Several blogs were reporting this morning on Barnes & Noble’s announcement that it will sell the Nook in the UK this fall, marking the first time in its 95-year-history that it has ever expanded overseas. But, as this article on Paid Content points out, it may be too little, too late:

“Kindle has already been in the U.K. for two years and recently partnered with British bookstore chain Waterstone’s to sell Kindles in its stores. Rakuten’s Kobo is already in the U.K., too, and both companies are expanding rapidly to other countries. Microsoft’s $25 million payments could help B&N catch up, but it is already far behind.”

In this day of the ‘world’ wide web, the international market can’t—and shouldn’t—be ignored. I remember when publishers first started cracking down on geographical restrictions. Baffled readers with credit cards in their hands were turned away from making purchases at their favourite stores. I remember being in search of an e-book copy of a certain Margaret Atwood book. This author is so local that her sister lived around the corner from my parents and walked her dog in the same park as them, and yet through some bizarre twist of an antiquated print contract, the only vendor who would sell me the book was Waterstones UK.

Thankfully, the issue of geographical restrictions seems to have worked itself out somewhat; it’s been a long time since I’ve seen public complaints about readers unable to get the books they want. But the international market continues to experience growing pains. Rakuten rushed its release of the Kobo Touch into Japan so it could be first on the market and beat the ever-expanding Amazon, and then was roundly slammed for buggy software, lack of titles and hardware complaints. Here in Canada, cross-border shoppers purchased Kindle Fire tablets in the U.S., and found that the licensing agreements governing its video content made even the e-book software virtually unusable for all but hardcore hackers.

There are three other reasons why the Paid Content article sees tough times ahead for Barnes & Noble (glitchy hardware, falling prices, slowing e-book sales) but I think they are right to view the reluctance to expand beyond the United States as an issue, and I think this should be a lesson for other companies. The Internet is full of non-Americans. They have money. When they hold out this money and offer it to you in exchange for your product, it’s foolish to turn that money away. And it’s doubly foolish to do so and then complain about your sales.


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  1. I used to be able to buy the books I wanted from Waterstone’s that I couldn’t buy in Canada. Then they shut that down. “Territorial restrictions” are less but still annoying present. To stop someone from buying your product because of where they live is the equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face: in a word “stupid”. As the German poet Schiller once said: “Before stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain”. Still rings true.

  2. Lack of profits and not lack of sales is B&N’s main problem.

    Their heavy concentration on hardware is their Achilles’ heel , they are pretty clearly going to move away from that with the Microsoft investment. Nook apps and not hardware will be their future, if they want to be around for the long haul.

  3. Territorial restrictions are even worse than before.
    I used to be able to browse or .fr for books of interest, copy the title of a book from there, then paste it into the search box of, and purchase the book. Yes, jumping through hoops by not being able to simply purchase the book through the German or French store, because it detected my region, but at least it was working.
    Now, most books I am looking for don’t even exist on, and the foreign sites continue to tell me that that specific content (ebooks and music downloads) is not available in my geographic location. Artificial, unnecessary barriers.

    Maybe people do not complain any more because it’s pointless. So ,any times, the only way to get geographically unavailable content you are willing to pay for as a consumer, really is to download it illegally. It’s insane.

  4. I hardly ever complain about geographical restrictions any more but only because I no longer even consider buying the ebooks of many of the authors I used to follow. I don’t even bother borrowing their books from my local library. I have simply found new authors from those publishers that release DRM-free and non-geographically restricted ebooks. Why should I continue to waste my time looking for new releases from those authors that are still geographically restricted to me and why should I bother to continually moan about it when I have no control over the situation?

  5. Spot on, Shellbell. Anytime I look at an ebook from the Agency Six, it’s either prohibitively expensive (over $20 just because I live in Australia) or geoblocked.

    So many of us who used to complain about this crazy situation (we want to give you money for your product, but you refuse) now just buy indie ebooks. I’ve discovered some excellent new authors, and have few regrets for the ones I now can’t afford or access.

  6. About A. Maalouf’s book, I saw that it will come in electronic format to Amazon UK in the near future but only for UK customers.
    Note however that it is not yet realeased, even in France 😉 so there is still hope that it will be available on Amazon US.

    But I agree that it is a good example of the stupididy of territorial restrictions that drove me away of big stores like Amazon for my ebooks, especially since I specialize in XIXth French novels on one side (available free of charge from several sources) and US science fiction on the other side (mostly with Baen at the time).

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