images.jpegAccording to the Bookseller publishers are insisting on territorial rights with the issue of the new international Kindle. UK publishers are insisting that these rights be observed if they are to make their books available. In a statement that is patronizing, at best, the UK Publisher’s Association said that they want to be sure that “… consumers will buy works appropriate to the country they are in.”

Evidently Amazon records your country or region when you first buy content, and then, according to Amazon, when you travel your ability to buy books will be determined by your “… home country, not by the country you are traveling in.”

Naturally this has complicated Amazon’s negotiations and undoubtedly delayed the introduction of an international Kindle. Evidently Random House UK, Macmillan and Oxford University Press are still holdouts. I wonder if this is part of the problem with the Kindle in Canada. Can you imagine how difficult this must have been for Amazon to negotiate on a worldwide basis.

Way to go publishers! In an economy where you are struggling to survive it makes perfect sense for you to restrict your markets and lower your overall sales. Don’t want to have to handle and of that dirty money, do you? Perhaps if you restrict book sales by cites, rather than by those awfully big things called countries, you can sell even fewer books and get rid of most of your accounting staff.


  1. What do they mean by: “Works appropriate to the country they are in.”

    Maybe the publishers are worried about people like me. If I were given the choice of buying a British author from a UK publisher or an American publisher, I’d chosen the foreign edition because, for some strange reason, the American edition sometimes changes the text to remove colloquialism or other variants in language use. Now I do need translators for truly foreign languages like Russian, but I don’t need references like bob or quid removed, I can muddle through.

    Or is there some other reason UK works are not appropriate for my country.

    I’d think a UK publisher would be happy if I bought from them over an American one.

  2. I think authors should get rid of their Publishers. They could/can sell their books to us directly. Publishers are not serving their authors/readers at all. I do hope some kind of “revolt” occurs soon. If I was an author I’d want to sell as many books as possible. What does it matter where the person lives — they want the book — they’re willing to pay for it — there you have it. Simple. Authors you’re not being served by your Publishers at all. Time to act!!!

  3. Publishers don’t own the rights to all countries – authors do. It’s a matter of contract on what rights the author licensed to the publisher. Many epublishers want exclusive worldwide electronic rights – but the big houses haven’t traditionally contracted for that. The publishers are trying not to overstep their rights on the contracts they have with the author because the publishers have no right to sales proceeds in countries they don’t have a license for.

    Authors who get rid of their publishers then have to do everything the publisher would otherwise do for them – secure copyediting, cover design, digital rights management (if desired), marketing, etc. All while facing an existing stigma of being “self-published” and generally not making a return of capital on their outlay (not even counting time writing) in publishing the book (even digital publishing has baked-in costs for a well-produced, well-edited (i.e. salable) book).

  4. The problem is, Paul, in many cases the publishers can’t just say, “Oh, ha ha, silly us, just let everyone all over the world buy it.” They could get sued by their authors, because they didn’t buy the geographic rights to sell anywhere outside their specific country.

    I have said in the past that the current e-book craze with the iPhone and Kindle is history repeating the ’90s e-book craze with the Palm Pilot and Rocketbook.

    What we’re seeing here is the same kind of thing. Back before the ’90s, publishers had no idea that e-book rights would ever be worth anything—or, indeed, that “e-book rights” might even exist as separate rights at all.

    (This led to a lawsuit when e-book vendor RosettaBooks started publishing e-versions of books from Random House’s catalog—Random House believed that e-book rights were implicit in existing contracts. The courts said, “Oh no they’re not,” and Random House ended up settling. Subsequently, e-book rights were made explicit in every contract, and publishers scrambled to secure the e-book rights from their existing back catalog.)

    And now rights history repeats again.

    What we have here is another artifact of how the old publishing system works. Print publishers don’t tend to buy world-wide publication rights, because before the dawn of the world-wide web, there weren’t any publishers capable of publishing simultaneously in every country in the entire world. And outside of electronically, there still aren’t.

    Out of habit, print publishers have carried on snagging only the rights to the regions they can publish printed matter in. The problem is, with the e-book infrastructure relatively primitive outside of the United States, there aren’t many e-publishers elsewhere who can snag those rights and sell to those places—but the world-wide web means that e-books can be bought from anywhere.

    Back before people actually started noticing e-books, nobody cared. But now publishers are waking up to the fact that they don’t have publishing rights in all the places that e-books can be sold. This leaves international readers between a rock and a hard place.

    The solution? Until and unless e-book publishers spring up like daisies all over the world (which probably won’t happen any time soon, due to the chicken-and-egg nature of e-book readers vs. e-book publishers), the US print publishers need to shift their e-book rights purchases from publishing rights by region to publishing rights by language.

    Instead of snagging the US e-book publishing rights, they should snag the English-language e-book publishing rights for the entire world. Then if someone wants to publish a Spanish-language e-book edition, they can deal separately with the author. (They can continue buying geographic print rights, since those pesky dead-tree items are still annoyingly physical—though who knows how this will change when print-on-demand hits it big.)

