E-book region restrictions continue to frustrate would-be buyers
October 19, 2010 | 8:15 am
Lately, Canadian Ric Day wanted to read an e-book of the new John LeCarré novel, Our Kind of Traitor. He searched for it in various bookstores and found it was available in the US and the UK…but not in Canada. Though his Google searching to find it turned up plenty of torrent links on the first Google results page.
Does Penguin believe that only Americans and the British read English? Pay attention to Twitter? LibraryThing? GoodReads? No one else in the world reads English and notices new books are available from famous authors? No one else in the world wants to buy ebook versions of those new books (hardcover versions are more widely available)?
This inspired Mike Cane to do a lengthy post to his own blog in which he ranted at some length about the nonsensical nature of regional publishing restrictions. He posted screenshots showing a number of pages of these books, noting that the pirates had also done something for Stieg Larsen’s Millennium Trilogy that publishers would not—make them available as a bundled set.
Cane offers the following advice to the “big six” publishers:
1) Your eBooks are too damned expensive. People don’t give a damn about your “fixed costs” (which includes your too-fat salaries at the very top). Google dominated the entire world starting from nothing. We should pity your overfed overpaid fat asses?
2) There are no more regional rights. The new regions are the boundaries of language. You get to sell English-language worldwide. All other languages are now the sub-rights for “regions.”
3) Start making bundled sets. Or you’re going to screw every writer with a series whose backlist is too damned expensive as single buys.
4) What is your mission? To sell books or to keep your jobs? You can do the latter by lowering the prices to make the former larger than you ever dreamed.
I found out about this in a post by Jeff Kirvin, who had this to say:
Cane’s comments about regional restrictions and bundles really got me thinking, though. Now that I’m reluctantly committing to the Kindle, I would love to give Hachette $50 for Kindle versions of the dozen or so Agent Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. But I can’t. So I’m faced with buying them individually, or breaking out Stanza to read the eReader copies I already bought. Hachette is leaving money on the table and they probably don’t even realize it.
Instead, I bet the lessons the Big Six take away from this sort of thing is that they need stronger DRM to keep people from pirating their books. Given that most pirate ebooks are lovingly proofread scans of paper copies, I really don’t think that’s going to work. But they’ll try it. Because the alternative is to change “the way things have always been done,” and that’s unthinkable. Right up until they go out of business.
A week ago, I mentioned this problem in regard to comments from agents at the Frankfurt Book Fair who were concerned that American publishers might be trying to undermine territorial restrictions with e-book deals. One agent said that “It would upset the whole publishing dynamic if one let the digital edition seep into another market” and “Anyone trying to do that would really mess up their relationship with the author and the agent.”
Publishers’ and agents’ behavior here are frankly ridiculous. It’s as if they’re trying to drive readers into the arms of pirates. This isn’t a question of cheapskate freeloaders wanting to obtain the results of someone’s hard work without paying for it, it’s a question of people who are perfectly willing, indeed desiring to hand their money over—and being snubbed.
Yes, the region problem is similar to the problem of converting backlist titles into e-books that Charlie Stross brought up a few days ago—the old contracts are written to specify specific regions, and it would require renegotiating every old contract to get the new system in place. But there’s no reason that publishers and agents couldn’t implement language-based rather than region-based e-book rights sales for all their new works going forward. It would just require changing the standard contract, just as the contracts were changed with the advent of e-books in the first place.