drmfree tag campaign starts on Amazon: Help identify safer-to-own books and other items!


Steve Windwalker’s techno-thriller Say My Name has sprouted a new tag on Amazon: drmfree.

And soon the Kindle edition of The Solomon Scandals, my Washington newspaper novel, will come with the same identifier.

image  Both Steve and I urge other writers to tag their DRMless e-books the same way, in the wake of his TeleRead post calling for this. Then they’ll show up when people type drmfree into Amazon’s tag search engine. Tagging is easy, and you can do it in a flash.

imageI have not used the drmfree tag on Scandals simply because an unhappily “protected” version is floating around. Yes, I’m taking steps to end the confusion. Scandals’ DRMfree version comes with a cover showing on the Web (not the cover to the right, which is for Steve’s novel, bylined “Steve Holt”). The tainted one doesn’t.

If you’re an author or publisher and use Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) without DRMing the file first, then it should show up in the store without “protection.”

Tag other people’s books, too, even if you’re not the first

You can also help by tagging other people’s books and other items with drmfree when the description---no hyphen, no underscore, to standardize---truly applies.

You can even tag already-tagged books. The 2 in the second screen shot indicates that two people, Steve and I, have applied drmfree to his thriller, a newspaper-related novel like my own. The more, the merrier!

If you’re a writer for a publisher or a customer, why not ask the publishers itself to start using the drmfree tag? Hello, O’Reilly? Maybe you can do this on your own?

How to spot the safer-to-own books

But how to spot the DRMfree books? AZW is a Kindle file extension. Rename AZW files with a MOBI extension on your desktop machine and see if they open.

If so, they are “safe” or at least safer than ones with Amazon’s DRM, even if the format is still proprietary (unlike the ePub standard, ASCII or HTML). Alas, if you buy DRMed books from Amazon, you don’t own them for real since the company can take them away without your having a right to appeal.

Not the very first with the drmfree tag

As you can see from the first screenshot, someone has already beaten Steve and me to the punch by applying drmfree to a few nonbooks sold at Amazon.

Terrific. Let’s see more of this, whatever kind of merchandise is involved.

Some DRMfree books at Amazon

Ahead, however, is a list of DRMfree books at Amazon—not inclusive—that Alan Wallcraft has compiled, along with other information on the new campaign.

I have already applied drmfree to all these titles except for Scandals, for which, as noted, it will be coming.

Graphics on the Kindle
Pride and Prejudice in Extra Large Print (Kindle Edition)
A Canticle For Leibowitz (removed from Kindle Store? I can’t find it under asin B001IV5SES – D.R.)
3 in 1 Combo Offering: The Complete User’s Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle 1, 2, and Kindle for iPhone App (DRM-Free with Text-to-Speech Enabled, User-Friendly) (Kindle Edition), by Steve Windwalker
Asimov’s Science Fiction 01 01 2 (removed? nothing found with B001KC06OW)
Homicide My Own
Startide Rising  (removed? B001PBF0MG)
The Solomon Scandals
White Witch Black Curse

See Alan’s post for more details, including a script that reports whether a book has DRM.

What qualifies for drmfree

To return to our campaign, here’s one more tidbit. Books with social DRM or digital watermarking will qualify for the drmfree tag.

“Social DRM” simply refers to the embedding of a consumer’s name or other identifier in plain English. It is not true DRM. Social DRM does not take away access to a title, the way genuine DRM can if the company does not like you or goes out of business or loses interest in e-books.

No war against Amazon here, just against DRM

In this anti-DRM campaign, Steve and I are not attacking Amazon per se. By some interpretations, Jeff Bezos has even said he is DRM agnostic and wants the choice left up to pub
lishers—in which case we are fully in line with his intent.

Rather our quarrel here is with DRM itself because it denies consumers the right to own the tainted books.

amazonMP3store2 If Amazon wants to use drmfree tags to help put together a grass-roots driven DRM-free store for e-books—and boost its earnings—that’s fine by Steve and me. Laudably, Amazon already runs an MP3 music store without DRM. Steve and I would love to see Amazon do the same for e-books.

In a related vein, we certainly hope that you’ll use drmfree tags at other stores where this will help. Fictionwise already conspicuously identifies DRMless books, using such labels as “Multiformat.” We’d love it if Amazon were to do the same.

About Steve and me: Steve Windwalker is the author of a bunch of Kindle-related books and others and runs the Kindle Nation blog, other blogs and a related Kindle newsletter. I’m editor-publisher of TeleRead as well as author of half a dozen nonfiction books in addition to my Scandals novel.

A different approach: Defective by Design, which, rather than identifying the “good guys,” urges people to slap the defectivebydesign tag on offending products.

About David Rothman (6820 Articles)
David Rothman is the founder and publisher of the TeleRead e-book site and cofounder of He is also author of The Solomon Scandals novel and six tech-related books on topics ranging from the Internet to laptops. Passionate on digital divide issues, he is now pushing for the creation of a national digital library endowment.

20 Comments on drmfree tag campaign starts on Amazon: Help identify safer-to-own books and other items!

  1. This sounds like a great idea to me, too… I have already added the tag to the keywords on my books site.

  2. Big thanks, Steve! I hope lots and lots of writers and publishers will join in. Maybe you can write something for MobileRead and enourage Alex or Bob to put it on the home page. MR folks will appreciate what’s up here. Here’s to genuine ownership of books!


  3. David, this is a great start. But, as I’m understanding this there’s no way to tell if a book is DRM-free until after you’ve made the purchase. By then it’s too late.

