Hachette to Tor authors: you must keep the DRM on your ebooks

You'll recall that Tor Books (and its sister science fiction imprints of Macmillan publishers around the world) has dropped DRM on all of its titles. Hachette, one of Macmillan's rivals in the "Big Six" pantheon of publishers, is famously pro-DRM (one Hachette author told me that her editor said that Hachette's unbreakable policy, straight from the top, is that no books will be acquired by Hachette if there are any DRM-free editions, anywhere in the world).

My latest Publishers Weekly column reports on a leaked letter, signed by Little, Brown UK's CEO, that has been sent to authors whose books are published by both Tor and Hachette imprints in different territories. In the letter, Hachette instructs the author to demand that Tor leave the DRM intact on the books that both publishers produce, and warns that future contracts will require that authors who sign with Hachette in one territory only use pro-DRM publishers in other territories.

It's an astonishing combination of chutzpah and denialism:

I've just seen a letter sent to an author who has published books under Hachette's imprints in some territories and with Tor Books and its sister companies in other territories (Tor is part of Macmillan). The letter, signed by Little, Brown U.K. CEO Ursula Mackenzie, explains to the author that Hachette has "acquired exclusive publication rights in our territories from you in good faith," but warns that in other territories, Tor's no-DRM policy "will make it difficult for the rights granted to us to be properly protected." Hachette's proposed solution: that the author insist Tor use DRM on these titles. "We look forward to hearing what action you propose taking."

The letter also contains language that will apparently be included in future Hachette imprint contracts, language that would require authors to "ensure that any of his or her licensees of rights in territories not licensed under this agreement" will use DRM.

It's hard to say what's more shocking to me: the temerity of Hachette to attempt to dictate terms to its rivals on the use of anti-customer technology, or the evidence-free insistence that DRM has some nexus with improving the commercial fortunes of writers and their publishers. Let's just say that Hachette has balls the size of Mars if it thinks it can dictate what other publishers do with titles in territories where it has no rights.

Doubling Down on DRM

Update: In a pair of tweets, the @HachetteUK account sends this correction: "Sorry to be a pedant, but in your DRM article you refer to Ursula Mackenzie as our UK CEO when in fact she is the CEO of Little, Brown UK, part of the HUK group. Our Group CEO is Tim Hely Hutchinson. Thanks."