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Another WTF moment in ebooks

Amazon UK now offering free shipping to India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – Amazon UK will now cover the shipping cost of any order over £25. The offer is good until 15 May.

This little bit of news caught my eye last night. It’s really not all that important (unless it applies to you), but I want you to think about this: Amazon UK can sell you a book, DVD, or other media from the UK (and ship it anywhere) but they can’t sell you an ebook due to regional restrictions.

Perhaps an explanation is in order. Amazon UK can sell and ship media anywhere because when it comes to physical media, it doesn’t matter where the buyer is, it only matters where the seller is. Ebooks OTOH can onyl be sold based on where the buyer is. It’s called regional  restrictions, and they’re the bane of any ebook lover. Whose bright idea was that?

I wonder if the people who enforce regional restrictions on ebooks know that the world is flat now. I can buy anything from anywhere and get it shipped in less than a week. And yet people can’t buy an ebook sold outside their country.

This is one of the reasons I can’t criticize piracy, because regional restrictions are almost guaranteed to  create it. I really have to  wonder if that was intentional? If not, it is certainly foreseeable. What do you think?

Amazon UK via Bookseller & Publisher

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Mike Cane February 17, 2011 um 6:49 am

Bloody hell. The publishers need to be smacked down.

Andrew Farrell February 17, 2011 um 7:00 am

Can anyone explain to me the differences between territorial copyright and regional restrictions? I consider myself reasonably well-versed in territorial copyright, at least in as much as it applies in Australia, but have not been able to find a good explanation of how/why rights differ between print and digital versions of a title under the same contract, particularly where personal purchasing is concerned.
My understanding is that in the print world:
– as a consumer in Australia I am allowed to purchase for my own use a copy of a book from any online retailer in the world.
– as a retailer in Australia I am allowed to sell a copy of a book to any consumer in the world for their own use.
– as a retailer in Australia I am allowed to buy a copy of a book from any legal distributor in the world to fill a specific customer order, as long as that book (or a reasonable alternative edition) is not available in Australia (subject to 7/30/90-day rules regarding parallel importation)

Why then do these same rules not apply to eBooks for personal use?

Nate the great February 17, 2011 um 7:14 am

It’s strange, isn’t it?

Someone please correct me if wrong, but I seem to recall this happened at the request of UK ebooksellers (in 2008?) when the UK ebook market started heating up. They were pissed with having to compete with US ebookstores, who usually charged less.

fjtorres February 17, 2011 um 10:39 am

Spring 2009 is my recollection.
That’s when Fictionwise and the other US-based independents went to ADEPT epub as their primary format and started enforcing territorial restrictions. Synchronous but not necessarily causal.

Chris February 17, 2011 um 6:13 pm

You’ve got half of it right: as a consumer in Australia you are perfectly entitled under Australian law to buy an ebook from overseas.

The overseas retailer however, due to their contracts with the publishers, is not authorised to sell their ebooks to you. I’m not sure why or how the publishers are able to make and enforce these restrictions for ebooks but not pbooks, but that’s how it is.

And yes it sucks 🙁

Andrew Farrell February 18, 2011 um 4:18 am

"I’m not sure why or how the publishers are able to make and enforce these restrictions for ebooks but not pbooks, but that’s how it is."

That’s exactly the part I’m trying to figure out. I know most Aussie publishers do exactly the same thing (and enforce them on Aussie retailers as well) but I haven’t been able to find anything anywhere that actually explains why this is the case when it is not the case for printed books. My understanding is that territorial rights come into play ONLY when you are selling/supplying the goods overseas for resale, not if it’s a personal order for personal use.

Is this perhaps just a case of something becoming standard practice just because it’s what everyone is doing, rather than having a basis in the actual contracts/regulations? I don’t know either way, just wish someone could point me to the actual wording that explains the practice.

Piet van Oostrum February 17, 2011 um 8:34 am

"Ebooks can only be sold based on where the buyer is."

