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WHSmith Breaking Trust Putting DRM in eBooks without permission from the authors |
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Update: 10:18pm Bangkok time

Very pleased to see that WHSmith have now removed the DRM notice from books on WHSmith. I do not know why this happened, I can only speculate, as no-one from WHSmith or Kobo have contacted me. And they don’t need too – problem solved – all cool, I’m happy. There are various emails floating around as to why this happened…. here’s one:

Thank you for contacting Kobo Writing Life.
There is a known error on the WHSmith website that is showing DRM-Free books as DRM ePubs. They’re working on fixing this issue when they update their website in May.
Even though your books appear as DRM ePub’s, any customers that want to purchase your book from WHSmith are directed to our site to make the purchase. On our site your book is correctly listed as DRM-Free.
I’m sorry for the inconvenience that this may cause and hope that this has clarified things for you.
The Kobo Team

Move along now, nothing to see here 🙂

Original Post below

As a self-published author I rely heavily upon my supply chain partners doing the right thing. From when I hit upload to that point, three months from sale when I get paid, there is an inherent trust (quite aside from contract) that keeps faith and books flowing in the system.

Recently, a Google Alert popped up with notice that my books were for sale at WHSmith – this was a little “icon moment” for me, because WHSmith was the first bookstore I can remember going in when I was a young boy. I clicked the link and I didn’t like what I saw.

WH Smith BB 2013-03-20_203109


The big red oval is my addition. DRM had, without my knowledge, been added to my book. I quickly checked my other books; same thing. Then I checked the books of authors who, because of their vocal and public opposition, I know are against DRM – Konrath, Howey, and Doctorow, to name a few – same result. ALL books on WHSmith have DRM in them.

Rather than assume WHSmith where at fault, I checked with my distributor, Draft2Digital. They send my books to Kobo, who in turn send my books to WHSmith. D2D assured me the DRM was not being added by them and were distressed to hear that this was the case. Kobo haven’t replied to any of the messages in this thread: “WHSmith putting DRM in books distributed via Kobo”. I’m not holding my breath.

At this time I don’t know who is putting the DRM in the books, but I strongly suspect it is WHSmith. If I’m wrong I’ll change the title of this post and apologize, but only if I’m wrong. You see, I HATE DRM with a passion and this is an abuse of the “system of trust”. 

My books are pirated – all of them. If you want to read my books for free you can. I’d prefer it if you got them from me or Amazon, or iTunes or any of the vendors where I have uploaded my books, because I can control the quality of the finished product and I make some money for my words. But that’s what I prefer – I’m fully aware that my books are pirated and that there’s nothing I can reasonably do about that other than waste my time.

What I will NEVER do is penalize the people who DO buy my books with a stupid piece of software engineering that doesn’t work. All you do is to encourage people to type into Google, How Do I strip DRM from an ebook? Or Simon Royle Bangkok Burn torrent – that’s all you do.

Kobo and WHSmith please understand me – I want you to distribute my books, I really do. I want your readers to discover my writing, that’s the only way I’ll get ahead in this writing game – but if you don’t take the DRM out then I will be forced to delist my books from your catalog. Why? Because you’re encouraging people to pirate my books.

Do the right thing.

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15 Responses to WHSmith Breaking Trust Putting DRM in eBooks without permission from the authors

  1. Lee Dowling says:

    Not being funny, but why go public without just complaining to your agent/publisher/whatever first? I mean, as far as I can see, this is a contract dispute. Someone, somewhere has a contract with you that says whether or not they can add DRM to your book. You’ve signed it, or not. It might say either way is permitted or nothing at all about DRM. But presumably that person has signed something with another person who has signed something and, eventually, there’s a line in there somewhere that says they can or can’t do this. Whoever signed that line and didn’t pass it back down the contracts is in breach of something. I highly doubt that WHSmith does not have a contract that says “We will add DRM” in some manner, it’s just a question of who signed it and gave away more rights to the work than they were allowed to.

    And given that it’s your copyright (presumably), then bundling that content in any way you don’t like is a copyright violation. That’s NOT the format you provided it to them in, and no different to them selling it with a modified front cover, or with the words in Chapter 2 altered. So just contact your agent/publisher and get them to have a word – there should be no walls of silence on that chain, because you’re all contracted to do your jobs. It’s not like an end-consumer where you have to hope to get through to the right person at customer services.

    What’s happened is no different to not selling the electronic rights to someone and then finding that your publisher has published it electronically (actually happened to a friend of mine who writes children’s books – hell, they’ve even had a book that they sent to their agent published without their knowledge, and they only found out when they found it in a second-hand bookshop, complete with their name and cover!). And it’s a contract dispute. And you either signed a contract that allowed it, or not. As such, you just get your agent/publisher to look into it, give it a month to sort out, and then just issue a nasty legal letter to pull it. Posting online about it and in forum posts just seems amateur and likely to backfire in terms of NDA clauses etc. in contracts along the way.

