Which ebook sellers will allow publishers and writers to opt out of DRM?

My August Publishers Weekly column reports in on my experiment to see which of the major ebook stores would carry my books without DRM, and with a text disclaimer at the beginning that released readers from the crazy, abusive license agreements that most of these stores demand as a condition of purchase. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo were all happy to carry my books without DRM, and on terms that gave you the same rights you got when buying paper editions. Sony and Apple refused to carry my books without DRM -- even though my publisher and I both asked them to.

The upshot is that you can now buy electronic editions of my books in the Kindle, Nook and Kobo stores in DRM-free, EULA-free editions!

In May, I cornered Macmillan CEO John Sargent and CTO Fritz Foy at the Macmillan BEA party. As the publishers of my books with Tor, I asked them if they'd be willing to try offering my e-books to all the major online booksellers--Amazon's Kindle store, Apple's iPad store, Barnes & Noble's Nook store, Sony's e-book store, and Kobo--as DRM-free products with the following text inserted at the beginning of the file:

"If the seller of this electronic version has imposed contractual or technical restrictions on it such that you have difficulty reformatting or converting this book for use on another device or in another program, please visit http://craphound.com for alternate, open format versions, authorized by the copyright holder for this work, Cory Doctorow. While Cory Doctorow cannot release you from any contractual or other legal obligations to anyone else that you may have agreed to when purchasing this version, you have his blessing to do anything that is consistent with applicable copyright laws in your jurisdiction."

As I explained to John and Fritz, although all my books are available as downloads for free, I often hear from readers who want to buy them, either because it is a simple way to compensate me (I also maintain a public list of schools and libraries who've solicited copies of my books so that grateful e-book readers can purchase and send a print copy to one of them, thus repaying my favor and doing a good deed at the same time) or because they like the no-hassle option of tapping on their device to buy a book. I am more than happy to offer my otherwise free books for sale in any vendor's store, of course, but only if the vendors agree to carry them on terms I feel I can stand behind as an entrepreneur, as an artist, and as a moral actor.

Doctorow's First Law


  1. As always, Cory, you do a service to your readers. It is sad that at the forefront of the digital revolution, Apple cannot see this. I’ve been enjoying your books for years now and following your candid activist adventures with stuck-on glee.

    1. Apple is NOT at the forefront of technology. Their walled-garden is equatable to the AOL of the 90s.

  2. When I covered your earlier piece on TeleRead, Henry Melton, a self-publishing writer himself, pointed out that Apple’s ITC program for placing books on the iBookstore not only allows DRM-free publishing, it is in fact the default setting:

    DRM-free books from Apple show up in the list view as “Purchased Book” and those with DRM show up as “Protected Book”. You can “View in FInder” a DRM-free book and drag it over to calibre, for example, and it will be viewable and convertable. That’s what I’ve recommended to my readers who want an ePub for other platforms and formats.

    1. I think the importance of this article isn’t that you CAN sell your books without DRM claws in iBooks, but that you cannot, as a writer, add what Cory wants added to his books: the information that the book can be downloaded for free at Craphound.com.

  3. Paul’s First Law:

    Whatever your First Law is, call it your “Second Law”.

    This will ensure that academics will scour everything you wrote…just to find out what the heck your “First Law” was.

    /Not to mention, it’ll keep Wiki rewriters busy.

  4. Baen’s Webscriptions ebook store as far as I can tell actually do not even allow you to have DRM on your books even if you wanted to. Without buying a bunch of other titles, what I see is that all books are are offered in all the following formats, doc, epub, html, lit, lrf, mobi, rb, and rtf. Some of those like lrf are closed formats, but since you would always have the html version available it defeats any DRM that would be on it.In a number of physical books Baen publishes they include CDs with the language “This disk and its contents may be copied and shared, but NOT sold. All commercial rights reserved.” that have about 30-50 previously published titles. Examples of these CDs may be found if you google “baencd”. Tor even sells some of their books via Webscriptions.

  5. Cory, this is fantastic…thanks for pushing publishers on this! I just added FTW and LB Kindle versions to my multiple other copies; excellent.

    And the price is reasonable…I do not in general buy Kindle books priced over $9.99, or where the e-price is higher than the paperback one (this makes no sense whatsoever to me). $9.99 I can live with, though, and I’m happy to push some sales into the Kindle queue so that your publisher will be pleased with the results of their decision!

    Looking forward to With A Little Help next month!

  6. Thanks, Cory. I have a Sony eReader that I have *never* installed the included software for (as I didn’t know if it would add DRM crap, and it’s always worked just fine without it), and I’ve been having a blast with it. I also use the DRM-free Calibre ebook management software (which is awesome).

    I’m a huge book-buyer and reader. But I have not and never will buy *any* book that has DRM on it, and I have not and will never pay anything more than paperback price for an ebook. Am I hurting for eReading material?

    No way. 100% DRM-free and extortion-free, I’ve broadened my horizons, learned to find new reading sources, and have discovered more great authors than I ever would have known about had I only stuck with “traditional” e- or p-book channels. And if an eBook can only be gotten with DRM on it, or, if they are charging more than paperback prices for it? I wait for the paperback, and *if* I’m even still interested by the time it comes out (often not, since there are so many fun choices for reading material these days, and I only have so much time to read), I buy it that way, instead.

    The book industry is really shooting itself in the foot on this one. It makes me think of the old mining towns, where the people used to only be able to shop in the over-priced, too-controlling company store but now can go anywhere — but that company store just keeps trying to enforce old rules and restrictions to keep its profits up. There will always be folks there who out of sheer laziness will continue to only shop there. But the rest of us? We’re free.

  7. This is GREAT news.

    I’ve complained about not being able to buy your books, and you explained the problem which seemed an unnecessary and stupidly easy problem to solve from the retailers side. It’s great that they finally realized this and make modern business available to the more forward thinking of the authors.

  8. The ebook industry has 2 very big problems it needs to deal with. The first is their attempts to try and lock you to a single vendors device with their own formats, and as far as I know the only ones not doing this are those supporting EPUB and PDF, I’m surprised that you can get kindle books without DRM (I’ll have to look into that closer). Cory seems to be trying to do right on this issue.

    The other is this insane idea that because I don’t live in the US means that they don’t want my money.
    On Amazon:
    “This title is not available for customers from your location in:
    Asia & Pacific”

    It’s rather annoying to finally be able to purchase Cory’s ebooks only to be faced with this, but it is what I’ve come to expect over the month that I’ve been an owner of an ebook reader. Project Gutenberg will keep me going for awhile but eventually I’m going to want to buy some books and the selection seems to be limited for those sellers that are actually prepared to do business with me. I know it is most likely the publishers fault, but seriously the industry needs to sort this out.

  9. Also, I like this corollary that commenter OldCola posted today on my blog:

    “Any time someone puts a lock (anywhere) it’s a call to unlock it. (Just to test the security level.)”

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