Friday, March 2, 2012

DRM-free ebooks: Angry Robot (publisher)

I've never fully bought the "now you're locked into Amazon" argument against their DRM; I think that's a little bit of an exaggeration. Amazon would like me to be locked into them, certainly. But let us suppose for a moment that I am a thoroughly obedient-to-authority personage who wouldn't even consider breaking the DRM on my 40-some locked e-books to take them to another device: even then, I am not locked into buying from Amazon, forever and ever, amen. Those 40 e-books are locked to Amazon; I am not. I don't have to trade in my Kindle to buy a Nook and take my future business elsewhere. Until the day my Kindle breaks and I can't/won't replace it, I don't lose access to those 40 e-books. I could give Amazon the finger tomorrow.

Actually, I decided to start giving Amazon the finger yesterday.

Because that DRM is still a problem, and it will bite me in the ass someday. Amazon shouldn't get to say I can only use their hardware. They shouldn't get to say I can't loan the books I bought. They shouldn't get to impose restrictions on my purchases that make it difficult for me to use those purchases in the future, as technology changes, better devices come out, and obsolete devices disappear. Someday, my Kindle will break, and I will have to decide what to buy as a replacement, and "another Kindle" might not be my preferred option anymore. Someday, the world will stop using .azw format. Someday, devices will stop supporting the .azw format. Someday, I am going to have to figure out how to recover those 40 books, or replace them. Better that this be a problem for 40 books than 400 or 4000.

So I've decided to make a real effort to buy DRM-free e-books from now on*. Sometimes Amazon e-books will be DRM-free - the ones I bought that were published by Subterranean Press were - but there's no way to know that before you buy it.**

I turned off my Kindle's wireless, and plan to leave it off permanently, so that I have to go to my computer to buy and transfer e-books anyway - thus making Amazon's store no more convenient than anyone else's. (Side benefit: this also removes Amazon's ability to 1984 my device.)

I've found that author websites will often direct you to several places where their books can be purchased. The book I was looking for was Aliette de Bodard's Servant of the Underworld (and its buddies in the trilogy); the purchase options her page listed included her publisher, Angry Robot, who sells DRM-free e-books.

They sell them in .epub format. Between their suggestion in their FAQs to buy from Amazon for your Kindle (since .epub is not a Kindle-supported format), and the fact that all their prices were in pounds, I did go to Amazon first***, on the chance that Angry Robot Kindle books would be like Subterranean Press ones - DRM-free. But they weren't; Amazon had added DRM to the file anyway.

So I recommend against doing that. Because the Angry Robot .epubs are DRM-free, you can convert them to .mobi with Calibre, which is the format the Kindle will read - so it is, in fact, immediately useful that the files are DRM-free.

I was a little intimidated by the prospect of an international purchase, because I'm chickenshit on trying things I don't fully understand, but it turned out to be really easy. You make an account on the site based on your email address; you put the e-book in your cart just like anyplace else; the purchase goes through Paypal, who will take your credit card and take care of the pounds/dollars conversion for you. When the transaction's done, you go back to Angry Robot - either through the link at the end of the Paypal transaction, or the one in the confirmation email - to download your .epub. And it looks like you could get back to that page at any time, to re-download later. (I did not test that.)

Caveat: the e-books did cost more at Angry Robot than at Amazon - about $6 instead of $3. Still within the range I expected to pay; still less than the paperbacks; still less than the future cost of replacing the book, if lost to the whims of technological change; and, IMO, a small price to pay for principle.

So that's one! One DRM-free e-book source! Ah ha ha ha! I do know of a few others; I figure I'll blog about them one by one as I buy from them, and eventually assemble a page on the blog to collect the list all in one place.

* Honestly, I should have been doing it all along. I knew when I bought the Kindle that this was a problem: that Amazon would make it too easy to buy their shit instead of someone else's. I was weak, and preoccupied with Major Life Events. Mea culpa.

** Googling suggests that the Amazon page should say something about "simultaneous device" usage being "unlimited" on a DRM-free title. I remember seeing that detail once upon a time, but I didn't think it meant that. At any rate, I couldn't find that information on any of my test titles now, DRM-free or not. So that is not, in fact, a reliable way to determine the DRM status of a Kindle title.

*** Honestly, I shouldn't have. The finger to Amazon! But I wanted to see if the publisher not desiring DRM was enough to make it a DRM-free Kindle book. And the answer is no: Amazon apparently adds DRM by default unless the publisher actually jumps through some hoops to forbid it.


  1. Yep. DRM free books are WORTH MORE. :)

  2. You can also try Baen ( They have a pretty good selection of SciFi and Fantasy books. You can typically get a DRM free novel for $6.

    Rebellion store ( carries books by Solaris and Abaddon. They are also DRM free but a little bit more expensive.

  3. This might interest you: "#nodrmmarch – Month of Shout-Outs to Digital Stores Without DRM & Geolocks"

  4. Aha, thank you, folks! I knew about Baen, but not the others.