images.jpegThe ugly spectre of protectionism continues to haunt us. A correspondent sent me the following:

Just a quick note to say that the technical measures to enforce the geographical restrictions are slowly but surely tightening. The iPhone eReader application just refused to download 2 books that I had purchased (by pretending to be in the USA). It said I was in the wrong location. Curiously I had no problem downloading them to my Mac, form where, in a spirit of perversity, I uploaded them to my Personal Content shelf at Fictionwise, and from there to the iPhone.

However, it does seem that the days of being able to get around this sort of measure are numbered. The FAQ on the FW site still says that less than 10% of their books are protected in this way, but this is woefully short of the truth now. In effect the site is now USA only, and there is nothing much we can do in the rest of the world until the publishers sort themselves out. The local alternatives have a very poor and very expensive selection.


  1. The publishing business sells rights according to language and geographical regions.

    The publishing industry moves slowly to change, and the economic and legal issues of ebook geographical rights is one that is both difficult and expensive to solve. Ebooks simply aren’t making enough money for a universal shift in geographical rights or a new contract or codicil to older books to be worth the effort.

    This is one problem you’ll have to live with, I’m afraid, for years to come.

  2. To Marilynn:

    “The publishing industry moves slowly to change”

    They’d better learn to move faster, or they may slowly move themselves into obsolescence. This is a problem YOU as an author will have to live with too, Marilynn, or you will find your own bottom line affected. Brush this off as our ‘problem; if you want to, but then don’t come here and complain (as you have in the past) about how hard it is for authors to make a living. When ‘the publishing industry’ does not want our money even when we hold out our hand and say here it is, I think everyone involved loses any higher ground they might have had. In this whole equation, the customers are ironically the LEAST powerful. It’s up to those at the production end to work this out, and it’s in their best interests to do it ASAP.

    Here is my idea. Since region can’t be necessarily determined in an e-world (based on where the buyer currently is? Based on where their bank is? Based on where the store’s server/head office is?) why not just dispense with e-blocking altogether and declare ‘the internet’ a country? Then authors could sell the e-rights as they do any other.

  3. Of course they’re not making enough money when they’re restricting their sales to geographic regions. The ebook market is still in its infancy, and publishers and authors need to start thinking globally rather than locally, at least for the elecrontic editions.

  4. The main issue is that publishing has been structured so that authors are not paid directly per copy sold but on “selling rights” and later once the value of the rights has been covered on per copy – so of course if selling rights UK + selling rights US is 30% more than selling rights English language all, there is going to be strong resistance; also since (outside a very small numbers of A-listers) publishers hold the cards generally relating to contracts, it’s very hard to negotiate finer points, so this crude geographical restriction is one thing author have as bargaining chips…

    Very annoying agree but like with all restrictions, only popular pressure as manifested in underground e-book distribution will solve it

  5. Underground e-book distribution indeed. I’m afraid once that ship has sailed there’s no ability to put it back in the bottle.

    I would say in less than 12 months we’ll see ebook file trading networks in a frenzy. Could already be happening for all I know.

    Publisher have had more than a decade to consider this issue…and they’ve had 5+ years to see what happened to the music industry due to their “moving slowly” in regards to territory restrictions and other legal issues.

    There is no excuse for this problem.

    Clint Brauer
    General Manager

  6. Guess what authors and publishers, the pirates just took more of your money because of your poor attitude and geographic principles. Learn to adapt and adjust at a faster or you will end up like the dinosaurs. You think that the literary world will end because you couldn’t change your ways fast enough and you quit/perished because you didn’t make any money? Nope, others will come and fill the gap. They will likely be of poorer quality in the short term, but in the long term, they will equal, if not exceed your quality as the new literary world adapts.

  7. It’s not protectionism, it’s the law. A lot of laws as well as contracts.

    The problem of geographical and language sales areas won’t go away easily because it’s a highly complex situation involving trade agreements, international copyright agreements, many years of legal conventions, etc., etc., etc.

    It will take years to settle this issue, and right now, the publishers see no profit in solving it. They make profit from foreign sales rights on their paper books with little effort of their parts, and ebooks don’t bring in enough profit to make it worth their while to create so much change as well as adding codicils or new contracts for their older books.

