WH SmithYesterday morning, we brought to your attention a rather unusual situation that had been taking place in the WH Smith e-retail store:

Kobo e-books that were meant to be DRM-free had been listed on the WH Smith site as having digital rights management software added.

Even books that had been authored by Cory Doctorow, perhaps the most vocal opponent of DRM today, were listed as having DRM installed.

After contacting both Kobo and WH Smith and requesting statements about the situation from both, we heard from Kobo’s Toronto-based media relations manager, René d’Entremont. And while his message wasn’t exactly the picture of clarity, it does seem to me—after reading between the lines—that the unauthorized addition of DRM to previously DRM-free Kobo e-books in WH Smith’s e-store probably was an honest mistake of some sort. Kobo’s official statement about the situation follows:

“Books are accurately reflected as DRM or DRM-free at the Kobo.com site. Consumers and authors alike can have confidence that when purchasing from the Kobo.com site – even if redirected from a partner site – that the titles are accurately represented. WHSmith is aware of this website issue which incorrectly presents DRM-free content as DRM. They are working quickly to resolve this and we recommend following up directly.”

After repeated attempts to contact both the media relations and customer service departments of WH Smith, we still haven’t heard from anyone.


  1. Kobo has historically been very pro-DRM, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they never communicated the correct information to WH Smith. Prior to Writing Life, the only way a publisher could opt-out of DRM was to make special arrangements with an account manager.

    Not so very long ago, all Smashwords titles at Kobo were DRM’ed, when I made it my mission to bug both Kobo and Smashwords until they rectified the situation. Mark never replied to me directly, but Kobo confirmed they were talking with him about it and would fix things. It took some weeks for their thousands of titles to be processed, but eventually all backlist and new titles became DRM-free. I did the same thing with Kobo and Carina Press, whose books are also supposed to be DRM-free at associated retailers. Carina told me Kobo wouldn’t provide them a DRM-free option. I kept pushing Kobo, and finally saw success there too.

    Life interrupted and I had to take a break from my crusade for a while. Now I’m back at it, trying to get Smashwords titles on Sony’s store freed from DRM too, but not getting any response from either side. Right in the Smashwords FAQ we have: “Smashwords does not publish works containing digital rights management schemes that limit the customer’s ability to legally enjoy the author’s work. ” Perhaps Mark only meant that in terms of titles purchased through Smashwords.com, but if so that’s disappointing. He already does so much for authors and readers alike that I hate to ask more of him, but I feel that ensuring long-term assured access to one’s purchases on the devices of one’s choice is critically important.

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