A DRM Tale

A couple of years ago, author Cory Doctorow wrote an article for Publisher's Weekly that has recently become relevant once again. It involves that current darling and underdog of the book world, Hachette, and DRM. Hachette, of course, has been all over the news and social media over the past few months as they bravely battle that evil BIG BUSINESS OVERLORD Amazon in a quest to bring fair prices to their readers and a fair percentage of book profits to their author's bank accounts.

Thankfully for Hachette, memories in the bookworld are short. Very short. Few of the readers now rallying around the publisher showing their support by boycotting everything Amazon and prefacing their every tweet with #readHachette recall the publisher's bullying DRM tactics (*sounds of a broom quickly sweeping that little inconvenient truth under the Hachette rug*). Wait....what's DRM again?



For those who need a quick refresher, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and you're probably familiar with it - even if you don't know it by name - if you own an e-reader (and really, who doesn't these days....'fess up). DRM is what controls your e-book after you buy it. It's what keeps you from sending that e-book to your Aunt Sally. Or loaning it to your best friend. Or maybe you can loan it to your best friend because it's a loanable e-book, yay! DRM controls the use of digital content after sale. And it's quite controversial. Okay, refresher over. Let's get back to Hachette here.

The large publishing houses initially embraced DRM. They loved it. They thought it made them a lot of money. But a little time passed, some lawsuits came and went, and some studies were released. And you know what? As it turned out, DRM wasn't all that great. It didn't make readers buy more copies of books. If anything, it lost publishing houses some of their loyal readers. Now some of the publishing houses, like Macmillan and their imprint Tor Books, saw these studies and tossed DRM out the window. This, one would think, was their prerogative. You would be WRONG. There was one large, DRM-loving publishing house, Hachette (you saw that coming, didn't you?), that saw this as a complete betrayal of the publishing-house-brotherhood and felt compelled to pull all kinds of shenanigans to put pressure on Tor Books to come back into the fold of DRM. What kind of pressure? You might be surprised....

Enter Cory Doctorow's article mentioned above. One author who had published books with Hachette in some territories and Tor Books in other territories not even covered by Hachette actually received a letter from the CEO of Little, Brown at the time stating that Tor's no-DRM policy was making it difficult for Hachette to protect their DRM rights. That's right...Hachette felt like Tor wasn't backing them up. She went on to tell that author to contact Tor Books and insist Tor use DRM on his titles and "we look forward to hearing what action you propose taking."  WHATZA? Really? Is that a threat? Or just a friendly suggestion?How does one interpret a letter like that? That's classy stuff right there and that's the kind of games Hachette was playing as they embraced their DRM-lovin' policies.



Fast forward to the spring of 2014 and the current Amazon v Hachette War to End All Wars (Insert Eyeroll Here).  Stay with me here because this all ties in together in a rather funny way....well, funny if you have my perverted sense of humor. Hachette just happens to be the first of the Big Five publishers to come up for renegotiation with Amazon and boy oh boy, what a stalemate that turned out to be. (Now I'm not going to pontificate on which side is right and which side is wrong because guess what? They're both BIG BUSINESS. Folks, I hate to break this to you. Neither Amazon or Hachette is looking out for you, the reader, or the authors, or any of the little guys in this. Their only concern is making money. And not money to give to their authors or nice publicists you might share nice Tweets with now and then, but money for their freaking shareholders. This is Business 101. I'm reasonably you all took this class your first year of university which, granted, might be lost in an fraternity-alcoholic-party-thing-fog - but trust me, you took this class and they taught you this. So cut it with the Hachette's-so-angelic-and-good and Amazon's-so-demonic-and-evil crap right now, 'k? I can't take you seriously if you do that shit.) Moving on....back to the funny....



