frustration.jpgWe are all aware of this problem, but it doesn’t hurt to underline it in the hopes that someday it will be changed. Here is an email I received from Michael Nahas in Australia:

… I would like to relate a frustrating experience I had recently. I suppose it could be tagged with the “DRM” label.

I have been a member of the Fictionwise site for several years and up to recently have been generally satisfied with their service. Since their takeover by Barnes and Noble, however, I have experienced problems buying ebooks from them because I do not live in the US or Canada (I am in Australia).

Just a few days ago, I tried to buy 2 Stephen Baxter books (science fiction) from Fictionwise, and proceeded all the way to the checkout to pay when I was informed that I could not buy them because I live outside the US. The site had 10 Baxter books in stock but ALL were restricted to customers in the US and Canada.

The website has the following information about geographic restrictions:

“The paper book business has always had the notion of being able to sell the rights of a particular book to different publishers by geographic region. Although we would tend to agree that this notion is outdated in the world of the Internet and eBooks, the fact is those contracts are still in force. ”

I never had this problem before the Barnes and Noble acquisition of Fictionwise, but I do not know if the acquisition has anything to do with the problem. I think that non-US customers is an issue that may have been swept under the carpet. I think publishers should be made aware that they are losing customers and money by these types of restrictions.

I am an avid ebook reader. I do not remember the last time I bought a paper book. I refuse to be coerced into buying one now by these types of legal restrictions. So I have decided that I will NOT buy paper versions of Baxter’s books. This seems to me a classic “lose – lose” situation. The author loses money because he/she has lost a reader. The publishing company loses money for the same reason and the website has lost money and a valued customer. I, the customer, have also lost out because I am unable to enjoy reading the author of my choice in the format of my choice.

I doubt that my experience is unique. There must be many others like me amongst the tens of millions of English speaking customers outside the US and Canada. I hope that this email raises the issue of geographic restrictions from the perspective of a non-US customer so that it can be at least discussed as one of the issues in the wider debate about DRM and geographic restrictions.


  1. Nowadays almost all online shops have the regional restrictions enforced but there are two stupid things about this:

    1. Most shops that also sell paper books do not have the same restrictions for these. So you can buy a pbook but not the same in ebook version. If one is allowed per the contract why not the other one too. OK, they have this concept of ‘point of sale’ which for the pbook is the location of the shop and for an ebook is the `location’ of the customer. But this looks like a very artificial distinction to me. And IMO regional restrictions are more illogical for ebooks than for pbooks.

    2. Defferent shops have different definitions of what the location of the customer is. Some use the IP-adress of the computer as the customer’s location, others use the billing address of the creditcard used to buy the ebook. Yet others allow you to specify your billing address separately. I have been able to buy from some shops by specifying my current address in Bolivia and they happily accepted that (although they have no way to check that I am really living there except by my IP-address) but not when I gave my credit card billing address in Holland. Others however only accept the USA or Canada for the same ebook by the same publisher. So even the implementation of the restrictions is quite a mess.

  2. I was in a B&N store when a staffer told a customer, yes, they could buy B&N books from the US site while traveling abroad but I mentioned I had just read that this is not allowed currently.  It had been startling to read that not even U.S. customers could buy from the U.S. store while traveling abroad.

    They can, however, get books from other stores during that time.

    I think international iPad owners may have a similar situation but Apple appears to be working on it.

  3. All my most recent Kobo purchases have gone through (they took the money from my credit card), but every one has come up as “not available” when I try to read it on the iPad. I have a Sony Reader which allows me to read the books! Hard to tell if the problem is Kobo or Apple (which still has zero current titles in the Canadian iBooks store), but Kobo is losing a customer.

  4. Kobo’s iPad app is a royal pain. Why it downloads all your books at one time is beyond me. Let us download as needed. And, who in heaven’s name is keeping books out of the iBookstore? Is it the publishers again? Honestly, if I was an author I’d drop the publisher and do it myself and avoid the lost sales. As Commentor no. 1 mentions it’s playing the “Lose-Lose” game. Of all the apps for reading I’d have to say Kindle’s is the best: I can buy books, I can read and synch them with all my devices. Buying books from Kobo on my iPhone is so time consuming that I end up not buying from them unless I absolutely have to. And what’s up with Penguin books not selling Inspector Montalbano books on Kindle to Canadians? They did before. What’s changed now? Publishers they’re absolutely daft.

  5. At the same time this complaint is being raised about US site Fictionwise’s territorial restrictions, an Australia/New Zealand book chain, the Red Group, has launched Kobo-powered ebook stores in Australia and New Zealand, along with the Kobo ebook reader which is now available for through their retail stores, exposing digital reading for the first time to the wider public here.

    They are investing what I’d guess is millions of dollars establishing these services and promoting ebooks and ebook reading Downunder. They’ve been working with publishers to clear rights to make international editions available. And they are working hard to help local publishers, including small independents, into this market. They will be committing significant on-going resources to growing the ebook market in this region and supporting local publishers and promotions.

