Tom Doherty Associates, the Macmillan subsidiary, announced this morning that Tor/Forge books are now available DRM-free from all major ebook retailers, including Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo, and Sony. Tom Doherty Associates publishes under the Tor, Forge, Orb, and Tor Teen imprints.
I checked most of the major ebook stores.* Kobo is the only store which actually lets you see whether a book is DRM-free or has DRM, and sure enough, every Tor and Forge title I looked up is available at Kobo without DRM. I couldn’t find anything about the DRM status of book(s) sold through Amazon, B&N, Google Play, or Sony’s Reader Store, which means you will simply have to trust that you are getting a DRM-free copy if you buy from any of those stores.
Buyers at Kobo will want to be careful, however; I found two copies of several titles, one an Adobe-DRM PDF, and the other a DRM-free ePub. Same price, but if you purchase the wrong one, you usually can’t return it.
What does all this mean and how important is it to ebook purchasers, really? To begin with, while some smaller publishing houses have experimented with going DRM-free, most notably Baen Books (which has been DRM-free for years), this marks the first time that a major subsidiary of one of the Big Six publishers has offered all their titles without DRM. If this experiment works — if sales get better (or at least stay the same) and piracy doesn’t increase — Tor/Forge’s experience may lead other publishers to do the same thing.
The upside of DRM-free for you as an ebook purchaser is very clear: You will no longer be held hostage to a particular device or format. Without DRM, you can easily convert the book from format to format (using Calibre). If you buy a book in ePub to read on, say, a Kobo reader, and a year from now your Kobo reader breaks and you decide to buy a Kindle, you will be able to easily and legally convert the ePub book to Kindle format. If, fifteen years from now, Amazon goes belly-up and Kindle is no more (an unlikely scenario, but weirder things have happened), you can then convert the book to whatever new format comes along. Right now, you as an ebook purchaser are in more-or-less the same boat as people with LP collections were in when CDs came along, or people who bought Betamax movies were in when that format disappeared. You can’t switch from one proprietary format to another format without having to repurchase your content, and if your format becomes obsolete, you’ve essentially lost your ebook collection. (Unless, of course, you are both willing and tech-savvy enough to break the law by removing the DRM to convert the file format yourself.)
In other words, the Tor/Forge move is a really, really big deal. It has the potential to be a game-changer.
A final note in case you’re wondering which titles and authors are affected by this announcement: Tor/Forge publishes a fair number of titles in a variety of genres, from science fiction and fantasy to thrillers, mysteries, and general fiction, plus some nonfiction. You can check out their authors and titles here.
* I did not check the Apple store.