Should we sell your ebooks without DRM?

Why some publishers choose to sell their ebooks without encryption

DRM Free ebooks
In some cases it makes sense to unlock your ebooks

“Should we sell your ebooks without DRM?”

That’s a question that elicits, from most trade publishers and textbook publishers, a simple, monosyllabic, unambiguous, negative response. But this isn’t true of all book publishers.

At Frankfurt Book Fair this month we asked many of the publishers we met with for their thoughts on DRM-free, and a surprising number were happy with the idea.

Key points

We can sell your ebooks:

  • protected by Digital Rights Management technology (DRM)
  • completely free of DRM (“normal” PDF and EPUB), or
  • with social DRM (digital watermarks)

We already offer thousands of ebooks from global publishers without DRM. Their ebooks are sold in simple, un-encrypted epub or PDF formats. Our un-encrypted ebooks are mostly in specific subject categories, like:

  • Scholarly
  • Scientific, Technical, Medical
  • Computing
  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy

Why would you do this?

There are undoubted benefits for readers if you decide to set your ebooks free. And for some publishers these benefits outweigh the perceived risks of letting your ebooks out there. Here are some of the benefits…


There’s something just wrong about the difficulties that a sight-impaired reader has to endure in the 21st Century to get accessible reading materials.  Most popular ebook platforms do not support screen-readers or braille converters.  A very simple solution to this would be to release your titles in PDF, which is much more functional and suited to those applications.


Ebooks are made more complicated when they’re wrapped in DRM. We’re all familiar with downloading PDFs. It’s easy. My 92 year old uncle routinely does that. His laptop is ready and able to receive and open and print PDFs. But if you buy an encrypted PDF or epub:

  1. You have to create, and remember, account credentials with one more company (the ebook seller)
  2. You must download, install, and get familiar with one more app, in order to unlock and read your book. But with an un-encrypted ebook, you can open a PDF with the same program you normally use for this. And epubs can easily be read in your browser. Microsoft Edge does this natively, and there are simple plugins for other browsers.
  3. Encrypted ebooks are more prone to technical issues.

Usability: “Why can’t I print this?”

There’s a steady trickle of frustration coming from people who discover, often after they’ve bought an ebook, that there’s a limit to – or even complete prohibition on – printing and copying. This is primarily an issue for professional or educational users who quite reasonably need to quote material from a book. And there are still millions of readers who want to print a section of a technical manual, and so forth.

These restrictions cause consternation among law-abiding users who know full well that there’s nothing technical that prevents them doing what they want.

The systems we use, including Adobe Digital Editions, do allow publishers to calibrate permitted amounts of printing and copying, but the tendency is for publishers to set unfriendly limits.


Many users just prefer to “own” the book file. They prefer to actually see the file there in their DropBox or Windows explorer. Never mind that we, their bookseller, hold an archive copy to re-download anytime they need to.

This might be a fading attitude; we’re increasingly happy to entrust our photos, music, documents to cloud storage and streaming services. But for now it’s a real concern for many customers.

Social DRM – a useful compromise?

There is a sort of middle-ground here called soft, or social, DRM. We can deliver PDFs or EPUBs to our customers that aren’t encrypted, but they carry inside their pages a “watermark” that identifies the individual who bought it. Typically that would be the user’s first and last names and email address.

Many publishers prefer social DRM because it makes life simple for their readers, but also tends to make a user think twice about distributing an ebook widely.

A level playing field

If your company is, heaven forbid, in an asymmetrical power relationship with a virtual monopoly vendor, think about this. Here’s something we hear all the time:

“I can’t open the ebooks I buy from on my [monopoly device], so I’ve gone back to [monopoly].”

Proprietary platforms cause this problem.

Because un-encrypted ebooks can be read on all popular platforms, including monopoly platforms, they neutralise unhealthy consumer lock-in.

If you choose to publish your ebooks without DRM, or just with watermarks, then the door to that walled garden opens, and it’s possible for innovative ebook vendors to sell your titles to users who can then read them on any platform, any reader device.

Open the garden door
Proprietary ebook platforms that apply DRM become, of necessity, walled gardens. Everything you buy from that vendor works inside their garden, but that garden door stays locked.

Let us know

It’s not for everyone but, if you’d like to sell your ebook titles on unencrypted, your readers will love you for it. Just contact us and we’ll arrange that for you.


Further Reading

Non-DRM O’Reilly ebooks available from

Closed Platforms (Wikipedia)

Tor Books says cutting DRM out of its e-books hasn’t hurt business (ArsTechnica)

Social DRM in Springer Ebooks (SpringerNature)

Leave a Reply