A Real Change of Heart or Just More Smoke and Mirrors

Earlier this week, it was announced that Tor/Forge was going to go DRM-free by July 2012. Normally, I’d view such news as very good news indeed. However, I’ll admit I’m still playing Scrooge about it. Maybe it’s because of who owns Tor/Forge — Macmillan. You remember them. They are one of the Big 6, those major publishing houses that believed it was better for their companies to adopt the agency pricing model and make LESS money just because it might stick it to Amazon. Macmillan is also one of the five publishers, along with Apple, to be sued by the Department of Justice for price fixing.

Anyway, here’s what Tom Doherty had to say: Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time. 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.

While I have to admit, it’s nice to see that Doherty and company finally realize that DRM is “a constant annoyance”, there is one thing I find glaringly absent from his comment or from the TOR announcement: a decrease in price. Remember, the application of DRM has been a convenient excuse for publishers charging higher prices for their books because DRM is expensive. So, if they are going to do away with DRM, will they be lowering prices? Somehow, I’m not holding my breath.

Another point of irritation comes from reading the Publishers Weekly article about the TOR announcement. It’s no secret that I am an e-book fan. I wouldn’t work for an electronic press if I wasn’t. It should also come as no surprise that I have brand loyalty to Baen. Under Jim Baen’s leadership, Baen pioneered the e-book industry. Toni Weisskopf has continued and expanded the work Jim began. Yet the only publishers PW mentions in the article are those who once had DRM and dropped it, not those — like Baen — that recognized from the outset what a bad idea DRM happens to be.

One more point about all this: don’t get too excited about the announcement. Macmillan has not yet expanded the announcement to other imprints/houses under its umbrella. In other words, St. Martins and Henry Holt, among others, will continue to add DRM to their titles. In other words, this is an experiment. Macmillan is trying to see how much of an impact removing DRM will have on its sales. My fear is that the experiment is already set up to fail. If TOR doesn’t lower its prices, there will be no dramatic increase in sales. If there is no dramatic increase in sales, I doubt (and that’s putting it mildly) Macmillan will decide to remove DRM from its other titles.

Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic. What do you think?

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Book 1 in the Nocturnal Lives Series

Now for the promotional spiel. Nocturnal Origins (Book 1 of the Nocturnal Lives Series) can be purchased through Amazon. Nocturnal Serenade (Book 2) and Nocturnal Haunts (a novella set in the Nocturnal Lives world) can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the Naked Reader Press webstore. And, because RES rightfully chastised me for not making it clear in yesterday’s promotional post, authors get a larger slice of the pie if you buy your copies from the NRP store. Finally, as always, there is no DRM added to any of the Naked Reader Press titles.

21 thoughts on “A Real Change of Heart or Just More Smoke and Mirrors

  1. Removing DRM means Kindle customers (the majority) don’t have to go through Amazon. Publishers don’t want somebody else to become gatekeeper – they know all about abusing that position.

    I think this is an experiment in sanity. If it works, they’ll expand it. If not, blame Tom Doherty. It’s win-win from the MacMillan executive perspective.

    I don’t see them reducing prices any time soon. Maybe after indie and Baen have their lunch.

    1. Ori, the only thing is, I don’t see Nook customers changing their buying habits to shop on Amazon or Kindle customers shopping at B&N. At least not until the DoJ’s suit is settled or there is a final ruling. Remember, Macmillan is one of the two publishers that refused to settle. Even then, I think they’ll only go to another retail site if that site offers the title in question for less. The ease of having a book downloaded directly onto your e-reader at no charge is just too attractive to start side-loading if you don’t have to.

  2. I think they’ll probably see an increase in sales, albeit a small one. I know I, for one, would never consider buying any ebook with DRM, so now I’ll actually consider buying Tor-imprint ebooks. There may be others like me out there.

    Now, all other things being equal, would I rather buy one Tor book at $12* or two Baen books at $6? The question answers itself. But when it comes to books, all other things *aren’t* equal, so Macmillan may start seeing some of my ebook money soon, because there are some authors published through Tor whose works I’d like to own in ebook form.

    * Note that I don’t actually know what the price of Tor ebooks is; this is just a guess.

    1. Robin, you may be right. I do agree any sales spike will be small. For one, it is much too easy to break the drm on their books as is. For another, on a personal level at least, there are few authors they are publishing right now I’d consider paying more than 8 or 9 dollars for, at least if we’re talking e-books. Maybe it’s because I work with an e-book publisher and I know what it takes to make an e-book. So I know how much smoke they are trying to blow up a certain part of our anatomies when they talk about how expensive it is to create an e-book. Shrug.

    2. Tor’s current ebook prices start out in the 13-15$ range when the Hardback is out but looks like they drop it to same price as the MMPB when it comes out.

      For example the Safehold Series by David Weber is published by Tor and the preorder of this summer’s ebook at 15$, last year’s volume (yet to come out in paperback) at 13$, and the older volumes that have come out in MMPB for 8-9$ depending on the price of the paperback. That’s still not as good as the 6$ Baen charges but better than the publishers that never drop the price when the MMPB comes out.

      I am thinking about picking up the lower priced ebooks of the series once they go DRM free (and they start selling through webscriptions as is in negotiations). I had been buying them in HB but found that i had gotten spoiled at reading on a light kindle/cellphone i always had with me and am about 2 volumes behind due to the “inconvenience” of lugging one of Weber’s giant tomes around.

