Ebook retailer makes it harder to buy ebooks from outside US

Take a look at this Teleread discussion. A reader has noticed that ebook retailer Fictionwise/Ereader.com, recently acquired by big US book retailer Barnes and Noble, appears to be tightening its policies, blocking foreign buyers from purchasing titles.

In the past, under independent ownership, it seems to have had fairly loose territorial restrictions on its customers. I know you’ve been able to buy titles from Fictionwise fairly easily from New Zealand, for example.

Says Teleread’s Paul Biba:

Many, if not most, ebooks have geographical restrictions and I would suppose that eReader/Fictionwse now has access to a larger staff who can take the time to vet such things – and, of course, is now owned by a company who takes such stuff pretty seriously. Sony and Amazon have this problem as well and have limited their distribution outside of the United States.

I think this is probably right. A smaller operator is going to have think seriously about how much time and money it can put into ascertaining and managing the maze of territorial rights across thousands of ebook titles. Frankly, many publishers would have trouble providing the precise scope of digital rights so a pioneering ebookseller like Fictionwise/Ereader could end up spending a huge amount of effort trying to extract this information, and build the database and technology to enforce it. Easier simply not to bother and focus on making sales to stay alive. However, a big player like B&N would have more resources and more concern about its reputation or legal position.

In a post responding to this blog, author Mia Amato makes this observation:

In the future, I do see a market in foreign language digital, especially Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and Portugese. Near future, I would expect rights departments of publishers at least looking into going back to authors and re-acquiring world English digital rights, in the form of a contract amendment, similar to amendments sent out back in 1999 to nail down digital.

Let’s hope this tightening up of geographical rights doesn’t make it even more difficult for those English language markets outside of the US and UK to get moving in this market.

On the other hand, is this an opportunity for local retailers to jump into this market and compete with the big international sites by sorting out their own country rights and offering a comprehensive catalogue to their local ebook customers?

Comments (14)

  1. larry

    Good Points Martin,

    I look forward to having our local retailers compete and offer their own comprehensive catalogues at the local level. What a boost to national talent this will be.


  2. Keith Mockett

    And so the carziness continues. The authors had better get on top of this quickly as it will probably mean less sales. The authors need to make sure that the publishers actually do publish eBooks in the markets they have the rights and no just sit on them.

    This won’t kill eBooks but it will reduce some authors sales. Maybe that’s a bit of leverage the publishers can use at negotiation time, those with a history of publishing for world markets may be more attractive to authors than single market publishers.

    Yes, it is an opportunity for locals.

  3. Shelley

    It certainly does mean less sales from me. I am a regular buyer of eBooks and have been reading them for the last couple of years (I use a Palm T/X – not an ideal screen size but great that I can read books in Mobipocket, eReader or pdf formats). I buy and read approximately 300 books per year. I had intended to purchase about 13 books today and had them in my cart at Fictionwise. When I went to check out 6 of them had geographical restrictions on them. If I wanted to I guess I could go and order the paperback versions from Fishpond as they have them available in print format but that defeats the purpose of my wanting to buy eBooks. Of the 6 books restricted 4 were from the same author and she has now lost 4 sales just from 1 person. Instead I will go to the library and borrow them instead and I probably won’t bother purchasing them even when there is no geographical restriction for the eBook. So far this year there have been a minimum of 15 eBooks that I haven’t been able to buy due to geographical restrictions. It amazes me that there are geographical restrictions on some eBooks even when they are available to purchase here in the print format!

  4. Donald D. Jones

    The problem is that digital publishing is still being driven by the print publishing industry. It is, in fact, a completely different industry, with its’ own paradigm.

    Our author’s contracts are not set up for regional rights, but for language rights. Usually, we contract for all English and Spanish language rights. In some cases, we contract for English and the author’s native language. Digital books are inherently marketed internationally on the internet, so the geographic rights that made sense in print publishing are absolute insanity in the digital publishing industry.

    As more pure digital publishers start rising up through the ranks, you can expect geographical restrictions to disappear.