    What we really need is full DRM disclosure *before* purchase. This sort of tagging is a way to do that, but I would argue that Amazon and other retailers have an obligation to warn consumers about DRM restrictions on the products they’re selling. Amazon knows which Kindle books are DRM’d, and they could easily add some sort of icon indicating DRM status to the Kindle product page for each Kindle title.

  4. Kirk, point taken, but we are working on that. David and I (and we hope, in time, others as well) will be reaching out to authors and publishers and urging them to include identifying information right next to the title line. For an example, see

    This is different from tagging, and for an author or publishers it is a simple matter of adding the line that you see within the parentheses next to the title, in the “Series” field on the DTP Dashboard. I described in my original campaign post at

    While this author- and publisher-driven process will take a little time to gather traction, all of us will be coming at it from the tagging direction as well, and if a title has several “drmfree” tags I submit that it will be a fairly reliable “wisdom of crowds” indicator that the title is, indeed, DRM-free.

    Does this make sense?

  5. “there’s no way to tell if a book is DRM-free until after you’ve made the purchase…”

    Exactly, Kirk—the reason for the tags, which people can insert when they know. What’s more, they can examine already-bought books for DRM. And of course, regular publishers and author-publishers can tip people off via the use of tags.

    Your advocacy of warnings is right on the money, and in fact, this is one reason for the tag campaign–to encourage Amazon to act on its own. I’d love for Amazon to make the campaign obsolete; first via its own identifiers, second by getting publishers to drop DRM, the best solution of all.

    As you said, Kirk, this tag campaign is just a start. We need much more! Thanks for caring!


  6. Okay, well, count me in. My pub’s offerings are now tagged “drmfree” and all future offerings will be similarly tagged.

  7. I passed a news article on to MR, with a request to give it some frontpage exposure.

  8. How should we tag books that we discover have DRM? Those should be labeled too. Perhaps DRMrestricted.

  9. Kirk, I’m open to that. Or perhaps the existing defectivebydesign could be used. At this point, who knows what the majority of books on Amazon are? My guess is that the most widely circulated ones are DRMed. Would be good to standardize, whatever the case. Open to other suggestions! For now, however, I think the big priority should be to identify the most buyable books—and of course DRM makes ’em less so.

    Steve W. and Steve J., what are you thoughts on this?


  10. I think using the label “drm” works fine to identify DRM’d books… by now most web consumers will know what it means.

    It’s important that we try to minimize or standardize the labels we use to something easy to divine or search. It’s been pointed out that SW’s earlier article suggested “drm-free.” I think “drmfree” is simply easier to type, and so more likely to be an effective tag and search phrase. But “drm free” is also likely to be used when searching. (And one more, just to muddy the waters: “no drm.”)

    So if we pick one tag, it’s important that we promote it far enough afield that everyone gets it and starts using the same tags.

  11. I used drmfree, fwiw.

  12. Great Idea! I blogged it.

    Is there a page that explains to authors how to put their books on drm-less? If not, that would be a good thing to have. If so, can someone give me a link please?

  13. David, I agree that just using the “drm” tag for books that are drm-restricted makes sense for now. The “defective by design” tag accomplishes little and, at most, only the cognoscenti know what the taggers are referencing.

    Steve and Moriah, I’m fine with the “drmfree” tag. Amazon recognizes “drmfree,” “drm-free” and “drm free” as similar. (The longer descriptive field that I am using and recommending as an add-in in a DTP field is more of a searchable descriptor and fulfills other purposes).


  14. Cat Sittingstill // April 11, 2009 at 8:06 pm //

    :-) The mobileread post you reference here is a response to a thread called Kindle Books From Amazon Without DRM.

    You can find it here:

    The start of the thread mentions that _Analog Science Fiction and Fact_ magazine from Amazon (also available from FictionWise) has no DRM, so you might include that in your list

    Feel free to add to that thread as you discover more books without DRM; I am trying to collect as many of these titles as possible in one place.


  15. As to drmed books, the tag should not be insulting to the author. That’s the problem with “defective by design”. The non-cognoscenti will read something like that as a defective, broken, or just plain bad book. That is insulting to the author and conveys the wrong impression about his work. Don’t forget that many, if not most, authors will probably have no idea that drm is involved with their book to begin with. That’s why I agree with Windwalker that just plain “drm” is the best, and fairest, way to go.

  16. Paul, you’re right, I don’t like the connotation of “defective” either. A simple “drmfree” should suffice.

    It’s been pointed out on the MobileRead thread ( that tags, once placed, cannot necessarily be removed… which can be a problem if the document in question is changed after the fact to a DRM’d document.

    Eventually, maybe we can convince digital sellers to simply add a “drmfree” label at the price or sale point, making it clear to all what status the book is, and making it easy to remove it if the book’s status changes. (I have decided to try that on my site, just to see what kind of response I get from it.)

    Of course, for even that to be effective, there would need to be some sort of standard that booksellers would have to comply to, preventing them from misusing the label–much like a mandatory content disclaimer–and real consequences if they disobeyed.

  17. I know this sounds crazy, but I did ask a question because I want the answer. Anyone?

  18. Hi, Christine. Create a Kindle book via the Digital Text Platform—see a forthcoming post with a few more details.


    Update, noon: Here’s the post.

  19. I have tagged my own four books published by O’Reilly as drmfree. More at

  20. Thanks for the drmfree tags, Shelley—and may other O’Reilly authors follow. Meanwhile continued congratulations to O’Reilly itself for being ahead of the crowd and dropping DRM. David.

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