Will Hachette Be The First Big-6 Publisher To Drop DRM On E-Books?

DRM is just “a speedbump,” Hachette’s Maja Thomas said at a copyright conference this afternoon. However, opinion within Hachette is clearly divided.

DRM “doesn’t stop anyone from pirating,” Hachette SVP digital Thomas said in a publishing panel at Copyright Clearance Center’s OnCopyright 2012. “It just makes it more difficult, and anyone who wants a free copy of any of our books can go online now and get one.

“There’s a misconception that somehow the digital format of books has made piracy increase, or become logarithmically more serious. But piracy was always very easy to do, because scanning a physical copy of a book [takes] a matter of minutes. A physical book doesn’t have DRM on it.

“Coming from the audio business, where I started, we had DRM on our audiobooks when music had DRM on it, and as that changed, a lot of audio publishers started to drop the DRM on their audiobooks. We were one of the last ones to drop it, and I was asked to monitor the destruction of my business. The business was not destroyed. If anything, it became more robust.

“You could argue that taking the DRM off e-books would be in the benefit of consumers, and possibly even publishers, because then you wouldn’t have the device lock-in you have now.

“We saw that with Pottermore this week, [watermarking and] moving a file onto eight different platforms easily. [More about Harry Potter DRM here, here and here.] That’s certainly revolutionary.”

However, Thomas’s view does not align with that expressed by Hachette UK CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson in a letter to authors and agents this week. He wrote:

DRM (Digital Rights Management encryption, on which we insist) divides opinion. Our view is that the advantages greatly outweigh any perceived disadvantages. While DRM cannot prevent file-sharing by the most determined pirates it can and does act as a brake on the casual sharing of files and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it works in the background without causing problems for anyone.