The DRM Thing and Redshirts

As noted in the FAQ I just put up, Redshirts is going to be released as an eBook here in the US without digital rights management software (DRM), meaning what when you buy it you can pretty much do what you want with it. Tor, my publisher, announced that all their eBooks would be released DRM-free by the end of July; I support this and asked Redshirts be released DRM-free from release date, so I think it might be the first official DRM-free release from Tor, which is in itself the first major publisher imprint to forgo DRM. In that way, Redshirts is a bit of a canary in a coal mine for major publishers.

If you were to ask me how I would want you to use your DRM-free eBook of Redshirts, I would say the following:

1. Hey, it’s yours, do what you want with it for your own personal use. Meaning: want to put it on every single electronic doodad you’ve got? Do it! Want to share it with your spouse/significant other/child/roommate/pet? Have fun. Want to print it out and use the physical pages as wallpaper? Live that dream. If it’s for you or immediate household folks, it’s all good.

2. Share with friends, but please have a sense of proportion. Want to pop it over to a friend who you think would like the book? Well, all right, then. Popping it over to all of your coworkers? Please don’t, although by all means point them in the direction of the free five chapter sample, which is enough for most folks to know whether they want to read more. Basically, share it like you would share a physical book — and encourage your friend, if they really liked it, to buy a copy to show their approval. My daughter’s college education thanks you in advance.

3. Please don’t put it out on the Internet for everyone to have. This is the thing all the publishers are terrified about, that the day the book is released, it’ll be on Teh Intarweebs where anyone can totally steal it, d00d. Well, two things: one, it would be anyway, because people who do that sort of thing can crack DRM pretty easily, and two, that’s probably not you. I don’t really expect that most people who buy the book have any ambition to punt the thing online; they just want to read it. But just in case you’re tempted: I would prefer if you did not. Point folks to the free sample instead; again, it’s enough that they’ll know whether they want to read more.

4. Remember there are humans on the other end of the book. As in, hi: I make my living writing the thing you’re reading. And so does my editor, my copyeditor, my page designer, my cover designer, the people who put the book in boxes (or servers) and the people who sell the books. We support ourselves, our families, our pets and our communities with the money we get from the work in your hands. Please remember that we’re there, and why we hope you’ve paid for our work, and encourage others to do the same.

Aaaand that’s it.

58 thoughts on “The DRM Thing and Redshirts

  1. I hope this goes well. I’d like to see the reading public show that it can support writers and publishers when they do things the right way. Hopefully, others will be convinced to follow you and Tor down this road.

  2. While I know this point is obvious, you didn’t actually say it above and I think it bears repeating: Just because it is DRM-free, does not mean it is copyright-free. Violating the copyright is still illegal, even if one doesn’t have to jump through software hoops to do it.

  3. So, will the DRM free eBook be available in Greece as well, or will we have to go through the same suffering of getting it to work on our readers as we had with Zoe’s Tale, do you think?

  4. It would be interesting to compare vital stats between a DRM free book and a DRM one of more or less equal status (hard to do but say the same author releases two different novels in the same series on the same day, one DRM free the other not). Would it affect sales significantly? Would it lead to more piracy, less piracy or about the same?

    I wonder if anyone is doing that sort of trial and whether Tor would be interested in doing it with some of their upcoming release?

  5. The question I still have is: even if Tor releases it without DRM, does that prevent Amazon, B&N, whoever from adding DRM to it when you buy from them? I’ve not seen anything addressing that.

  6. If I buy the ebook from Barnes and Noble, will that be DRM free as well or must it be purchased from tor-forge to be DRM free?

  7. “…release from Tor, which is in itself the first major publisher imprint to forgo DRM.”

    Ummmm, Baen isn’t a major publisher? I guess because they aren’t part of a multi-national but still…

    As for DRM itself, thank god it seems to be going the way of the dodo. I don’t like the idea that I am just licensing access to my books. But as Tim said: be sure to buy your damn books and don’t steal the things…

  8. Re: DRM: It’s in the FAQ I just put up. The answer is no, no one should be putting any DRM on it.

    But if the retailer did put DRM on it: Break it.

