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

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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.

5 Responses to “Will Hachette Be The First Big-6 Publisher To Drop DRM On E-Books?”

  1. Wolf Baginski

    People do sell on physical books they have read, but I never saw much point. The return per book is real, but pretty meagre. The last time I moved, a stack of books went to Oxfam to sell. It’s better than a rubbish tip.

    I think it is a bit of a red herring, but it does show a difference between ebooks and physical books. It’s the sort of thing which changes what ownership means.

  2. This “used ebook resale” idea is just the latest strawman. How, exactly, do they make money trapped between the original publisher (corporate or indy), who never has to let a book go out of “print”, and the pirates?

  3. If we look at what lies behind DRM – protection of copyright and the appropriate payment of royalties to authors, we need to keep a sense of proportion. The copyright (and patent) laws are stuck in the 19th century, when distribution and reproduction were more onerous than today. The old formula used to determine authors’ reward when only a few thousand copies of a novel might be sold becomes excessive if millions are sold and the customer knows this. By selling many copies at a low price with the high percentage royalties enabled by current technology, the author can be rewarded, the customer is happy to pay purchase price, the pirate copier has no incentive and the publisher can make an honest living. works on this basis and does not include DRM while selling 3 popular file formats at a price around the same as a newspaper. Throwaway prices and internet technology enable this model of selling novels.

  4. I don’t think anyone is arguing that DRM is an effective tool against piracy, and piracy in-and-of itself, is not what publishers have to fear.  Rather, the big challenge long term could be downstream resale of “used” ebooks, for which neither publisher, nor author will be compensated.  Due diligence on the front end (e.g., protective measures) will ensure legal remedies in the future.  Sending out a DRM free file without language relating to the licensing of content by the end user makes a case that the eBook file rightly belongs to the reader to do with as they please.  In such a case, selling ones’ eBooks in a secondary marketplace will become a reality.

  5. It’s a difficult decision to make. I still have DRM on my ebooks, but nevertheless they get pirated. While I’m not too concerned about all those torrent sites where my books are listed for free download (after all, you’ll probably get a virus with it and those people who download from there are probably not my customers anyway), I do get annoyed when somebody tries to re-sell (multiple times!) one of my e-books. Unfortunately I’ve seen that happening on a used-book site. And this wasn’t one of the usual pirates but a reader who got a DRM-free copy when I still sold them through Smashwords. She just figured she could make some money by re-selling my books on a used book site.