    Then the publisher can sub-license the English-language e-book to whatever vendors it likes. If that means a reader in Britain can choose to buy the same book from Fictionwise in the USA or from some local United Kingdom e-bookseller, that just means more choice for the consumer.

    I agree, putting geographic restrictions on the global Internet is silly, but at the moment publishers’ pre-existing business practices have backed them into a corner. What they need to do is hurry up and change those practices.

  5. Publishers are really really stupid. They seem not to understand that they are not protecting themselves; they are limiting themselves.

    Seriously. If you had a business, and had a choice between selling material to, say, Spaniards; and selling material to *every Spanish-reader on the planet*, which would you choose? “Ooh. We don’t want the money of no stinkin’ *Australians*” Or what?

    Publishers should be taking full advantage of the capabilities offered by electronic access — not trying to force it to become an analog of print.

    Oh. And I don’t want to upset anyone in the industry, but. I order several titles every year from, and they send them to me. In North America. So: ‘geographic limitations’? Wtf?!! Much as I would loooove to be just ordering those titles from, or buying them from my local Barnes & Noble.. Sorry guys. I do not read German lit in translation. And I’m *not* going to just say, “oh well. Guess I’ll just get the latest from Random House. instead.”

    Oh. And: When you’re returning from a trip abroad, does Customs ever ask you about what books you’ve brought?

    This is transparently idiotic. The publishing industry needs to sack its current staff and replace them with some people who still have a couple of brain cells.

  6. The bottom line is this: something is seriously wrong here if they still couldn’t bring the Kindle to Canada.

    It’s time for this industry to be revolutionized. I hope the much rumored Apple tablet will do it.

    Besides… as an early adopter of the SONY Reader I would advise everyone not to buy a specialized device that can only do one thing and that you cannot load applications to.

  7. Tamas Simon Says:

    Besides… as an early adopter of the SONY Reader I would advise everyone not to buy a specialized device that can only do one thing and that you cannot load applications to.

    Gee, I dunno, but I see several hundred million people each year buying PMPs that only play music and (maybe) video and they seem to do okay.

    And with dedicated ereaders going down to US$200 and under (vs the $500-1000 of the mythical Apple tablet/chalice) it would seem there just *might* be room for both approaches; simple, cheap, dedicated readers that can go weeks between charges and expensive do-everything devices that go hours on a charge.

    We all have diffetent needs and preferences, you know…

  8. Isn’t part of the reason for this whole problem that books are so much more expensive in most countries than they are in the U.S., i.e. that publishers don’t want to have to “Americanize” their prices worldwide?

  9. You can add me to the group who would prefer to be able to buy books originally published in Great Britain in an e-book from there. Why CAN’T I buy an e-book from there? I can buy print books from the UK and I do. This is madness! I have been reading British books for so long that I’ve adopted some of their colloquialisms. I do not need the books translated to the “American” language. Ye gods!

  10. @Mary, you can buy ebooks from Britain. Waterstones & WHSmith will sell them to you. Rankin’s Fleshmarket Close is the book I want to read; not Fleshmarket Alley. Give me a break I say to American publishers. I’m buying Rankin’s book not yours!!!

  11. Okay, so if you’re an author (like me) and you’ve posted your books/articles for sale at the U.S. Kindle store, does that mean they won’t be listed anywhere else? I *want* my stuff to be available worldwide. Considering that Amazon takes 65% of the proceeds, I should at least get that for my efforts.

    Anyone know the answer to this?

  12. ‘…when you travel your ability to buy books will be determined by your “… home country, not by the country you are traveling in.” ‘

    What! I don’t see how they’ll get away with that!

    It’s been established that the point of sale is the location of the person that buys the goods, not the location of the seller. That’s why we have the regional restrictions problem with ebook sales, and why, even if we can buy books from the US, EU customers get charged VAT.

    And they’re now saying that, no matter where the customer is physically when buying a book, they’ll apply restrictions and charges as if the customer was in their “home” country?

    The publishers will surely complain bitterly about this breach of their regional sales rights as they have about other breaches of the rights. And if I live in the UK, why should I be prevented from buying from American publishers if I’m actually visiting the US? (Or vice-versa.)

    I hope the publishers are concentrating on preventing problems like this in the future. Chris Meadows has that exactly right.

  13. Paul: Your article is misleading, and your headline is just wrong. As Chris Meadows points out, publishers can only exercise rights that their authors have granted them in the first place. Most publishers (big and small) prefer to acquire world rights (print and digital), but most agents, and some authors, withhold certain territories and therefore restrict the publisher’s international sales opportunities. When publishers refrain from selling their books in other countries, they’re honoring their contractual obligations to authors.

    I work at a publishing house. If you could convince all of our authors to grant us world rights so that we could sell their e- and p-books with no territorial restrictions, I’d hire you in a heartbeat!

