It was announced today that Tor Books, the largest science fiction and fantasy publisher, will from this point on publish its ebooks without DRM restrictions. This means that once you buy the book, you can convert it and read it on any platform. Kindle, Nook, ebook app, whatever. This is a huge deal. It’s also the direction the publishing world is going.
Baen Books, about which I have unabashedly gushed for decades, has been selling non-DRMed books since day one, in multiple formats. In many cases if you buy the hardback of a new series, you get a CD containing all the rest of the series. You can even get all those CDs for free here, by permission. And they’ve prospered.
What prompted a big company to do it? Couple things. One, I believe the saner heads — if not the upper management — wanted it and finally presented the case. DRM doesn’t prevent piracy. Any book you want, you can find a pirated copy if you try. No, DRM only annoys the legitimate buyer, who just wants to read the book she paid for how she wants to. Two, there’s a huge public outcry against DRM. Three, J. K. Rowling, who probably counts as a Big Six publisher all by herself, finally released the Potter books in ebook form and without DRM. Not much of a danger for her, since she has a built-in, worshipful audience who wants to shower her with money and because people willing to get pirated copies already got them the weekend after each book came out.
And four, and this is a big one: the publishers are fighting Amazon and Apple for control over pricing. And if they can’t win that, the least they can do is take away either of those companies’ monopolies on their products. Buy a Kindle book with DRM and you have to read it on a Kindle or Kindle app. But without DRM, you can read it wherever you like.
So hooray for Tor! Now we just need to work on all the other problems. As someone who has been reading ebooks since they existed, and someone who has paid my actual cash for the thousands of books on my iPhone and Kindle and computer, I have only a few requests.
Pricing: I don’t expect ebook prices to be absurdly low. You’re a business, you have to cover your overhead, and successful books need to help cover the losses from less successful books. I get that. But don’t expect me to pay hardcover prices, especially when no major retailer sells hardcovers at full price. Personally I’m comfortable at the $9.99 – $12.99 level for new releases. Remember, that seems low to you, but I’m paying for something that costs you nothing to replace, whereas I can’t resell it myself. Procuring and editing and presentation still may be a substantial percentage of an ebook, but there is no print run. You can’t tell me the 20,000th ebook sold cost you as much to produce as the first. You get a bestseller and ebook sales quickly become all profit.
Also, drop the price as soon as the paperback comes out. When the paperback has been out for months and the ebook is still hardcover price, it makes you look either incompetent, greedy, or contemptuous of ebook readers. Pay attention.
Quality: Proofread the damn things. The number of typos I’ve found in New York Times Bestseller books is staggering, much less the midlist books.Sir Terry Pratchett’s “Snuff” was rife with errors. This month’s “Sacre Bleu” by Christopher Moore has a duplicated page. The retailers can’t fix them, only the publishers can, and unless there’s an embarrassing outcry, for the most part you don’t. You don’t want to be in the position where the pirated copy is more attractive and dependable than the retail one. Yes, there’s extra copyediting and that’s another non-profitable position you have to fill, but reputation is important for a publisher.
Availability: Get me the ebooks when the printed book is published. Mostly this happens but occasionally there’s a lag. The novelization for “The Cabin in the Woods,” available in paperback last week, was available as an ebook in the U.K at the same time but not in the U.S., where it still shows a June 19 release date. I’m assuming this is a clerical error — and Titan, usually a company I quite like, is looking into it — but it’s annoying. A few years ago Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, HarperColins and Hachette announced they’d be delaying their ebooks for four months after the print release, undoubtedly pleasing book pirates everywhere. How is that working out for them? (Oh, right, it’s part of a price-fixing lawsuit against them now [PDF]).
The regional problem is a bigger one. If a book is released in the U.S., it might not be available overseas, even though the Internet goes everywhere. This gets really frustrating for readers who want to hand you fistfuls of money, but can’t. However, regional rights are both more complicated and a significant source of income for authors, and existing contract can’t be changed, but maybe you could look into speeding up the sales of those rights so a book can drop worldwide on the same day?
See? I’m not asking for much. I want a fair price for a quality product I can read on any device I like, when I want to read it.
Tor’s off to a good start.