(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Zachary Knight


Filed Under:
authors, drm, ebooks

Companies:
hachette, tor



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. 

Reader Comments

The First Word

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.
—Claire Ryan

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2012 @ 9:14am

    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.

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