May 7, 2013

Losing DRM hasn’t hurt Tor’s profits


When they announced last year that they would go DRM-free, Pan Macmillian‘s science fiction imprint Tor/Forge took a stand against a feature of most ebooks that customers hate but that publishers think they need.

In dropping the digital rights protections which prevent readers from moving ebooks between devices or breaking territorial boundaries, Tor took a gamble that the risk of increased ebook piracy would not affect their profits. And, the company says, they’ve been proven right.

Tor removed the electronic inhibitor, they said at the time, out of respect for their readers (and after gaining permission from some very sympathetic authors).

“We know, that our readers are earlier adapters of technology, the first in-line to experiment with new formats, new reading experiences and new devices. In part it’s the nature of the genre—a pushing of boundaries and imagination and it’s what we all love about the area. For us, we felt a strong sense that the reading experience for this tech-savvy, multi-device owning readership, was being inhibited by DRM leaving our readers unable to reasonably and legally transfer ebook files between all the devices they had. DRM was an irritant taking away the flexibility and their choice of reading device and format, the very things that made the ebook so desirable a format to begin with.”

Editorial Director at Tor UK, Julie Crisp, wrote this week on the Tor website that going DRM-free has not affected their bottom line, given that book piracy has not increased in any discernible way.

In fact, the move away from DRM generated a great deal of goodwill in their community of readers and attracted a deluge of positive press.

Of course, supporters of DRM might say that Tor’s readers are uniquely attuned to these issues, given the genre, and the lesson here might not be applicable for other publishers. Nevertheless, Tor has certainly led the way. While copyright protection and piracy concerns will be ongoing, it’s increasingly clear that DRM is not the key to solving publishing’s ebook problem—it only serves as an irritant to our readers and has little impact on piracy.

Tor doesn’t offer any real figures on their sales or rates of piracy, but if Crisp is to be believed, the life DRM-free is good enough that Tor will not be returning DRM to their books in the foreseeable future.

“The move has been a hugely positive one for us, it’s helped establish Tor and Tor UK as an imprint that listens to its readers and authors when they approach us with a mutual concern—and for that we’ve gained an amazing amount of support and loyalty from the community. And a year on we’re still pleased that we took this step with the imprint and continue to publish all of Tor UK’s titles DRM-free.”



Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.