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Crain’s New York Business has a profile of Tor’s plan for a DRM-free e-book store. (The article is paywalled, but you can read it via Google News search.) It summarizes the situation with the DoJ antitrust lawsuit, and points to that suit and the success of the DRM-free Harry Potter e-book store as the reason publishers are seriously considering DRM-free options.

That said, there is some new material here. Tor founder Tom Doherty and manager of science fiction Patrick Nielsen Hayden talk about wanting to build the kind of “diverse retail economy” you see in bookstores, and are in talks to offer titles from competitors as well. (Better be careful there, guys, wouldn’t want the DoJ to think you’re “conspiring”!) They also say that the DRM-free e-bookstore plan has been in the offing for years (well, that’s technically right, if “they tried it for three days, then nothing for six years” counts—and the original plan was to sell them through Baen).

And then there’s this:

Tor can make the leap largely because of the success of Tor.com, a sci-fi and fantasy website launched in 2008 that features a range of publishers’ books and garners 500,000 unique visitors a month, according to Google Analytics.

The funny thing is, back during the free e-books debacle, when people were complaining about Tor’s lack of e-book follow-through to the free titles they offered (the same ones that are cited in this article as having given Tor “tens of thousands” of email addresses to which they can market), I’m pretty sure I remember hearing the people who ran Tor.com disclaim having much to do with the publishing side at all. In effect, they said, despite the domain name and all, they were just this community website a few low-ranking staffers run; Tor/Forge has its own official website, go and complain there. Now suddenly Tor.com officially is Tor/Forge after all?

(Yeah, I know, from a marketing standpoint the whole purpose of running a site like Tor.com was to suck people in so they could be marketed to later. And I enjoy reading the content on the site as much as anyone else. It just seems a little blatant that they weren’t “really” Tor until it suddenly suited their purposes to be.)

Apart from that, some observers are skeptical that “just [dropping] DRM and [hoping] their stuff won’t get pirated” is much of a solution, or that the Tor e-book store will steal much business away from Amazon. But Doherty said that DRM-free titles from other publishers weren’t pirated any more than the DRM-protected versions Tor had offered were.

Perhaps the Tor DRM-free e-book store is most useful as a symbol: hey, look, major publisher going DRM-free. It’s not clear how many others are willing to follow just yet, though the article does mention a couple of other e-book ventures. And it’s not clear just how many people actually will buy from Tor rather than from better-known places such as Amazon. Still, SF lovers are a brand-loyal lot, and over the last four years Tor has at least managed to build at least some of the same kind of brand equity Baen has.

But Tor.com will probably be useful to its parent company Macmillan as another kind of symbol, as well: something it can hold up to the DoJ as proof they’re trying to be consumer-friendly after all.

(We previously covered this e-book store plan here.)

 
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