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Tor Books DRM Free. Whither Author?

April 24, 2012

As announced today, Tor Books will go DRM free. This means all eBooks available from Tor will be convertible among formats. How far that goes, and how significant it will be, is unclear to me since my books (and most others) end up on Torrents anyhow, but it’s a symbolic step in the direction of modernizing the book market, along the lines we discussed earlier.

For the serious future, I still argue that the ultimate “monopoly” is the (supposed) author. In the future–what will an author be?  If a publisher or a distributor cannot maintain a monopoly, how can an author?

Suppose a book published by Chris Author is totally open–to editing.

What’s to stop any fan from “improving” on it, then offering the improved version for sale?  For a dollar a download?  Or pennies, or nothing?

Suppose it’s actually a better book? A lot of people think they could improve on Thrones. What if someone’s right?  What if an improving fan’s version convinces the public it’s better than the original?

The future of the Author is in grave doubt.

Read this, from the digitizers to see what I mean. If it’s not “true” yet, it will be soon.

  1. April 24, 2012 3:16 pm

    Eschewing DRM isn’t an abdication of copyright; John Scalzi quotes Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden on this, just minutes ago:

    “I called Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Senior Editor of Tor Books, to ask what going DRM-free will mean for the publisher’s efforts regarding online misappropriation of author copyrights, because I know that this is a very real concern for many writers. …”

    • April 24, 2012 3:25 pm

      Of course (No way! Not nohow!) Tor’s decision has no effect on copyright. My comment, as I said, refers to the “serious future” — beyond the current moment. Giving up DRM, IMHO is just one symbolic step down a slippery road.

      I’m saying, what happens down the road once any book is editable with a click of the mouse?
      I already have such a version of my books that I’ve “shared” with “friends” in countries where my books are banned.

      What if Famous Author–as a publicity stunt–deliberately releases his/her book inviting fan rewrites? If Famous Author does that, suppose fans demand it of the rest of us?

      • Frank Caesar Branchini permalink
        April 25, 2012 10:13 am

        What countries have banned your books?

        Fans are already re-writing and re-imagining quite a lot of things and this has been going on for quite a long time. There is a whole genre of sexual fantasies about Star Trek and other sci fi characters. There are entire merchandise tables of this stuff at sci fi conventions. There was even a heterosexual sexual fantasy book about Beatles manager Brian Epstein who was gay in real life.

        And there is the whole zombies phenomenon. I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I actually thought it provided some insights into the social world of the original Pride and Prejudice which I still love.

        So while there are certainly threats and challenges to authors, I am not sure I would spend a lot of time worrying about people re-writing and re-imagining your work. The fact that people are so invested in a work of fiction that that they want to re-write or re-imagine really is a testatment to the creative influence of the original work.

        • April 25, 2012 8:28 pm

          Yes, that’s a good way to look at it. But I’ve also heard about works getting cycled into porn, which is still the internet’s biggest business.

          My books are definitely banned in Iran and Cuba, although that’s not saying much; most anything from outside is banned there.

  2. April 24, 2012 4:19 pm

    “what happens down the road once any book is editable with a click of the mouse?”

    This has been going on in music for at least a decade. Some of the “reauthoring” is quite good. But as with books, copyright protects teh original work from too close a plagiarizing. So the book would have top be very different, i.e. a new work, to avoid infringement.

    I think you still misunderstand what monopoly means. Slonczewski is more like a brand, where there is a certain level of fungibility between competing branded products. As with any brand, the intangible value is how you build it to create a barrier to similar products.

    What you seem more worried about is “control” of your content. I think you need to recognize that loss of control is going to happen and that you need to embrace it, not fight it. Personally, I think the idea that someone is an “author” might go away, in much the same way that bloggers are seriously usurping the role and value of journalists. The cost of “books” and their distribution will decline, the volume of competing content will rise, leaving a relatively few authors who will make money off content directly. Today’s unpublished slushpile will be tomorrow’s electronic trash read by a few people.

    Which means that your books may just become part of the marketing of your brand which will be monetized in other ways. Just like other content providers are tryting to come to grips with.

  3. SFreader permalink
    April 24, 2012 5:06 pm

    Not sure that the importance of ‘authors’ will be harmed by this move. For example, has fanfic stopped SF fans from buying more books by their favorite authors? While it’s possible to copy a writer’s style, it takes a lot more talent to come up and devleop with good SF ideas and characters that engage the reader. If someone has the talent to do this, then they’re probably going to turn ‘pro’ anyways.

  4. scimon permalink
    April 25, 2012 5:18 am

    The problem is Joan that DRM is a fools dream. The only people it punishes are those people who buy a book legally, who in a few years time find that they can’t read their book any more because the DRM doesn’t work on their new reader, or it’s been discontinued.

    By it’s very nature it must be possible to read the book that has DRM on it, and thus it can be circumvented. Personally I would rather not buy a book than buy one with DRM as the hassles I have to go through to get a copy annoys me, as a professional coder I find the concept annoying as it’s so obviously flawed.

    There are technical systems that can be put in place that will deter piracy without punishing people who want to actually buy books. A file can be watermarked indicating who bought it, as the watermarking is not integral to the book itself it can be harder to find and remove, and the casual pirate won’t even look for it.

    Also you can generate codes for a file that can be used to show if it’s been altered thus mitigating the issue of people passing around books that have had major rewriting done on them.

    The thing is, it’s really really hard to put the genie back into the bottle. I’m all in favour of content creators (authors, composers, film makers, artists) being paid for their work, but as Cory Dotorcrow has said “It’s NEVER going to be as hard to copy a file as it is today”. This will also be true tomorrow…


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