Territorial Wrongs

A few weeks ago Kevin Drum, political blogger for the U.S.-based magazine Mother Jones, took a break from his usual beat to write “A Brief Whine About E-Books, Digital Publishing, and International Nonsense“. In it, he laments an inability to buy an update to a series of books written by Charlie Stross. They have been released in the United Kingdom (starting in April), but the U.S. publisher (Tor) has yet to publish the books.

Drum quotes Stross, who explains, “The Merchant Princes re-issue won’t be sold in the USA until Tor US decide to publish it. This will not happen in 2013 (because their 2013 schedule is full).”

Because Drum wants to read the digital versions of these books, territory matters. A digital book put up for sale in the U.K. cannot be sold in the United States, even though it is plainly available in digital form. This anachronistic practice leads Stross to counsel a bit of rebellion:

And (ahem) you might want to investigate the usual work-arounds. As these books are DRM-free, all you’ll need to do is set up a sock-puppet AMZN account that is tied to an address in some other country and fed by a supply of amazon.co.uk gift coupons bought via ebay, or something like that.

You know when the author is suggesting piracy, things are more than a bit screwy.

I don’t know what makes Tor’s 2013 schedule “full”; perhaps it’s a desire to manage year-over-year revenue fluctuations. I don’t think its limited approach to territorial rights will last much longer, though.

In a post tied to “Territorial Rights in the Digital Age“, a report I wrote for Livres Canada Books in 2012, I argued:

Windowing the release of eBooks and negotiating rights by country used to be considered reasonable practices. Today, they feel like tactics that increase the likelihood that we’ll encourage the behavior we seek to avoid.

Drum softens his argument with a disclaimer: “I know this is trivial. First world problems and all that.” He’s kind, but in practice the problem is global. Availability trumps piracy, and ubiquity provides readers with options they might otherwise have never considered. That’s as true in Russia as it is in the United States.

reposted with permission from Magellan Media Partners

11 thoughts on “Territorial Wrongs

  1. Uh, Stross isn’t advocating piracy since the consumer is paying and he’ll get his usual thin slice.
    He’s just telling folks how to work around geo-restictions, which is something the Australian government also suggested recently, if I recall correctly.

    I wonder if Amazon would accept 221a Baker Street as a valid london address…

  2. Same here, in Brazil. Trying to buy a copy of The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt for some time now. Maybe I’ll just “work around” it with a false AMZN account.

      1. Trying to squeeze a 21st century online world into a 19th century regionalized business model is crazy enough. But that behavior isn’t long for this world; the emerging Global English ebook market will set the stage for global language licensing.

  3. When the only solution is no solution people will find another way. Businesses should respond to the desires of their customers and make these books available. How long we can stare over the digital fence and look at the green pixelated-grass on the other side?

    The main problem is that the publishing houses aren’t falling as fast as the Tower Records and such did. Print books are taking a lot longer to wipe out than CDs.

  4. Can anyone tell me why Kindle eBooks cannot be purchased from Malaysia / Singapore and I gather many other countries? Has Amazon ever given a reason for this? There are no problems buying print books from Amazon though.

    1. Depends on which books you’re talking about.
      Some books Amazon simply cannot sell because they don’t have a contract that covers a specific region.
      Other regions they are forbidden to sell into by local laws.
      And some areas they aren’t setup to service (payments, customer service, etc).

      1. It’s a blanket ban, no Kindle eBooks at all, so it can’t have anything to do with territorial rights. I doubt if it is local laws either because Kobo have always been able and willing to sell you eBooks. More recently Google Play has started selling eBooks in Malaysia / Singapore and several other Asian countries but through local stores, in local currency.

        I have not done the research on this yet, but based on the people who have been complaining, there appears to be some correlation between countries that do not have a comprehensive tax treaty with the U.S. (59 countries have a treaty) and the non-availability of Kindle eBooks in those same countries. If this is the case, it won’t bother Kobo who are not American owned of course, and maybe we’ll have to wait until Amazon sets up a local store.

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