    And authors can’t change any of this. An author is as likely to make a publisher change direction as an ant could a Hummer. I doubt even a JK Rowling or a Dan Brown could even nudge them on this issue.

    And if by “underground e-book distribution,” you mean piracy, Liviu, I strongly disagree. So far, the only thing that piracy has done to policy is make DRM more attractive to publishers and destroy the livelihood of authors who make so little anyway.

    You’d do better by making ebooks such an important part of publisher profit that they’ll be willing to make the changes necessary.

    And American ebooks are available outside of the US. Many of the small ebook publishers, who aren’t owned by worldwide conglomerates, contract world English ebook rights so you can legally buy them where ever you live.

  8. Blue, have you ever caught me in a falsehood here?

    I didn’t say they were illegal. I said the situation was complex, particularly because most of the book publisher conglomerates are more interested in selling paper rights than ebook rights, and they don’t want to rock that particular boat and the various legal agreements between them and publishers in other countries.

    For example, if they sold paper English rights to a company in one country, then ebook rights to another company in the same country or kept those rights to sell ebooks in that country, the first company might consider that sale undercutting the value of the book.

    Paper rights are lucrative, ebook rights are not. Money wins every time.

    If this site is really interested in this subject, they need to get some guests from the publishing industry to answer questions.

    I’m pretty good for general answers, but I’m not a copyright or international trade lawyer.

  9. I don’t think people are interested at this point in the publishing industry ‘answering questions’ about why things are the way they are. I think they are interested in having the publishers answer questions on what is being done to move things forward in a productive way on this and what sorts of timelines we might be looking at for this to happen. What is your answer to the guy at Mobile Read who has $400 in geo-restricted books sitting in his Fictionwise wishlist right now that he would buy except that he’s in the UK? Print books may be more ‘lucrative’—for now—but they aren’t going to *stay* lucrative as people like him move more and more to ebooks. And then when they do, they find that the publishers don’t WANT their $400…

  10. Marilynn, you may be right when it comes from a legal aspect, but you are a dinosaur when it comes to understanding the ideological changes occurring these days. The fact is that consumers DON’T CARE about geographical restrictions, they care about reading the books they want they way they want.

    This means the consumer who wants to read a book in HC, PB, or e-book should have that opportunity whether they live in the US or Antarctica. For HC or PB, this is easy – they buy from a bookstore (brick’n’mortar or e-tailer) no matter where they are. For e-books, this has become a major problem due to geographical restrictions as discussed in many articles and comments here.

    Your problem in not actually fixing this problem is that others will solve it. Unfortunately, their solution won’t conform to your principles or desires. Just like mp3, Napster, and the internet proliferation of music, e-books will be picked up on P2P, IRC, or “rapidshare” sites to fill that void authors or publishers won’t fix (although the rate and volume of proliferation won’t be as large simply because not as many people read as listen to music). Of course it won’t be legal, but consumers won’t care about that. There are many examples of ideas/things that were illegal in the past that are no longer illegal or enforced because enough people in society either ignored the law (making it extremely difficult to enforce) or changed the law.

    In the end, your repeated verbal defenses of the industry won’t be able to keep the status quo going. Just talk to all your buddies in music and movies and ask them how they are doing.

  11. I have been buying ebooks for 6 years or more and this issue has only just surfaced. This says to me that the ebook market matters now, otherwise why bother spending money and resources on imposing arbitary restriction. Until recently nobody cared.

    Legal issues aside, it seems daft that a company would spend money to prevent me giving them money.

  12. Mark, I have no more control over the major publishers and their decisions about ebook than you do. I probably have less since I am a writer and, therefore, must be circumspect in my criticisms since I want to sell my books through them.

    All I have been trying to do is explain the publishing industry to those of you who don’t understand it.

    The publishing industry as run by the conglomerates is the Queen Mary. It may change direction, but it does so with infinitesimal slowness. It isn’t a ski boat that can make instant changes in direction and speed no matter how much you want it to.

