Why Angry Robot Doesn’t Play the DRM Game

It’s no secret that Angry Robot sells their e-books free of DRM. On the store front of The Robot Trading Company (the AR-owned online store that sells e-books from AR, its imprints, and a few companion genre publishers), a bold red banner proudly declares that their e-books are “EPub format” and “DRM-Free” (NOTE: EPUB is a free and open e-book standard that is used by many who wish to forgo DRM). On May 2012, AR celebrated Defective by Design’s Day Against DRM with a 50% off codeword sale on all of the Robot Trading Company’s e-books. As I mentioned in my last post, DRM has become the norm amongst e-book publishers. Why would AR follow a policy that is so deliberately contrarian?

Well, AR made this really easy by answering that question in their own words:

“Here at Angry Robot we’ve never inflicted DRM on our eBooks, preferring to trust our customers and readers instead,” said AR Marketing and Digital Manager Darren Turpin.

Similarly, on their post announcing Clonefiles in 2012, they claim that they “[have] always been champions of DRM-free eBook publishing.” The free, downloadable digital copies that are bundled with Clonefiles-eligible novels are also DRM-free.

I think that their rationale here is quite similar to their reasons for supporting independent bookstores. DRM is an issue that genuinely matters to the people at AR. They have no qualms about using their company to take a public stand, even if it might make business sense to go with the herd.

On the FAQ page at the Robot Trading Company, AR replies to a question about piracy that clarifies their viewpoint.

“Yes, of course we are [concerned about piracy],” reads the FAQ page. “We’d much rather people bought our books so we can continue to pay our authors, and continue to invest in new authors – we just believe that the best way to counter piracy is to offer our e-books in the right format, at the right price, rather than impose restrictions.”

One of AR's most recent DRM-free e-book releases- via the  Robot Trading Company

One of AR’s most recent DRM-free e-book releases- via the Robot Trading Company

Many of AR’s given reasons for going DRM-free directly cite their readers. The idea that DRM ultimately hurts the reader is one that has frequently been cited by opponents of those restrictions.

“…DRM interferes with the user experience,” said publisher Tim O’Reilly, whose publishing house sells DRM-free e-books. “It makes it much harder to have people adopt your product.”

AR explicitly labels themselves as reader-friendly. The phrase “we are fans,” which is used in AR’s mission statement, is unambiguous and closed to interpretation. They place themselves on the same level as their readers, and anything that would hurt their readers would hurt the company. Because they have concluded that DRM is anti-reader, AR will not support DRM lest they betray their mission statement.

AR’s stance is a combination of branding and character. As I discussed in my post on indie bookstores, sincerity sells. Good will and trustworthiness are important in establishing a fanbase for the company as a whole, not simply to that company’s authors. Industry pundits have frequently pointed out that readers typically do not follow publishers as brands and focus entirely on authors and books. However, one only has to look at the results for the #MyFirstAngryRobot tag to see how many readers have genuinely developed an affinity for Angry Robot as a company and a brand.

In terms of character, I honestly believe that AR’s anti-DRM statements are genuine. If their opinions were disingenuous, then AR would not have been the very first genre publisher to forgo DRM, years before the more-publicized publishers followed.

Next time, I will begin my post series on AR’s biggest fan initiative- The Robot Army.

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5 Responses to Why Angry Robot Doesn’t Play the DRM Game

  1. Mark says:

    DRM as well as annoying readers who want to read their books in different formats is also very easy to break, so pretty pointless really. None of the <a href="http://althistfiction.com Alt Hist titles have DRM either.

  2. Pingback: Angry Robot Announces Plan for Book-Sharing Partnership | The Robot Watcher

  3. Pingback: Angry Robot’s Tone: Yes, Indeed They ARE Fans | The Robot Watcher

  4. Pingback: FINAL POST: The Once and Future Robot | The Robot Watcher

  5. Spriggana says:

    As I like Angry Robot I have to point out that they may be the first *UK* genre publisher to forgo DRM, but overall surely Baen did beat it to them selling multiformat DRM-free ebooks back in the 20th century, before anyone heard of Kindles or smartphones…

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