Embracing your Geographic Limitations

There are two lessons in the following story.

First, there are a lot of countries I couldn’t find on a map if you held a loaded crossbow to my head, despite listening to They Might be Giants’ Alphabet of Nations about sixteen million times.

Thanks to Brandyllyn, I have a long, long list of them. She was in the UK, and was unable to buy a digital copy of Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible for her flight back to the US. Why?

Have a look at the countries where she could have purchased it – in her estimation, it’s “Every Country Ever except the United Kingdom. WTF?”


WTF indeed. Tuvula? Burundi? I confess: I had to look them up.

Let me add my plea to that of many others, and reveal the second lesson in this entry: digital books in English have a market outside English-speaking countries.. and inside English speaking countries, too. It’s a sad, sad thing that it would be easier to find a pirated copy inside the UK than a legitimate digital copy.

Where are you, geographically? Do you have problems finding digital books where you are? What’s your solution?


General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Ciara says:

    I live in Ireland and have a Sony Reader. Alas I cannot access the US Sony site, instead I’m shunted to the UK site which never has the romance titles I’m looking for. It’s really frustrating. Bookonboard is a solution but often new releases aren’t available for a few days.  I am not a patient person and lately I’ve ordered the paper copies of the books instead.

  2. 2
    Smiliemonster says:

    I’m in Australia and this has only really become an issue for me in the last 6 months. I have no idea why publishers have suddenly started imposing geographic restrictions – I have purchased a huge (and I mean huge!) number of e-books in the last 5 years and cannot believe my US dollars are suddenly less acceptable than US dollars expended from the United States.

    In a recent fit of pique I actually wrote to 2 publishing agencies to enquire about their sudden geographic limitations. One had the courtesy to respond (albeit with a completely unconvincing argument) saying contractually they were not able to sell some books in certain countries. I’m not a publisher, but I’d have a pretty good guess that:

    a) most contracts are drawn up by the publishers themselves; and
    b) most authors wouldn’t care where their books were sold as long as they were paid accordingly.

    I’m still trying to work out who actually wins in this ridiculous situation. Author? Publisher? Lawyer? One thing’s for certain, it’s definitely not the Australian (or apparently UK) based reader.

    (BTW, the greatest irony is the book I was prevented from purchasing prompting my note to the publishers was written by Colleen McCullough – one of Australia’s greatest authors!)

  3. 3

    I suspect that where Loretta Chase’s books are concerned, the lack of availability might have something to do with the fact that in the UK they’re published by a different publisher. I looked up Mr Impossible on Amazon.co.uk and the UK paper edition is published by Piatkus whereas the US paper edition is published by Berkley. Berkley’s part of the Penguin group owned by Pearson plc, and Piatkus is part of the Little, Brown book group (which is part of Hachette).

    So if Piatkus/Little, Brown have the rights to publish Mr Impossible in print and ebook versions in the UK market, then I suppose Berkley/Penguin wouldn’t have the right to sell their book directly to the UK market. If Piatkus/Little, Brown don’t make an ebook version available for UK readers, then I suppose that means there won’t be a legal way for UK readers to get hold of an ebook copy.

    I could be wrong about all that, as I don’t know anything at all about the law in this area or the contracts involved, but that’s what I’d imagine might be the case. Furthermore, it would seem likely that more books have UK and US rights sold separately (because the UK is seen as a large enough market to make that worthwhile) than have separate US and Tuvalu rights.

  4. 4

    Tuvalu and Burundi are real countries! But I did take some time out of my day to lol at the book being available in Somalia. Do you think that there’s a high demand?

    Also, I kind of hated Mr. Impossible, so if Brandyllyn is anything like me, it was a blessing in disguise.

  5. 5

    Also, if you haven’t heard of Burundi, I assume that you don’t know that the President of Burundi is one of the top twenty Hottest Heads of State!

    Although that list is… questionable.

  6. 6
    Terry Odell says:

    I get lost in elevators. I learned the names of some countries I’d never heard of when I managed membership for an international organization, but when we used to play Trivial Pursuit, the kids knew that Mom could never answer the blue questions.