    Right now, because the money isn’t big enough to make the issue worthy of their attention, the captains of this ship aren’t even noticing the issue of ebook geographical rights, let alone, realizing it is an iceberg.

    So, sorry, folks. Don’t expect instant gratification on this issue.

  13. Marilynn but you do have control over publishers – at least the ones you have contracts with, for your content. You can choose to sell the ebook rights to your books on a global basis – that’s your right as copyright owner. That is, provided you’re not already locked into an exclusive contract that prohibits that. However that’s still a contract, not a law. Beyond already existing contracts, there’s no legal barrier to selling ebooks (or their rights) globally. There’s no trade agreement regulating electronic book sales or the like. There’s also no restrictions on parallel importation or the like, like some countries have for CDs. Most of those have gone the way of the dodo anyway, and the regional restrictions you see for digital delivery of music these days are based on rights agreements, not laws.

    I can certainly see why an author would want to split up the regional rights to a work, but claiming there’s nothing you can do is not correct. Whether it’s best for you, is a different matter.

    > So, sorry, folks. Don’t expect instant gratification on this issue.

    I don’t think anyone expects instant gratification – instead I think that people realize that unless we speak up now, not only is it going to remain a problem, but it’ll just get worse. Forget promoting a unified format like epub – that’ll work itself out sooner or later. Promoting global rights sales and availability however is something that will remain an issue unless steps are taken early to resolve it. I applaud Teleread for bringing it up, and I hope it remains in focus for sites that cover the emerging ebook market. A change in the system is needed, and that’s only going to happen if all of us – we (the consumers), you (the author(s)), the publishers and the ebook stores – push for the changes that are needed

  14. Most of my books are available throughout the world in English, but I am a small press author so I had some choice in the matter.

    Most major publishers insist on ebook rights be included with paper rights, and they, not the author, determine what kinds of rights they want.

  15. So what you’re saying is that the major publishers don’t want world wide ebook rights in addition to paper book rights for a particular region, if they were offered it? That doesn’t make any sense.

    If you’ve already sold those rights to a different publisher (world rights that is), there’s not exactly much a local publisher can do if they want ebook rights in addition – they can demand all they want, but nothing’s going to change that. Instead they’re left with a choice of getting the paper rights, or no rights at all. Given the current size of the ebook market, I don’t see it being a large factor in whether they pick up an author or not.

    In the end all this is part of the negotiation process, and authors do have a lot more power than many realize. It also helps to have a good agent.

  16. Marilynn

    Thanks for your insights into the publishing industry. However, if what you say is true, then another analogy might be to a dinosaur staring up at the doomsday comet thinking, “yeah, just another day in paradise”.

    Really, anyone with a modicum of intelligence would recognise that we are entering a similar phase to the music industry when devices to store and use digital content were becoming more ubiquitous and easier to use. When the price of those devices dropped sufficiently, they became consumer items and people purchased them in droves.

    The question publishers need to ask themselves is, when that happens to digital books, where do they want people to get their content from?

    So, publishers, keep putting more resources into frustrating people who want to buy your ebooks. And, while you are at it, start preparing your complaints now about how much money you are losing to piracy and hire some lawyers so in future you can prosecute 12 year olds sharing ebooks.


    Does anyone else have a mental picture of publishing industry execs using their computers to play solitaire on Windows 3.1 while waiting for their secretaries to print out their emails?

  17. I am ‘just’ a consumer who cheered when I found that I could pay and download my favourite authors to my iphone via eReader. No more carrying heavy books around when travelling for work, having them on my iphone meant they were always with me and I read more books and I really enjoyed it. Then after a year of trouble free purchasing and downloading Georaphical License reared its head, and my favourite authors were no longer avaiable for me to buy. I haven’t gone back to buying the paper versions – frankly because out of principle I will not be bullied into reading a format I no longer find acceptable for me. So the author/publisher has lost sales and so has eReader. How many othe conusmers have reacted like I have? I can’t answer that. But for publishers and authors to say this is a ‘small problem’ shows how narrow minded and blinkered they are to the future of ebooks. Please wake up and admit ebooks may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they will probably be a very large part of the future of publishing.

    Thanks for reading my ramblings – I have never been motivated enough to write my comments to anything like this before.