Can anybody explain me why that is? Why don’t they use the same rule as for the pbooks?

fjtorres February 17, 2011 um 10:34 am

The "logic" (which is a stretch, admittedly) is that an online pbook transaction is completed when the book ships and the funding account is charged. This occurs on the premises of the vendor and local laws and licenses apply.
A traditional ebook transaction is completed when the buyer initiates download of the purchased book, which takes place where the buyer resides at the moment.

Note that Kindles change the process from a consumer "pull" to a vendor "push" (check the wording on the Kindle storefronts: "your book will be *sent* to your Kindle) which allows roaming Kindle customers to be served out of their home markets regardless of their physical location. Sweet, huh?

I suspect few people realize just how carefully Amazon crafted Whispernet and why it is integral and essential to their business model.

Kerry February 18, 2011 um 7:55 pm

"Note that Kindles change the process from a consumer “pull” to a vendor “push” (check the wording on the Kindle storefronts: “your book will be *sent* to your Kindle) "

If that is so, then why as a customer outside the US am I still not allowed to buy geo-restricted ebooks. If Amazon is "pushing" them to me, then shouldn’t I be able to buy them regardless of where I am?

Of course, I’m not and that’s that. But I’d like to know how they can reason like that for part of their market (US residents out of the US) and not for the rest (residents outside the US).

Darryl Adams February 17, 2011 um 3:02 pm

This may be less about region restrictions and more about government subsidy.

For a while, UK retailers have had free OS postage as part of a stimulas program. I have taken advantage of this for wargame supplies. Free postage and VAT free sales, added to generally lower prices, has made UK vendors rediciously cheap compared to Australia.

Book Depository already offer free postage as well (posably under this program) so this may be Amazon trying to gain market share (as Book Depository has really been popular in the colonies).

Scott February 19, 2011 um 5:35 pm

Ah Nate. The total population of the countries you dismis as "not important" isn’t insignificant. It unfortunately shows you up for your myopic American-centric view of the world.

Anway, as Darryl has aluded to this will be more about competition. The Australian Government placed a GST on books in recent years. As a result many Australians have been utilising services like Book Depository which mails anywhere in the world free. With the power of the Australian dollar, VAT free prices and cheap sticker prices offered by other UK etailers it is surprising how long it has taken Amazon UK to get its act together.

Ultimately your comments on piracy are spot on though. The number of eBooks available in the ether that can’t be purchased because of region restrictions is very frustrating. Hence the continuing success of etailers like Book Depository.


Nate the great February 19, 2011 um 6:47 pm

I didn’t write that the countries weren’t important; I wrote that the _news_ wasn’t. And from the viewpoint of this being an ebook blog, it’s not. The only reason i mentioned it is because it gave me a chance to bring up territorial restrictions.

JD February 19, 2011 um 9:04 pm

The PIL laws (parallel importation laws) in Oz prevent booksellers importing a title in large numbers from an overseas publisher, when the same title is already published here through a local publisher. So no competition, higher prices. Keep in mind that various parts of the book trade lobbied HARD to maintain this when our govt watchdog recommended that the protectionism be dropped. Many booksellers were all for the change, most publishers against.
That has come back to bite the industry on the arse, because economies of scale and efficient systems (web) mean that prices are much lower, and PIL laws don’t apply to consumers.
I have been told by someone who is in the know that territorial restrictions are like a "gentlemens agreement" between publishers not to step on each others turf. This is a hangover from the days when books were shipped between territories.
This anachronism has been applied to ebooks on the fly, and publishers try to justify it a number of ways, but we all know it’s bollocks.
I was told that there will come a tipping point, where someone with enough power in the industry (Amazon) will stand to gain more by ignoring these "restrictions" and selling all ebooks globally, than they would lose by any few publishers boycotting them. In short, struggling publishers wouldn’t be able to afford not to supply to Amazon.
This will be a fight that will come soon and I can’t see Amazon losing.

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