  9. I’m very glad to see Tor taking this step toward DRM-free ebooks, but they’re not the first major publisher to do so: Baen’s ebooks have been available DRM-free for many years now. Maybe you’re not considering them to be a “major” publisher since they’re not one of the “big six” or whatever, though I think most people would consider them one of the top tier publishers in SF.

  10. Scalzi said: But if the retailer did put DRM on it: Break it.

    I say: Buy it from someone who doesn’t put DRM on it in the first place. Show support for DRMed free titles and more will come.

  11. Ok. Just pre-ordered from Barnes and Noble after your insanely fast response. Now to change my Nook to be set to east coast time zone so that the pre-order will download at 9pm PST on the 4th instead of midnight. . .

    For Fuzzy Nation, I took the day off from work to read it. Good times. Think I will do that again.

  12. Thank you for going DRM with RED SHIRTS. I like read most things on my Nook Tablet, but there are times that if I have a book on my iPhone for reading too, life is great.
    Thanks again for making my retirement a little better!

  13. Sophia, since it is DRM free, if you know anyone is the US or Canada well enough to trust them with your credit card, have them buy it and email it to you. I think exactly this situation is why not having DRM is good for the publishers. It allows people to buy the book that otherwise couldn’t/wouldn’t.

    Thanks John. I will be buying it the day it comes out and, thanks to this blog entry, sharing it guilt free with my daughter.

  14. Good luck with Redshirts, John! My own publisher Angry Robot has been DRM-free (via their own store) for ages – they keep an eye on piracy but, as you say, DRM doesn’t stop people who want to pirate books in any case. Having been through four ereaders in the past few years, each with their own proprietary format, I’m so glad this pointless technology is being abandoned!

  15. Dan, Since it available in Canada, can I suggest setting your Nook to Newfoundland time (ADT) which would get it even an hour earlier?

  16. JJA, et al:

    No. Baen is an indie publisher which has distribution via a major publisher. They are definitely a significant publisher in the science fiction genre. They are not a major publisher, however, in the context of the business discussion here. It doesn’t take anything away from Baen (or its delightfully non-DRM ways) to note it.

  17. I’m going to buy this just because it has no DRM. I am SO tired of not being able to do what I want with the content I purchase.

  18. I just wanted to say I always find these posts where you explain your craft and how things work for you as author and the publishers to be neat and informational. Not many authors seem to take this interest you have in also educating your readers, in addition to plying us with good books.

    As a librarian, I am interested a bit in what authors say about libraries and us lending the book (yes, we would buy a copy or two). I know some authors are pretty cool to libraries, others less so. How about you? By the way, if you answered this already, feel free to just give me the link. Sounded like something that could be in an FAQ too.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  19. This is great – my roommate and I frequently exchange books. Since I got the ereader a year and a half ago, I have to rethink my book purchasing. It it’s a book I think will appeal to my roommate, I buy a physical copy (which makes it less portable for me in the event I’m traveling, etc.). Now that she has a tablet with both Kindle and Nook apps downloaded, I can download this one the moment it comes out and start reading immediately – shuffling it off to her when I’m done. Of course, we will both be buying a physical copy from the Burbank Friends of the Library, for the signing. Because we’re dorks like that. I’ve come to see my Nook and eBooks as useful for convenience (you mean I can get start reading this now, when I’m too drunk to drive to the bookstore/they won’t have it because it’s not a bestseller/the bookstore is closed/I don’t want to deal with the Grove’s heinous parking nightmare and clientele? yay, eBooks!), not money-saving.

  20. I’d like to point out something you’re missing in Bullet Point Number Two: Your co-workers will hate you forever for spamming them and plot your downfall.

  21. A. Rivera:

    I’m a big fan of libraries. I don’t know what Macmillan’s position is re: Library sales and whether these DRM-free copies are meant for individuals only, actually. That’s something you’d have to check with them about. I have no objection to libraries using DRM-free copies, personally, but I do wonder about how that’s possible from a practical point of view (i.e., how the library manages getting the eBook “returned,” etc).

  22. Ahh, DRM free eBooks — but the part they *don’t* tell you is now all hardcovers have A(nalog)RM security, and come with a thug who makes sure you don’t give your book away. But hey, thugs need work too I suppose.