    I just got back from Quebec, and now I can find it on a map too! But having a flight routed from Orlando to Detroit to Quebec doesn’t help my understanding of where things are relative to other things.

    But since I live in the US, I can usually find digital books. Finding them formatted for my reader, however, is another issue.

  7. 7
    SKapusniak says:

    The contractual restrictions were always there, they just weren’t being enforced because the ebook market used to be so miniscule, that the breaches flew under the radar of the various parties lawyers.

    Some relevant bit’s from (author) Charlie’s Stross’s blog entry Jeff Bezos Eats Kittens and his further comments:

    There is a convention in English language publishing called the trans-Atlantic rights split. A relic of the days when trans-Atlantic shipping was expensive and slow, it’s a provision whereby English Language publication rights to a novel are usually licensed in two tranches — one for North America, and one for the UK and the rest of the world. These days you can also sell World English Language rights, in which case the acquiring publisher typically sub-licenses them to someone local to the other territory. If you’re a writer, you prefer to sell separately — if you can negotiate, say, 10 gold pieces for North American rights, you can probably get 4-5 GP for UK/Commonwealth rights — but a world rights sale will only get you 12 GP. The split, in other words, persists because it’s in authors’ interests to maintain it.

    Blue Tyson: what happens is, if you sell world rights to a publisher, they’ll publish it in their own territory—then an underpaid clerk gets to re-sell the rights to the book to publishers in other territories. They’ll do a worse job of re-selling than a literary agent (who is on a percentage commission). Consequently, it’ll be bought by foreign publishers as cheap midlist filler, and they won’t market it terribly hard.

    Case in point: when my books are sold direct to a British publisher by my agent, they typically go for a lot more money, and get promoted much more efficiently, than when a US publisher who has acquired world rights re-sells my books to a UK publisher.

    It seems to be some kind of market inefficiency—and a very annoying one.

    Morgan Murray @19: Can’t you sell your print-it-on-a-tree rights and your electronic rights separately?

    Nope. Or rather: so far, paper rights are worth 9-10 times as much as ebook rights, and publishers refuse to buy paper rights without also locking down ebook rights.

    Also note that book publishers do a hell of a lot more work to help authors’ sales than, for example, music studios do to help musicians. I could do the work, but energy spent on editorial/typesetting/production/marketing/sales is energy not spent on writing, which is what I’m good at and what I enjoy doing.

    In the long term, Watch This Space. I maintain a typesetting/ebook production/editorial capability that I can deploy if the industry as a whole craters. But I’m not going to dip a toe in that water until it’s necessary for me to do so—I’d rather spend my energy writing than trying to be a publisher.

    Incidentally, I buy ebooks. But I won’t buy a product with DRM on it unless I can crack the DRM immediately—so that I know I can read it on any future hardware I might buy.

    TBR: Yes, all true. I’m hoping that’s where it goes. Meanwhile, though, authors are being told to expect ebook royalty rates from traditional publishers to stabilize in the 15-25% of net range. And the weird bit? Despite the appearance of a rip-off, the publishers aren’t making a huge profit on this. They’ve accidentally permitted a new intermediary to emerge and eat their lunch—the one-stop stores (like iTunes or Amazon)

  8. 8
    SKapusniak says:

    Ugh, that formatted completely wrong.  And what happened to preview…?

    Everything below ‘his further comments:’ is Charlie, not me.

  9. 9
    AgTigress says:

    I think Laura is right about the reasons for this apparent anomaly.
    Although I know nothing about e-books, I am very conscious of the different availability of American and British editions of printed books.  My direct experience is with popular and academic non-fiction.  My own publisher usually seeks an American partner for its more popular titles:  they are printed in a single print-run, usually in Asia, so that the unit cost is kept down as much as possible.  The American and British editions are then separately bound, with different cover art, ISBN numbers and bibliographical references (e.g. one will be ‘London 2008’ the other ‘Cambridge 2008’, that is, your Cambridge rather than ours), and each publishing house does its own completely separate marketing and promotion.  One may, for example, see the American edition on sale in Canada, but the UK edition in Australia, though it is not as simple as that might suggest.
    The exact coverage of different rights varies infinitely:  here are some of the ‘rights codes’ in the current catalogue of my own (UK) publisher:
    (1)  World excl. USA and Canada; (2) World excl. USA, Canada, Central and South America; (3) World excl. USA; (4) UK and Australia only; (5) UK only;  (6) UK, Europe and Commonwealth (excl. Canada); (8) World excl. France; (13) World excl. USA, Canada and Egypt.  There are 15 in all.
    One imagines that the matter of distribution rights and territory must affect e-books too.

