NOT the issue, Amazon deciding to open a ‘used’ eBook store is and without some evidence that publishers sought to restrict access to their content by secondary users, then there is no legal recourse that can be exacted in the interest of their copyrights and authors.

David Gettman (user link) says:

E-book DRM rejected since 1996

For a publisher whose aim is to broaden access to quality writing, the idea of a ?locked? book has always been anathema to Online Originals, who was one of the first e-book publishers, founded in 1996. Just as physical books are typically passed around amongst friends and relations, there is nothing wrong with sharing e-books with a few friends — indeed it serves as a form of viral advertising for the author and publisher. The mass pirating of e-books is improbable because, unlike listening to digital music files for example, it takes several days of concentrated effort to read an e-book. Given (a) the effort required to consume an e-book, (b) the risk that a pirated copy has been altered, abridged or contaminated with a virus, and (c) Online Originals? low prices, it makes more sense simply to buy an e-book from the official site than to download a pirated copy from elsewhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Baen books & DRM

I get books from Tor all the time. I like them, but I can’t believe no one mentioned Baen. They have always been DRM free from what I understand. I buy tons of books from them.

They also have a free section where you can download many of their older titles. Apparently that is getting a face lift. Due to their decision to sell books through 3rd parties also.
From that link:

“We do it this way rather than direct donations because the minute we start accepting money for books under copyright, all sorts of royalty complications come into play.”

The new 3rd party setup is apparently causing them problems they didn’t have to deal with before, but also gets their authors out to a wider audience.

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