  23. Note for future posts: I would love to hear your take on indie vs. significant vs major publishers. Because I bet I am going to disagree with you… ;-)

  24. Macmillan is one of the 2 major publishers that don’t make their ebooks available to digital libraries in any way. I would love if they would reconsider that decision.

  25. Well done… you’re giving us every reason to enjoy your work (DRM usually does the exact opposite. Ugh!). You’re a good egg, Scalzi.

  26. Thank you, John. As with most topics, you’re a voice of reason. I want to be able to enjoy my book the way I want, and I want to give you my money. Thanks for making it easy. Now I’m just waiting for the day I can purchase hardcopy books and get the e-book bundled!

  27. D.A Lascelles,

    Baen’s e-Books have been DRM free from day one. Eric Flint is/was geeky enough to keep track a non-DRM e-book sales vs a regular book sales. (This was in the years before Amazon backed the sale of e-books by developing their own e-reader.) The e-book backed novel earned more over time than the other title. (and since DRM exists mostly to make an e-book as one-off as a paper book… my logic says the answer to you question is non-DRM outsells DRM). As someone who used to work in retail…. the harder and less pleasant you make it for the customer, the less the customer will spend in your store. Period. DRM puts locks on things and if you lose your key or your reader dies, you, the reader, is SOL.

    Also Baen readers are very rabid about policing overt piracy (as in, people uploading a free book to their “pay to play” site). They love their easy-to-use and easy-to-back-up and easy-to-transfer-to-a-new-device e-books and will defend the business model as best they can. Jim Baen said or strongly implied (I can’t remember which) that he considered covert piracy (giving a copy of an e-book to a friend who you want to convert to fandom) to be advertising. As in “The first taste is free, but you’ll have to pay for the rest.” *

    I also know that at one point in time, Baen Books had a contract to sell Tor’s e-books as an e-book distributor until Tor’s parent company’s lawyers hyperventilated over the no-DRM requirement. (Again, this was in the pre-Kindle years.) The contract was voided before it ever went into effect.

    Then, there was Amazon’s Borgian attempt to bully the Big Six into assimilating as the Amazon-Only Sales Force last year. Tor’s Lawyerly overmind probably looked back at Baen’s insistence on DRM-free e-books as a pretty good idea, after all. Now Tor can sell to anyone with any kind of text reader on their electronic device. If push came to shove, they could be their own distributor of e-books rather than paying Amazon and Borders a percentage. **

    Yes, I’ve been following the development of the e-book for some time now. No, I don’t have an e-reader because the current business model makes it hard for me to manage my virtual library. E-books (and dedicated readers) don’t (yet) meet my stringent standards for durability and longevity.

    I suspect that Tor’s parent company (Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck) is keeping close track on how Tor’s new business model compares in the long run to the other imprints it currently owns. D.A Lascelles, your question will be answered in 1 to 3 years if/when Farrar Straus and Giroux, Henry Holt & Company, W.H. Freeman and Worth Publishers, Palgrave Macmillan, Bedford/St. Martin’s, Picador, Roaring Brook Press, St. Martin’s Press, and Macmillan Higher Education follows Tor’s example.


    * Baen Books also has the Baen Free Library where you can download whole books for free. The catch is, these are all the first book in a series. (or the first two or three, if the series is long enough.) Once you’re hooked, you have to buy the rest to read. The users of the library love it so much, they pestered Baen Books into putting a donation button in place so they can keep the library open. And yes, I have convinced people to read a new author by pointing them to the Baen Free Library. It’s a great sales tool that allows an author’s back list to be perpetually in print without the publisher paying taxes on dead-tree-versions housed in warehouses.

    ** at which point, any savings would probably be eaten up by the overhead of having a dedicated body managing the virtual store.

  28. You make your point gently and with grace.Thank you. It’s obvious you encourage sharing of your creation but recognize human nature.
    As a friend of my dad’s described him after his passing “He was a gentle but no-nonsense guy.” That sounds like you.

  29. I don’t have any problem giving money to the people who make books for me, and I don’t think most other readers do either. We’re aware that someone had to write them in the first place, and we buy books to show our love, not so that we can read them.