    I don’t recall seeing Fictionwise or Barnes and Noble doing anything to encourage development of digital reading or an ANZ digital publishing industry. I imagine, however, that they’d be quite happy to sit back, open the floodgates and suck whatever they can out of these markets without putting much back.

    If I were the disgruntled Fictionwise ebook buyer, I’d be celebrating the fact that I now have a local source committed to my market and expanding digital reading beyond the hardcore early adopters. Give them some support, but also give them a bit of time to build up Amazon-type numbers of ebooks in their catalogues. They and others will get there. I’d give the same advice to travelling Americans: when you need an ebook and you’re travelling, buy it from a local. As long as we give them the opportunity, there will be locals to buy from – and try some of our local literature while you’re experiencing a new ebook store:-)You won’t see it on the Fictionwise home page.

  6. It’s not just about availability – it’s about prices as well. Amazon is actually a fairly good example of this: the same book will not only have varying availability, but it’ll often have different prices based on your address setting. I almost bought a book for Kindle for PC yesterday, but discovered that it was $6.99 instead of the $4.99 the price search engines said. I changed the address setting to a US address, and refreshed, and it immediately dropped down to $4.99.

    I did some random checks, and if the publisher is the same in both Europe and the US, the European price was usually higher. If the publisher was different (different URLs for the books), it could go either way. Sometimes the US edition is more expensive, sometimes the European one.

    Agency pricing? Not sure Amazon’s actually following that.

  7. I, too, am a frustrated ebook buyer. I’m Canadian and started buying ebooks from then back when I was using my Palm Zire 22. I upgraded to an ipod touch a year ago and love the Stanza app for my library.

    Regional restrictions have taken away my ability to buy ebooks for my device for my mainstream authors. I’ll use Nora Roberts as my example. All of her latest work was taken away from Fictionwise and eReader with the implementation of the agency model. I turned to Barnes and Noble to be my new ebook store. Having bought a couple $1.99 books to test the ability to download from the site and upload to Stanza I thought I was good to go. It turns out that most of my authors on the B&N site are US resident’s only. DENIED.

    Kobo is my only Canadian option for mainstream, current release books. (This is meaning in the formats that I can use on Stanza, using my ipod touch. If anyone has any other options while maintaining my current device I would love to hear them.) I tried Kobo out as well and spent $10 on a Nora Roberts book. Funny thing though, when reading with the ipod touch Kobo app you can only continuously read if you are linked to your wifi. Kobo only downloads one chapter at a time and doesn’t store the entire book in your devices library. if you have left your wifi range and have read to the end of your chapter and try to get to the next you get an error message telling you to get back to the wifi. Very useful. *sarcasm*

    I would love to be able to support this industry and the authors that work so hard to crank out my entertainment, but at this point I am doing the same as Mr. Nahas and NOT BUYING. After 5-6 years of buying ebooks/club memberships, etc. I’m going to add my entire library to my “To Be Read” list. Maybe by the time I have plowed through 800 or so books everyone will have gotten their act together and fixed these problems.

    Wishful thinking?

  8. They don’t understand — it is a world market, countries no longer matter in this market and many other digital marketplaces and if they think they do just shop around for a “Swiss” server country where other people’s laws are rightfully ignored.

    So while the lumbering giants are stuck with their mid-twentieth Century publishing agreements, small and newer publishers are not. A distinct advantage.

    People seem to like the IPad, but will they continue to like it, especially as an open clone is on its way this September — Apple should be worried.

  9. @Greg Schofield:
    Yes, small and medium publishers who secure *world* ebook rights are going to be at a distinct advantage in the next decade or so until the BPHs realize they are setting themselves up to be marketshare donors to everybody else.

  10. Martin,

    I live in Australia. I know about the Redgroup site (which is still majority public domain – but give them time). However, it doesn’t help me at all. First, my reader is old (I bought it before the Kindle existed) and I can’t read Kobo/epub format books. But the main reason is I don’t care that much about local content. I can buy that in any book store. I use my ebook reader for books from other countries – the ones I’m no longer able to buy.

    I’m not sure that Redgroup is going to be able to give us access to these other books. There is no point in talking to the publishers if the publishers don’t have the rights to sell, and if they had them they would have used them already. I can see the publishers trying to change what they ask for with new contracts, but that’s not going to help for another year so at the earliest.

    There’s a whole range of ebooks where the only way I’m going to be able to get them is to be a criminal one way or the other – either set up a fake US identity of some kind or illegally download them. This does not make me happy.

    There is another side to this as well. There are several people I know who’ve seen me using my reader over the years and bought a Kobo last week because of the recent publicity about them here. They have just started arriving in the mail, and these people are now looking for books to read. None of them are satisfied with range currently on offer. If they don’t get more books available quickly, they’re heading for a backlash of some sort.

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