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.