      1. Thomas, thanks for the comment. I do appreciate it when a publisher lowers e-book prices as they bring out the lower priced hard copy versions. As you said, some never do. But I still have a hard time justifying paying more than $9.99 for an e-book. Yes, there are some I will do it for. But those are usually non-fiction e-books. I also agree that it is much easier to tote around Weber’s works on my kindle or tablet than the physical book. Those suckers are heavy! 😉

        It’s still going to be interesting to see if TOR lowers the initial price of their e-books since they have removed one of the more expensive parts in e-book creation – DRM.

        1. I agree with you on holding the line on the over 10$ price point. Notice I said I was planning on buying the lower priced ebooks. 🙂

          As I understand it for most Publisher/Retailer contracts these days the DRM costs get eaten by the Retailer not the Publisher. So why should the Agency Publisher lower their price since they didn’t see any cost savings? *takes off the Agency Publisher’s hat, its stuffy in there!*

          For NON agency publishers the removal of the DRM requirement would let the retailer drop their price and still make the same margin after costs under the wholesale model. That could lead to interesting pricing changes as mandatory DRM gets dropped by more publishers. Not only could the DRM Free books be cheaper but if the fixed costs of the DRM Infrastructure is spread over a smaller pool of DRMed books driving the cost of DRM higher.

          Unfortunately Tor’s parent company Macmillan hasn’t settled the DoJ lawsuit so is keeping things on the Agency model for now. I don’t think we will see those sorts of pricing experiments until one of the major imprints that are moving to the wholesale model via the settlement.goes DRM free.

          1. RE: who eats the DRM prices, you’re right. But if you go back and look at the justifications the Big 6 have put on their higher prices, DRM is one of them. Frankly, I’m not going to hold my breath on anything until the DoJ’s lawsuit is settled one way or the other.

  3. Mabe I have simply become too cynical to live in a world that has people in it, but ………… I see a much more nefarious possibility lurking here. The fact that this is being announced just as the public is beginning to react to CISPA strikes me as overly convenient. Granted I know the axiom says we should never attribute to malice that which can just as easily be explained by stupidity, but I can’t help wondering if there isn’t someone getting ready to shove a rash of Tor titles out into thr torrent sites as soon as the DRM-free versions are released. I’m thinking the July-to-September quarter would be a sufficient period for “market analysis” to “prove” that removing DRM “led to” a measurable increase in piracy. And of course such results would become available just in time for a lame-duck session to take up this “pressing issue” while the public is distracted by the holiday season …

    Or have I just spent too much time lately studying Andrew Jackson?

    1. No, Andrew Jackson was very good at getting what he wanted done, no matter how he had to do it. This can be a good trait in a General (or bad depending on what kind of General he is) but is not a particularly good trait in a President.

    2. Steve, I hate to say it, but I had pretty much the same thought. But I’d promised Sarah I wouldn’t get political this morning because I don’t need my head exploding (has a major deadline to meet today). And you can never spend too much time studying A.J.

      1. Sorry, I didn’t mean to veer into politics. I was just looking at possible motives on the business-side of the issue. And I’ve been reading up on Ole Hick’ry for a specific purpose — the epic-fantasy backstory requires taking a kingdom from its Golden Age into sharp decline in just a couple of generations in the royal family. I figured there was no sense inventing new ways to break things when there are perfectly-bad examples already out there … 🙂

        1. Steve, you’re fine. I just know this crowd — myself most definitely included — and know how easy it is to go over the line.

          Your fantasy sounds like fun. Good luck!

  4. Tor actually tried using the Baen model several years back (if I remember right, they were even running the experiment on Baen’s infrastructure). It got tromped on by someone higher up on the corporate food chain, whether at the Macmillan level or the Holtzbrinck level I don’t recall.

    1. They did try it on Baen’s Webscriptions site in spring of 2006, a full 18 months before the Kindle came out. Things were on sale for a few days before it got stopped by higher ups and you can still see those books pages on Webscriptions though the buy buttons were removed.

      We never heard exactly how high the monkey wrench came from but I suspect it was at the Holtzbrink level since Tom Doherty probably OKed it with his direct bosses at Macmillan.

      1. Either way, it doesn’t make me feel confident that they will stick with this latest experiment, or that even if they do it will expand beyond the TOR portion of Macmillan.

        1. Well i have a little more confidence that it will stick around for Tor and Tor UK at least this time since the decision was made higher up the corporate ladder. http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/04/more-on-drm-and-ebooks.html has Charlie Stoss’s essay written for the higher ups making the decision to go DRM Free at their request before they made their final decision.

          Charlie says in his intro “The final decision to drop DRM on ebooks from Tor/Forge was taken by John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, who ultimately has to account for his actions to the shareholders.” which means to the Holtzbrinck level. And since Tor UK which does NOT report to Sargent went DRM free about 1 day after Tor US I think the Holtzbrinck’s approved of the experiment with the Tor imprint.

          I’m not holding my breath on it expanding to other imprints though unless it is a smashing success. They probably felt safe trying it with Tor since it is relatively small and SF readers were extra vocal about DRM and many of the Tor Authors were making noises about DRM being bad so had buy in on the idea.

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