    I enjoy following TeleRead but would enjoy it even more if its tone were less adversarial and its writers better informed on book industry practices.

  14. @Felix

    Just consider how many books you can buy for 250$
    If you like the readability of paper so much… buy a paper book.

    By the time you finish reading 250$ worth of books your fancy ereader will be a piece of junk

    These things are way too pricey.

    I read tons of stuff every day and stopped using the PRS-500 because I cannot get content on it.

  15. “I enjoy following TeleRead but would enjoy it even more if its tone were less adversarial and its writers better informed on book industry practices.”

    And *I* would enjoy it more if the publishers were willing to sell books to everyone at fair prices and if they were *better informed* on their customers needs…

    The problem is, you are thinking about technical and logistical reasons why you do a certain thing, and the customers are thinking in common sense and those are not always the same thing. For example, I remember when the dollar was at par and the Canadian customers started buying books in the US because they were so much cheaper. The Canadian publishers did a big editorial in the Globe and Mail explaining why the books were more expensive and urging the customers to be patriotic and buy the more expensive ones. Now, put on your ‘customer’ hat for a second and think like a logical, rational person. ‘You can pay $25 for this or you can pay $11. Will you consider voluntarily choosing to pay $25?’ Um, no. What average person would?

    If you want to sell to customers, you have to offer them *both* a product they want *and* a price they are willing to pay. If you don’t, you won’t sell, your business will die, and it will have nothing to do with “pirates” or any such nonsense. If you currently cannot or will not a) offer the product and b) do so at a price your customer is willing to pay, you need to streamline your business model and cut costs so that it’s viable for you to do so. The writers here being more ‘informed’ or less informed will not change this basic economic truth.

  16. Jesse,

    All we, as customers who want to legally purchase and not steal ebooks, can do is point out the apparent idiocy of imposing geographical restrictions on their sale – particularly when it does not apply to pbooks.

    So, to enlighten us further, why don’t invite one of your authors onto Teleread? It would be fascinating to understand why they want to restrict sales of their books and earn less money.

  17. Hi Greg,

    Great idea. I will encourage authors to comment. Meanwhile, I’ll explain that agents have traditionally held back territorial rights on behalf of their authors because they’ve been able to earn more money selling those rights to different publishers directly, rather than selling world rights to one publisher and hoping that the publisher will do a good job of sub-licensing them. Here’s the good (anecdotal) news: I’m seeing more and more cases where authors and agents grant world rights to the originating publisher in order to take advantage of digital opportunities. That doesn’t help with backlist issues, but I hope it will help with frontlist and forthcoming titles.
    Most readers don’t care about these details — naturally, we just want to get books and read them. But many of us turn to forums like this one so that we can gain a deeper understanding of the evolution of publishing, both e- and p-.

  18. A lot of small markets, such as Australia, rely on licensing overseas rights to help supplement their publication of local titles. So basically, if any publisher could make their books available worldwide this would kill smaller industries like Aus and Canada. You would then only be able to read books published by the big publishers from UK and the US.

    It also works in reverse. If you are an American and want to buy an e-book, say the new Tim Winton novel, how did you find out about this book in the first place? From the American publisher, yeah. So, if you lived in America and the only publisher who owns the rights is the Australian Publisher, you would never even hear of the book because the Australian publisher can’t afford to market in America. This novel would never see the light of day overseas. It’s international rights sales that ensures there is the appropriate amount of marketing and support behind a book and an author.

    And to all of you naive people bashing the publishing industry and calling publishers stupid,
    get some perspective. Books (e- or p-) don’t just drop out of the sky, perfectly written, edited and formatted for your consumption. Have a think about what you would be reading if there were no publishers.

    And yes, in the interests of full disclosure, I do work in the publishing industry.

  19. Wow. It’s 2009 and people still believe in this “with the Internet we don’t need publishers” crap? I’m amazed.

    Moving on, I live in Brazil and just got my Kindle a few days ago. I’m loving it and, because of it, I started buying books for it. I’ve been buying books from Amazon for more than 10 years now; to be able to buy a book and get it immediately, without waiting weeks for shipping (and without paying for shipping) is a definite plus.

    The downer is that I noticed that for a lot of authors that I like there are no books available in my region, although they are available for the Kindle in the US. Orhan Pamuk, Haruki Murakami and Jonathan Lethem being just three examples on the top of my head. It’s just annoying.

    I just hope that authors, publishers and retailers figure this out so these restrictions are lifted.

  20. I live in Spain. I have a kindle. If I travel to the US I can’t buy books in the US that are not available from Spain, but are available for the US market.

    Great. Publishers are blind and are replicating business models that have shown with the music that are completely out of sync. with their customers.

    If obtaining content for your device is difficult, cumbersome and somehow expensive, then we are opening the doors to Piracy. If piracy goes in, then forget it, the cost of the content will depreciate to 0(as in music or movies).

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