So as it turns out, we have this huge stalemate between Amazon and Hachette. Amazon pulls Hachette's books. But what does Hachette do in retaliation? That's right. Nothing. (You can't count their weak social media try-to-convince-silly-media-that-Amazon-is-a-evil-bully campaign as doing something.) Hachette didn't do anything. Why?  Why didn't Hachette didn't just walk away from Amazon and say "Screw you, we're going to take all of our ebooks leave Amazon forever!" Well it wasn't because they didn't want to, that's for certain. It was because they couldn't. Hachette, you'll recall, still loves their DRM. And DRM, by law, is encrypted by the seller of the ebooks. That would be Amazon. So Amazon holds the magic key to every DRM'd Kindle book Hachette has ever sold. Darn. That's a bummer. (You can read Doctorow's gloating article in The Guardian here...he deserves a little gloat for his accurate predictions.)

Hachette's own greediness over DRM put them in an untenable negotiating position with Amazon. It's difficult to feel sorry for them over that. Especially when DRM in the ebook world is a ridiculous notion that should have been tossed out the window years ago when Tor Books saw the light.  The lesson to be learned in all of this? The remaining publishers clinging to DRM who are slated to renegotiate contracts with Amazon in the future should take note. This is business and when it comes to profit margins the gloves come off. Ditch the DRM and give yourself a fighting chance in the ring.

14 comments:

  1. Great post. Thanks for pointing out some things that I may have, ahem, forgotten.

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    1. Okay, you made me laugh here. Ahem. I was going to do the whole Oh My Gosh, the Big 5 Publishers Got the Pants Sued Off of Them in 2012 for ANTI-TRUST, but then I got bored....pfffft. Maybe next week. HA!

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  2. I knew about the war, but I guess I didn't appreciate the finer points. Now, I'll just be going back to stick my head up my butt again.

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    1. Hey...not your butt, that's way too TINY. Maybe a blankie? A nice blankie we can take a book and a flashlight, too? Move over, make room for me. That sounds nice. :D

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  3. That IS hilarious. I'm still against Amazon as an idea, just like I am Walmart, but you have definitely given me a much less skewed perspective of the whole ongoing stalemate. I'm guessing that if things play out, Hachette is going to cave to Amazon in the end, right?

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    1. Well, you're right re: Walmart thing comparison (I myself always draw the line at Wally World). And that is cool if that's your line because it's for the RIGHT REASONS! *applause* Me, I try to spread it out. I can't be having my various e-readers getting lonely. But that wouldn't be even necessary if they'd drop the FUCKING DRM. ARGHHHHHH. (Hairpulling) So I do get a little (teensy?) bit of satisfaction watching Hachette get their butt kicked a bit because of their greediness over DRM. They had that comin'.

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  4. You're the Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential, exposé blogger of the book world. Right on.

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    1. *Snort!* Well. I wouldn't go that far. I wouldn't even go half--way that far. But....I do get a sort of evil satisfaction watching this dumb-ass tennis game between two evil corporations that are both really out to screw us and the author and everyone else on their payroll below the level of CEO. Because, you know, you've got to pay for that upper level "talent" somehow. *eyeroll* Way to go, corporate 'Murica. (Or, Viva la France! for Hachette)

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    2. That comment, Andi. That comment.

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  5. Well-stated. There has been quite a bit of pontificating coming out of the publishing world the last few weeks. I wasn't aware of all the finer points of the Hachette deal with Amazon, but the whining was getting a bit much. Both are big businesses and neither is looking out for us. I understand that. But I like shopping at Amazon and I don't appreciate attempts at making me feel I'm evil if I buy something from them. Now Walmart, maybe once a year in an emergency... maybe.

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    1. Ahhhh, you took the words right out of my mouth. I draw the line at Walmart. Just like I'll read anything. But I draw the line at Mommy Porn. pffffft.

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  6. "I do get a sort of evil satisfaction watching this dumb-ass tennis game between two evil corporations that are both really out to screw us and the author and everyone else on their payroll below the level of CEO."

    You are my sunshine. :)

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Fire away!