  10. 10
    Deirdre says:

    Strange that the you can buy it from Ireland, usually the UK and Irish rights are bundled together.  It can be sometimes quite hard to find good sources of e-books.

  11. 11
    AgTigress says:

    usually the UK and Irish rights are bundled together.

    But obviously not always.  The different ‘bundles’ have a bewildering variety of exceptions.  :-)
    Slightly off at a tangent, I am sorry to see that Shewhohashope disliked Mr. Impossible:  I think it is an outstandingly good novel, and I like it much better than Chase’s widely praised Lord of Scoundrels.

  12. 12
    Tina C. says:

    Living in the States, I don’t have any problems with most of the books I want to read, ebook or paper.  The idea that the fact that it has a different publisher in the UK, though, sounds logical.  Doesn’t make it any less fustrating, though.  If all of the publishers would get onboard with the idea that an ebook is just another format and not some special hell sent to deny them their profit line, it wouldn’t matter who published it.  Between the price gouging and withholding the ebook version for several months (or not releasing one, at all), it’s not hard to see that some publishers see digital books as a threat to their way of life.

    WTF indeed. Tuvula? Burundi? I confess: I had to look them up.

    You must have somehow missed one of the funniest stand-up sets ever, Eddie Izzard’s Dressed to Kill, where he discusses Burundi a few times (once in French, but not terribly hard French).  If you google it, you can probably find it online pretty easily.

    Now, Tuvula?  No clue.  You’re on your own for that one.

  13. 13
    Tabithaz says:

    Eddie Izzard is THE SH*T.

    I especially like how on the list it goes “Congo, The Democratic Republic of the,” then goes on to the next country.  Because I would totally visit “The Democratic Republic of The.”

  14. 14
    Theresa says:

    I just recently tried to buy the ebook of one of Roxanne St. Claire’s bulletcatcher books on booksonboard.  And was told, no, it wasn’t available to me over here in the UK. Gah.  I think the ebook retailers are more and more starting to enforce geographical restrictions, because this is a first for me at booksonboard.  It’s happened a bunch of other times at other ebook retailers, though.

    My response.  Well, if it’s a book that I want to read in ebook format, and if I can’t get it (or if it is an outrageous price, WTF, $20 for the new Kresley Cole/Gena Showalter book?!?), too bad, so sad, you’ve just lost a sale.

    I haven’t resorted to tracking down pirated ebooks, and I won’t because I WANT authors to get paid for their work and to write more books for me to read.  However, I have a time or two (not really seriously) considered finding a pirated version of a book and then dropping a check into the mail to the author.  If I actually thought this could work….

  15. 15
    Laurel says:

    Great. Now I have “The Alphabet of Nations” baseline drumming steadily through my head. Where it will no doubt still be lodged tomorrow.

    This was not a risk I readily associated with reading your blog.

  16. 16
    ~B says:

    “I think the ebook retailers are more and more starting to enforce geographical restrictions, because this is a first for me at booksonboard.  It’s happened a bunch of other times at other ebook retailers, though.”

    They are.  Around January or so UK publishers went to US publishers and wanted something done about it.  For a short while some publishers (Hatchette IIRC for one) pulled lots of their books until distributors and retailers did something about trying to enforce geo restrictions.

  17. 17
    Azure says:

    I’m in the US, and the problem I run into with geographical restrictions is when I go to buy a UK author and can’t.  Well, at WHSmith’s I can’t, anyway.  I’d been buying books from them since the end of last year when I discovered that several of my favorite UK authors had gone digital, and a few weeks ago, I suddenly couldn’t buy those books at WHSmith’s anymore.  Why?  “Geographical restrictions.”  What a crock. 

