Stross makes the case for ebooks going DRM-free

Charlie Stross has posted a long essay making the case for ebook publishers going DRM-free. It's a good, comprehensive look. I'll be writing something more on this subject later this week, too.

1. The rapid current pace of change in the electronic publishing sector is driven by the consumer electronics and internet industry. It's impossible to make long term publishing plans (3-10 years) without understanding these other industries and the priorities of their players. It is important to note that the CE industry relies on selling consumers new gadgets every 1-3 years. And it is through their gadgets that readers experience the books we sell them. Where is the CE industry taking us?

2. Dropping DRM across all of Macmillans products will not have immediate, global, positive effects on revenue in the same way that introducing the agency model did ...

3. However, relaxing the requirement for DRM across some of Macmillans brands will have very positive public relations consequences among certain customer demographics, notably genre readers who buy large numbers of books (and who, while a minority in absolute numbers, are a disproportionate source of support for the midlist).

4. Longer term, removing the requirement for DRM will lower the barrier to entry in ebook retail, allowing smaller retailers (such as Powells) to compete effectively with the current major incumbents. This will encourage diversity in the retail sector, force the current incumbents to interoperate with other supply sources (or face an exodus of consumers), and undermine the tendency towards oligopoly. This will, in the long term, undermine the leverage the large vendors currently have in negotiating discount terms with publishers while improving the state of midlist sales.

More on DRM and ebooks


  1. Seeing #4 happen would be very exciting.  As someone who works in publishing, however, I can tell you that most publishers are in the same place, technologically, as they were when I started working in the industry 15 years ago:  “Um, should we do something with the Interwebs, or whatever?”

  2. The point important to the customer is the other side of point #1: with a DRM-free ebook you can be certain that your ebook is readable ten years from now, on whichever device is in vogue then.

  3. #4 Would be especially nice, if only for the fact that your average indie seller isn’t going to “publish” the tragic quantities of self-published bloatware that clutter up the kindle store.

    While I really like the disruptive factor that this sort of author empowerment provides and have read some very decent self-published ebook-only material, Amazon’s method of presentation, combined with the unweighted  reviews that favor shills, makes the situation worse than the app store for discerning signal from noise and quality from crap.

  4. When Tor/Forge announced their plans to go DRM-free yesterday, Nightshade Books (a small SF publisher) pointed out that they’d been selling DRM-free ebooks through Baen Books (whose stuff is also multi-format DRM-free) for a while. I went on a minor spending spree …

    Now is the time to make a point of buying from vendors who offer DRM-free/multi-format ebooks, so that they know that the experiment is working. Otherwise, when the sales prove disappointing (and the ‘everything should be free’ dipshits Torrent everything they can get their hands on), some snake-oil salesman promising ‘better’ DRM will get the ear of the publishers and we’ll be back where we started.

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