  30. As someone aboved pointed out, this is not the first case of DRM free publishing. Other major sci-fi publishers have been this way for years. I guess it is new for your publisher. Either way, I always remove DRM from everything I buy. DVD, Ble-ray discs are ripped and put on my media server, ebooks that require it are unDRM’d and music is no longer a issue. I could care less about the law, much like other laws that people around here disagree with I disagree with the copyright law in so far as it prevents me from personally managing the media I legally obtain. Now we need to get them to realize we will not allow them to raise ebook prices simply because they are greedy.

  31. Re: libraries and ebooks–the Open Library (a division of the Internet Archive) has a check-them-out, “return”-when-done policy. They say they have over 1 million titles. The Intenet Archive is a member of the American Library Association, and gets the bulk of its funding through the Smithsonian, so I’m inclined to think it’s not a scam, but I haven’t really looked into how it works–or even if.

    (I’ve always been impressed by the Archive–other companies just download the entire Internet occasionally. The Archive keeps backups! And unlike Google/Yahoo/Bing/Ask/Wolfram/etc., they’re a non-profit.)

  32. I don’t know if this is related to the book being DRM-free, but here in Germany I don’t seem to be able to legally buy the English ebook version of Redshirts before the German version is scheduled to be published in November. Hell, the online bookstores won’t even let me download the sample chapters, which is all kinds of stupid.

    I never before had problems buying the english Kindle or iBook versions at the time the book was published. If just a coincidence, it’s weird. But I have the sneaking suspicion for Non-US readers it got harder instead of easier to actually buy the damn book.

  33. I’m gonna buy a hard copy. I like physical books. All this tablet stuff leaves me indifferent. I never wanted a tricorder anyway, I wanted that cool phaser rifle!

  34. @whatever indeed: “Now we need to get them to realize we will not allow them to raise ebook prices simply because they are greedy.”

    The costs of creating the products are rising, along with the costs of everything ELSE in the world. Inflation sucks, but it’s a fact of life.

  35. @Andrew Hackard: i am referring to the whole Apple/publisher fiasco. Since that happened I have spent less on ebooks and purchased more used books (which profits publishers/authors nothing) than I did previously. Thrift will win over the joy of ebooks when prices are inflated for no reason other than Apple trying to squeeze competition.

  36. I look forward to giving you my money! I just wished your visit to Houston coincided better with my son’s medical appointments there. Then I’d give you even more!

  37. “I have no objection to libraries using DRM-free copies, personally, but I do wonder about how that’s possible from a practical point of view….”

    I don’t know how practical it is with current ebook formats and readers, but the logical thing would be for libraries to own a DRM-free master, and wrap it into a DRM-encoded, limited-time-allowed file for lending purposes. Borrowers could read the book for the duration of the usual lending period (or perhaps until they hit a “return this” button), after which time their reader would no longer display the file. Libraries would keep track of active lent-out copies, and be able to lend out a copy to another borrower once a lent copy went inactive.

    That’s analogous to what libraries do now with physical books. And I think this is more or less what the Internet Archive does with its lending library. DRM isn’t good for owning, but it can be quite useful for borrowing.)

  38. mrrrges: It’s been a few years since I heard that you could use a UK
    located proxy server to watch Dr Who on the BBC’s website here in
    USA and *.*. Since then I’ve occasionally heard “can’t!” and “can so!”

    I think that if you use WiFi from a computer that is connected to a
    USA proxy server your device will show, to the ebookstore, as being
    in the USA.

  39. @Shawn T
    No worries, it’s even easier for me, as my company has a US and a European remote login, so i will just tunnel into our US site and buy it while surfing via my firms US proxy. My point (or grumble) was more that as soon as one inconvinience (DRM) was removed another one pops up and I was wondering if the two are related.

  40. mrrrges: Awesome.
    Yet another reason to be have a job. ;p

    More than half of why I said that about proxy servers
    was to put out the info that they exist.
    It is my opinion that language based stuff such as
    books should go by language, and should be not be
    controlled by entangling alliances.

    Aside: Terry Pratchett stuff? I’m USA, he’s UK.
    I don’t know how I ended up on amazon.co.uk, but
    I bought some of his works from the UK Amazon
    that weren’t available here in USA and?
    For about half of them I’m glad that I did.
    aside ends.
    editorial begins:
    Real people will allow me to give them money as
    exchange for what they have and only idiot spitheads
    tell me that my money is not good enough for them,
    and won’t allow me to buy their product.