    And I reckon you’ll find that one of the contracts you signed either says they can do this or, somewhere along the way, someone has a gap between the contracts they receive and the contracts they sign that allows this to slip through until – as you’ve done – someone objects.

    Stop messing about with open letters, hearsay, and forum posts and ask your publisher for an explanation in a nice recorded-delivery letter from your local legal representative.

    • Simon Royle says:

      Well Lee – I’ve got quite a bit of experience with lawyers, courts, contracts, and what not – sometimes an open letter works just the same (or better;)). See comment above yours – quick huh? Not looking for a fight, just want my books distributed without DRM. I call a lawyer – they call a lawyer. I point out publicly something that is wrong and it gets fixed because it was wrong – all good (and p.s. I’m fairly certain a few far more influential people than me were calling their agents, who’d be calling publishers and …. As for me I am the agent, the publisher, the lawyer, and the author :).

      • Concerned Friend says:

        I think you should go to them next time first. It appears this was just a bug that showed books as “DRMed” and that they actually never were. Did you not confirm that the actual files were DRMed? Screaming to the world “They put DRM in without my permission!” seems a little bit aggressive, especially without confirming all the facts. I certainly appreciate your stance on DRM, but you should also appreciate WHSmith. Their stance isn’t much different than yours.

        • Simon Royle says:

          I do appreciate WHSmith and I appreciate Kobo. Don’t know what it is about my emails to them but I never get answers. I’m really glad the problem is solved now and that the DRM notice has gone. Now I can proudly tell everyone my books are for sale on WHSmith (that’s if they’re still there – my books I mean :)).

  2. Sam Cook says:

    Hey I’ve just checked and they no longer are specifying whether your (or Doctorow’s) books are DRM’d, they just list them as ePub format…

    I can’t see any books that specify whether or not they have DRM on the site at the moment

  3. Eric says:

    To be honest, I’d never heard of you nor your books before, but your stance on DRM is admirable. Even though I’m rather backed up on my reading list, I feel inclined to add your catalogue to it based on this alone.

    • Simon Royle says:

      Thanks, Eric. I’ve checked from what Sam posted below and WHSmith have pulled the DRM notice – all credit to them for listening and reacting. Now I can feel proud to have my books on there :).

  4. Djamé Seddah says:

    Hi, I just discovered your writings and I really like the TAG’s punchline. Any chance for this book to get translated to French at some points? Only the original version are available at

    Also, I really appreciated your opinion on DRMs and the fact that you refuse to fight against piracy so if I want to discover your universe, I could download your books. But I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be interesting to make one of your novels or first books freely available. That way people could get a taste of it and maybe buy your books.

    Best regards,

    • Simon Royle says:

      Hi Djamé, I think it would be very cool to have my work translated into French – waiting on the day, the person. I’ve given away literally hundreds of thousands of my books – Tag was free on Amazon recently for five days and I gave away 12,705 copies in that five days.

      All of my books will run free at some point – for my hardcore “followers” they’ll always have a window to download the newest book free until it gets uploaded everywhere – then I have to pull it or the vendors *may* price match – such is life.

      My only goal right now is to find the people who might like my stories – that’s it – and anything that gets in the way of that goal, such as DRM, has to be dealt with.

  5. Djamé Seddah says:

    damn, I just realized that there was a book available at 0.00$ so I guess my last comment is moot 🙂


  6. Pepijn says:

    Glad to see the problem has been fixed and that it was probably just a glitch! And I admire your stance on DRM; I completely agree that it has no upsides (except for the snake oil salesmen who sell it).

    You should probably update your post now, to reflect the fact that WHSmith reacted quickly and righted the situation…

  7. AngloSaxonViking says:

    I’m glad it’s got sorted out. However, before hearing that it was sorted, I wrote a very irate customer feedback to WH Smith, in which I told them I will never buy an eBook from them (and that I do buy eBooks elsewhere and do pay full price). I hope they have received enough similar mails that they get the message, that the sky will fall in on them if they ever put DRM on eBooks.I have refused to buy anything at all from Sony since the rootkit-on-music-CDs incident, and I was fully ready to never go into WH Smiths ever again.

    • Simon Royle says:

      Thanks for sending that customer feedback. I’m just glad it’s sorted – and yes, I feel the same way you do about DRM. Full Kudos to WH Smith / Kobo for listening and fixing the problem quickly.