Tor-Forge LogoWell, that didn’t take very long. The first major publishing imprint has announced it is going to go entirely DRM-free. Tor/Forge has just posted a press announcement to that its entire list of e-books will be available DRM-free, both through the current vendors and through retailers that can only sell DRM-free e-books, by July 2012.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

Well, good for Tom Doherty and Tor! Though the cynic in me has to wonder just how much this is related to Tor’s parent company, Macmillan, being one of the three companies that has chosen to fight the DoJ’s antitrust suit in court. Perhaps they see this as a way to appeal more to readers without having to lower their prices? But I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

It’s interesting to note that this is not the first time Tor has intended to go DRM-free. In 2006, Tor had planned to release some of its e-books DRM-free via Baen Webscriptions, and actually got so far as having several titles available for a day or so before execs at Holtzbrinck, which owns Macmillan, which owns Tor, shut it down immediately. Back in December 2007, Charlie Stross said he’d spoken to “unimpeachable sources” who claimed Tor would be reactivating the service “as soon as the lawyers finish sorting out the contractual agreements.”

Only took them four and a half years. I guess the wheels of lawyers grind slowly but fine.


  1. If I had a choice between Tor being DRM-free vs. Tor allowing retailers to discount their ebooks so that they are priced at or below the retailer’s discounted price for Tor paperbacks, I’d rather have discounts.

  2. DRM-free is better than DRM-encumbered but let’s not go overboard with the praise.
    Plenty of other publishers have been DRM-free for ages.
    And in the SF/Fantasy genres, TOR’s move “only” comes 13 years after BAEN’s DRM-free ebooks. Oh, and Baen ebooks run $6, not $13+.
    If they want some real good press for a change, MacMillan ought to drop prices or at least allow discounting. Though both would be best.

  3. I’m surprised that TOR could negotiate this change with the various retailers so quickly.

    I know that Baen books are not available through the major ebook stores, and I have always believed (perhaps incorrectly) that part of Baen’s problem was their insistence on not allowing DRM to be applied to their books.

  4. Gary, B&N and Amazon both allow DRM-free products. (Although when the DRM is enabled and shouldn’t be, there usually seems to be confusing finger-pointing about who is at fault.) O’Reilly should be an example (although I buy direct from the publisher so I don’t know for sure).

    Baen is kind of like Pottermore without the clout. If I were to guess, they want to ensure great customer service, have access to customers, and make 100% of the sale (Amazon won’t let them mark up their price to make up for the retailer cut). They were also selling ebooks to customers long before the current big players got into the game, and there may be a bit of inertia in keeping a good thing going. Still, it would make for a good interview…

  5. This is most likely just a toe in the water for Macmillan as a whole (and sure to be watched closely by the other sixers). If Tor don’t get eaten alive by “!!!Pirates!!!” they’ll hopefully all feel safer and be more receptive to going DRM-free in general (though if particular agents/authors insist on keeping DRM for their books then I say let them. Let it be their funeral, not the publisher’s.)

    I’ll take DRM-free over no-agency pricing any day. Particularly if MFN is removed (that is clearly anti-competitive and should be outlawed). The fact is agency pricing hasn’t led to the universal price increases that were predicted, only some ebooks have risen in price, some actually got cheaper. Overall I don’t think it made a huge difference one way or the other.

    I don’t think agency pricing is the panacea the publishers thought it would be, no one has to buy overpriced ebooks, in the end the publishers have to respond to what the market will pay, like any seller. As ebooks make up a growing proportion of every publisher’s sales they have to price them to sell, and it’s clear the majority of consumers won’t pay hardback prices for ebooks, Amazon or no Amazon.

  6. “The fact is agency pricing hasn’t led to the universal price increases that were predicted, only some ebooks have risen in price, some actually got cheaper.”

    I can’t think of any that are cheaper now at all other than limited time sales that publishers do from time to time on a few titles. I can think of plenty that have increased in price.

  7. As far as Baen and Amazon and pricing, it;s probably more complicated than “Baen wanted to set their own selling price but Amazon said no.” More likely, Amazon wants a large “wholesaler discount”, so they can then undercut the publisher’s price.

    An example would be, baen sells books for $6 so amazon wants to pay $4 per book.
    Amazon would then sell the books for 4.50, undercutting baen.
    Other publishers likely sell the books to amazon for 6 (preserving their profit), amazon sells for 8, while the publisher listed it at 10.

    All these numbers are made up besides the $6 that baen sells for, but it shows the squeeze Amazon puts on a publisher like Baen wanting to get on Amazon.

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