  18. I have been an eReader purchaser for about 7 years or so. I find it laugable now that people are saying all about the benefits or ebooks when I’ve been doing it for years. I am a commuter to London and am being forced now to carry real books as I cannot find anything major author on the eReader site now available to me. The 10% they quote is a complete myth. This issue has required me to completely alter a way of life. Someone who is frankly p*ssed o*f and wish the publishers would get their house in order. I am willing to spend decent money on ebooks and do not want to resort to piracy.

  19. Here I am, looking at tens of titles I can buy on paper, but not as ebook.
    Titles in existence for years in the Netherlands, however as ebook I am not allowed to buy them. What a ludicrous situation. The man from UK with $400 worth of titles is not alone!
    My shift from paper to electron is still a fresh one, just 7 months, and the ONE problem that bugs me are these restrictions. I want to pay for my books, I want to complete series I read… no show though.
    If publishers and ditributors cannot solve this, I am afraid I have to start looking elsewhere. The music-industry faced the same dealbreaker with their cliënts, as they lost that battle, so will the book-industry.
    caveat venditor…

  20. I have also purchased ebooks for years and have only recently had problems with geographical restrictions. As someone else mentioned, as a consumer it is our choice how we want to read our books. Personally I prefer ebooks, as they are easy to carry and most of all, save planetary resources. I have hundreds of books that I purchased but by putting restrictions on the books the publishers only encourage piracy….it is human nature to get around an obstacle, tell any of us we can’t do something or can’t have it….what do we do, try our best to get around it. They really need to look at the future and move with it. My ebook wish list is growing, and there are a lot of books from my favorite authors that I can not purchase at this point in time, as I also refuse to go back to paper books. The worst part is when we read a series of books, wait with bated breath for the next installment, then find it has a geographical restriction on it….anyone with a good imagination will know the reaction to that 🙁
    Thanks for listening to my ramblings this has been a thorn in my side for a while, glad to be able to vent.

  21. I am so glad to see I’m not alone in believing these geographical restrictions are a load of shit.

    Recently my laptop decided it had had enough and unexpectedly died on me. Tonight I attempted to re-download a bunch of ebooks I’d bought from booksonboard only to be refused because I was outside of the region. If I’ve already paid for these books, been allowed to download them just a few months ago, how can they refuse me the right now?

    Publishers need to understand that ebooks really are the way forward. Ebooks are ideal for me because – as a student – I am able to move my book collection around without having to carry great big boxes up and down the country.

    Whilst I’ve always been a big reader, my switch to ebook resulted in me spending much more money on books than beforehand. Which isn’t to say that I’ve neglected the good-old, money-making paperback. If I enjoy an ebook enough, I buy it in paperback. Indeed, because of my introduction to various writers through ebooks, there are books by certain authors that I will buy only in book-form.

    Whilst I wait for my reply from booksonboard as to whether I can ever again read books which I own and which they’ve sold to me, I face the dillema many face. Do I – with my limited funds and many student loan repayments looming in the future – download these books, and others by the authors, again or do I pursue other avenues to get these? Frankly I’m surprised publishers even make any good money now-a-days when they’re practically forcing people down a route which sees them out of money.

  22. @Shakera: I don’t see anywhere that BooksOnBoard says that they guarantee that you’ll be able to redownload your e-books later.

    As far as I know, no e-book store currently makes such a guarantee, because it’s not possible to keep that guarantee.

    The last time that I checked (about a week ago), BooksOnBoard did not have the ability to supply any e-books from Hachette, Penguin, Macmillan, or Simon & Schuster. This is fall-out from the ‘Agency Model’ conversion, which has left most smaller e-book stores unable to obtain e-books from the distributors for ‘Agency 5’ titles.

    If you had made backup copies of your e-books, you’d be able to read them no matter where you are in the world, even if the e-book store loses its distributor, and even if the e-book store goes out of business.

  23. Also the sort of thing that makes people mad, so they strip the DRM and upload the book to peer to peer so they are guaranteed to be always able to get a copy.

    Which of course is actually a second economically rational backup method when corporate behaviour as mentioned above happens.

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