  41. I commend you for being the first Tor author for going DRM-free for the eBook version of Redshirts! I look forward to reading it soon :) And, of course, paying for it, regardless of how I initially read it ;) I believe in supporting authors I enjoy, and have been known to buy books even after reading a CC’ed download or a copy from the local library.

    I also can’t wait to hear the audio version! I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve got a man-crush on Wil Wheaton ;) and (as an aside) I actually became aware of your work via Wil. He was supposed to be at Penguicon a couple of years ago and had to cancel due to illness, and you took his place as Honorary Wil Wheaton for that year’s con. I quite enjoyed the panels you were on, and have since read several of your novels and have enjoyed them as well. So, even though Wil being on the program as a guest was a major reason for me going that year, I was not disappointed :)

  42. Hey, John. You’re coming to Houston on June 9 and I want a signed copy of the book but don’t think I can make it to the reading. Here’s my question: If I order a signed copy to pick up at Brazos Bookstore later, will you write something personal and witty or poignant in the book, or will you only sign your name?

  43. John,

    My issue with this is that I want to read it on my Kindle as well as get the hardcopy. I want to pay for one medium but want both. Why should I have to pay for both?

    I want a signed copy by you, which I have for a few of your books, but want the flexibility of the e-world. I will buy one or the other, but why should I feel guilty about getting a digital copy off of a torrent if I paid already for the physical book? Is that even wrong at that point?

    I will not do it, but it does make you think.

    As other smart minds have said, include a free or discounted ‘code’ with the physical book for the e-book.

    I think this method encourages anybody to continue to ‘be honest’.

    BTW you signed 2 of my books, to “Bacon Boy”.

  44. John;
    Thanks! You sound sane on the ebook issue, and much like the folks at Baen do on ebooks. I already follow pretty much your list as a matter of ethics- I’ll ‘loan’ a book to my daughter in ebook format just like I do ‘dead tree’ format. But I point people at the multi-chapter ‘teasers’ Baen puts up, generally- if it’s good they pay, and the author gets paid(one hopes), and if not- hey, I check books out at the library and if they suck, they go back unfinished. But if they’re good, I’ll often buy the paperback for my library down the road. I hope the model works for you as author as well as me the consumer!

  45. John,

    Just FYI – not sure how DRM fits into the Kindle lending structure – but lending is current disabled for Redshirts (I read it in one sitting and promised to loan it to my brother once I was done).

  46. I’m happy to pay for the book, but I want to be sure that the bulk of the profit and the benefits from the sale go directly to you, the author. I mean, you wrote a book; If I buy it electronically then you should get 100% of the proceeds, since it costs basically nothing for me to download it from you. Any other deal is basically your publisher holding you up at gunpoint and you nodding nervously when I ask you if I should pay the man.

  47. Coherent :

    Really, no. My publisher adds a tremendous amount of value to the final product and to suggest that the service they provide me is like holding me up at gunpoint is flatly incorrect. If you’re not willing to pay my publisher for all the work they do, then I don’t want your money either. It’s a team effort. If you want to support me, support the people I choose to work with.

  48. I’m a poor student, and right now I have to choose between food and everything else (including food that tastes good or may include nutritional value). So, when I saw this book, and saw it cost $15, I was considering, uh, not paying for it. A factor of this was that to lend someone the book, or to get my immediate family to read the book, I would have to lend them my Kindle, and that is not cool. I was considering this, and then I read the FAQ. I read the FAQ and saw that the book was DRM-free, so I bought it. I bought it because I felt that not respecting a product that respects its audience, and the evolution of the information society, is wrong.

    I’m about 1/3rd through in my first day. Thanks for the book, and thanks for respecting us.

  49. Hey John, please do put a Donate Button on your website. A new culture of paying voluntarily direct to the creators of content is being developed.

  50. will:

    All payments to me are voluntary, actually; no one is forced to buy my work. Much of the work I have out there is the result of other people working with me (editors, artists, page designers, etc), and I think it’s fair for them to be compensated too (or more accurately, for the publisher who paid for each of them to be compensated). Finally, I don’t want a donate button on my site; financially speaking, I don’t need one here.

    If you want to support me and what I do, buy my books. They are not expensive, I get paid and everyone who works with me gets paid, too.

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