    However, my US dollars are still good at Waterstones, because they let me buy the ebooks I want.  At least for now.

    Spam filter: century83.  I hope it doesn’t take a century—or 83—for those publishing bozos to get their heads out of their butts and figure out that a sale is a sale, no matter where it originates.  And when you put geographical restrictions on ebooks, you’re losing that sale.

  18. 18
    Kalen Hughes says:

    This just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    I can order a printed book from Amzaon.uk and Aussies can order a printed book from Amzaon.com. If we can order printed books, why can’t we order eBooks?

    Logic fail.

  19. 19

    I can order a printed book from Amzaon.uk and Aussies can order a printed book from Amzaon.com. If we can order printed books, why can’t we order eBooks?

    Logic fail.

    I wonder if this is just a loophole rather than a failure in logic. I’ve noticed that online UK booksellers won’t sell me a US edition new if there’s an available new UK edition. So, for example, although the Berkley edition of Mr Impossible is still available new at Amazon.com, at Amazon.co.uk I wouldn’t be offered the option to buy the Berkley edition new (although I could get it second-hand from one of the non-Amazon sellers listed on Amazon) but I would have the option to buy the Piatkus edition new.

  20. 20
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I’ve noticed that online UK booksellers won’t sell me a US edition new if there’s an available new UK edition. So, for example, although the Berkley edition of Mr Impossible is still available new at Amazon.com, at Amazon.co.uk I wouldn’t be offered the option to buy the Berkley edition new . . . but I would have the option to buy the Piatkus edition new.

    But that’s not my point. My point is that I can order the Berkley ed from .com or the Piatkus ed from .uk. I have the option and ability to buy the printed book from outside my geographical market, but this is not the case with eBooks. If the issue is about rights, then shouldn’t .uk tell me You’re outside our geographical market, no British ed of Harry Potter for you!?

  21. 21
    ghn says:

    The geographical restrictions thing has become one of my pet peeves. Once upon a time it wasn’t such a big deal, but this year it seems that almost half the books I am interested in on Fictionwise (which used go be by second favorite bookstore, Baen was and is first, of course) is restricted.
    I have managed to get most of those books at Books On Board, but not all. One book that I _really_ wanted was only available in epub, and not in my preferred format, which meant I had to hunt down decrapification tools for that format, and then I could use Calibre to convert the file to a usable format.

    The only thing publishers will achieve when they make it difficult for customers to get the books they want, is an increase in the pirate “market”. When a potential customer gets a spiteful “We don’t want to sell you those books” she is likely to become a pissed-off ex-customer. And perhaps start researching alternative ways to get the books she wants.

    And finding things on the Internet isn’t difficult, if you know how to look.

  22. 22
    teshara says:

    The Hottest Heads of Nations is hilarious. omgwtf?


    anyone know where to get the rest of that pic of Putin in a wife beater?

  23. 23

    I’m in Iraq and the single biggest reason that I set aside my lust for a kindle was my deployment. While I probably could have figured out a way to get the books (supposedly you can download them to a PC and then transfer them) I didn’t want to deal with the hassle.
    I’m kind of glad I didn’t get one. There are tons of books over here because of the kindness of folks who are willing to trope hundreds of pounds of paperbacks to the post office and send them over. I’ve gotten lost in the shelves and for me, the normalcy of browsing a bookshelf is the closest thing to home I can get. So for me, the physical book itself has been the distractor and the comfort I’ve needed this year.
    Dont’ get me wrong, I’m hoping to someday take the plunge for an ereader. It could be a huge ease to carry a single device instead of the 42 books I still have to read before I go home in 6 weeks, give or take. But I’ll still lug the books around for now.

  24. 24
    Lorna says:

    I am in the UK but buy nearly all my ebooks from an american website that so far (fingers crossed) doesn’t seem to care where i am from so long as I pay.  I gave up searching for a uk ebook site quite some time ago although as the ones I found had such a limited selection and none of the books I was trying to find.  It is exactly this kind of thing that makes people turn to pirated copies and it is very frustrating and I guess was part of the problem with other forms of digital media for a while.  Publishers will need to wise up and get this sorted or they will lose revenue from people who would quite happily pay for their books.