  5. sarah catherall

    I was trying to get hold of Shelley who left a comment above. I’m writing a feature article on ebooks and keen to interview her as she’s a buyer. Please email me with your details if keen. Thanks so much.
    Sarah Catherall

  6. Pingback: Barnes and Noble claims world’s largest eBookstore, announces Plastic Logic deal

  7. Richard Clement

    What a shame this is. Since about 2000 I have been a regular purchaser or eBooks from eReader.com – Peanut Press as it was then. I started on an early Philips PDA and have been through Ipaq’s, Palm’s, Symbian Nokia’s and finally the iPhone. Over this period I have built up a library of hundreds of titles – often at prices not much cheaper than the print book. As a voracious reader I just loved the convenience of buying books from home and always having something to read with me. Last year I bought an e-ink reader BeBook which saw me switch some of my business to Mobipocket – but it seems both now have extensive geographic restrictions. If other countries had ebookstores in place I can see the point – but all that this does is cut off sales within a fledgling industry. Its plain barmy – and Im not switching back to paper – Im just rereading my existing content. I have a simple system – all novels are bought as e versions which keeps the space free on the shelf for nice hardback non-fiction!

  8. Janice R

    I agree with comments above. As somebody who lives in Asia and does a lot of travelling in the course of my job, it’s impossible to lug around hard-copy books when my suitcase is already overloaded with training gear. So this lack of availability of ebooks is a real pain in the leisure-time, which I have too little of anyway when I’m training in some obscure spot. I’m stuck doing the same as Richard: re-re-read the books already on my e-shelf. But I’m getting awfully sick of some of them….!

  9. Howard T

    Have the same problem,.Apparently it os tied to your credit card details. If you have a UK account or know somebody that has this will solve your problems.
    Currently it is driving me up the wall!!

  10. Chas. Kearney

    Contemplating the purchase of an E-Book Reader I checked out prices at various sites, and was appalled to find that whilst you can buy the print copy of an older book for a few pounds + delivery, they wanted the full retail price for an E-Book. How is that for short sighted! The book sellers of this world can’t see green cheese but they want a big chunk of it, and if they continue in this manner they’ll stop E-Books in their tracks, kill the golden goose and cost authors a fortune. Madness!

  11. Aida

    This is awful!! I’m from Spain, a regular buyer of ebooks, and for lots of books I prefer de original version in english, than the spanish translation, plus I don’t want to wait 3 years until the book arrives here. So for me, ebooks were the perfect solution. So now I’ll have to wait aproximately 1 month until the book is on emule and I can download it for free, so they hay certainly lost a buyer.

  12. Toliman

    “In the past, under independent ownership, it seems to have had fairly loose territorial restrictions on its customers. I know you’ve been able to buy titles from Fictionwise fairly easily from New Zealand, for example.”

    how, exactly, do you rationalise this as a good thing ?

    where in New Zealand, would you go to download an eBook ? do they have a local distributor in that country ? do they have a distributor in Australia, Asia, Europe,, etc, that would also not have territorial restrictions, and sell the book to that customer ?

    why is this a good thing ? it certainly makes piracy a better alternative, since a retail outlet refusing to sell a product, makes more sense, than an e-retail outlet refusing to send a file because it doesn’t want to sell the product to a customer.

    i can understand regional protection for local markets, Australia / NZ has a tiny retail market which would instantly be flooded by almost any import/export of AUS/US/EU printed retail books, but what about the instance where there is no competing market, when the local distributor has no eBook version, has no plans to operate in the eBook market, and yet, local publishers and local distributors have no ability to modify that geographic embargo for consumers, when they won’t be competing in that market.

    what, precisely, makes this ‘probably right ‘ ?

  13. Martin Taylor (Post author)

    @toliman If Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc can sell any title from the US without restriction, this will make it unlikely that smaller markets will be able to develop local retail channels which can feature locally-relevant books or authors, or can encourage local promotion of books and authors. I don’t think that’s a good way to support our literary industry and authors.

    Who’s going to incur the cost of promoting a new book or author in New Zealand, for instance, if the sale goes to a different company in the US – you need a way to connect the sale to the promoter who bears the cost of that sale (often, but not necessarily) the same publisher who is promoting the p-book edition at considerable expense).

    Territorial restrictions don’t stop consumers buying ebooks, they just allow local channels to develop that support local publishing and allow local marketing to exist. And since it’s under the control of the publisher/author, it doesn’t remove any options from them, it opens them up. If a publisher wants to sell their titles without any territorial restrictions, they can (and do).

  14. christieb

    Over the past few months this has been very frustrating for me as most of the ebooks I buy are published in the US and not available in the UK therefore, I am barred from buying them.
    Why? no UK publisher is losing out so what exactly is the problem? Should I not be the person to decide who I want to buy my books from. The author/publishers must be losing quite a bit of money with these restrictions and the sooner they are lifted the better.

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