  25. 25

    My point is that I can order the Berkley ed from .com or the Piatkus ed from .uk. I have the option and ability to buy the printed book from outside my geographical market, but this is not the case with eBooks.

    I think these would be called “grey imports” or “parallel imports.”

    I suppose that often consumers are put off doing this kind of thing because of postage costs, so maybe that means that publishers don’t worry too much about it.  I do know that recently there’s been a lot of discussion about parallel imports of books in Australia, and according to a pdf I found, available from the Publishers’ Association:

    Parallel imports (sometimes called “grey goods”) are an increasing problem for owners of copyright goods such as books as well as trade marked goods such as jeans or perfume. The rule remains the same, that while nothing can be done to exclude goods lawfully on sale anywhere in the EEA from entering the UK, goods lawfully on sale elsewhere, but not licensed for the EEA, can still legally be kept out (as “infringing editions”, in the case of books). However, this is often difficult to enforce in an internet age when books are readily available via websites such as Amazon and Ebay.

  26. 26
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I think these would be called “grey imports” or “parallel imports.”

    Yes, but at least here in the States these rules don’t apply to imports for personal use. Grey market protection only applies to commercial shipments, and then only to trademarks registered with Customs and Border Protection (this happens to be what I do for a living). I can order anything I want from anywhere in the world so long as it’s not counterfeit (actually fake, not just “not intended for the U.S. market”), it’s not subject to some kind of OGA rule (like DOT for cars or FDA for drugs), I pay any legally required duty (books happen to have a “free” rate of duty), and it’s not for resale.

  27. 27
    pierre l says:

    Sorry to be off topic. Tuvalu is quite important—they let various people use their domain name of “.tv”.
    I am currently watching a lovely series called “thirtysomething”. The only reason I am able to do this in the UK is because my DVD player is hacked to be “region-free”.  Conversely, I have no plans to get an HD player because no-one has produced a hackable version to my knowledge.

  28. 28
    Josieanne says:

    Tuvalu chose to sell the .tv rights to make some income for the poor island nation.  I think (IRC) that Tuvalu is one of the nations that is really being affected by rising see waters and doesn’t have much of an income stream.


  29. 29
    Kerry D. says:

    I’m in New Zealand and have this problem ALL the time. It drives me totally insane. I have found a way around it for Fictionwise, but I’m just waiting for the day they close that loophole too.

    The frustrating thing is that NZ has parallel importing laws, so my specialist bookstore can buy in the US paper books for me (or I can buy them directly from somewhere like Amazon and pay the outrageous shipping costs) but they are much more expensive. A US$8 paperback costs almost NZ$25 which is way, way more than the exchange rate conversion

    Since I like saving money and I prefer reading on my iPhone anyway, I’d rather buy the ebooks. It’s starting to put my back up to the point I often just skip the purchase altogether and everyone loses, including me.

    In my dreams, I imagine a world where I can download a pirate copy and then send the author some money by paypal for reading his/her book. Of course, I realise this is neither legal nor realistic (and all the other people in the book production chain need paying too) but it would be nice.

    I’ve started using my library a lot more, but I’d still much rather have the ebook that I can easily read lying down (I have CFS and do that a lot) and find easier on my eyes.

  30. 30
    Kaetrin says:

    Okay, this is a secret – if you work for Books on Board LOOK AWAY NOW!  (I’m using the Jedi mind trick on you so you will forget you saw this post…)

    At BoB, put your country of origin as the US.  Buy a gift card from BoB using PayPal or whatever and then you can buy any book you like from there – as long as you use the credits from the gift card you appear to be a US resident.  As soon as you try and use PayPal or your credit card however, it will show you as a non US resident – hence the gift card.

    That’s how I’ve got round it anyway.  (Shh, secret, remember).

    I dont’ feel guilty about it.  I’m paying for the book, the author gets royalties and I’m not pirating.  I’d rather do that than get a pirated copy (which would probably be easier – go figure…).

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