eReader enforcing geographical restrictions

header_logo.gifI received the following email from a reader who asked that their name not be used:

I thought you might be interested to learn that has started putting greographic restrictions on the distribution of its ebooks. I tried purchasing a few books today, only to get a message that I cannot buy these titles since I do not live in the US or Canada. I bought numerous books in the past 4 years and never ran into such restrictions. There is also a new FAQ page on this, which was still ‘in progress’ when I last checked it out ( As a customer, I did not get any notification about this, even though ereader sends out promotional emails twice a week.

I wonder if the recent acquisition of Fictionwise, owners of, by Barnes&Noble has anything to do with this?

I think this is exactly the case. Many, if not most, ebooks have geographical restrictions and I would suppose that eReader/Fictionwse now has access to a larger staff who can take the time to vet such things – and, of course, is now owned by a company who takes such stuff pretty seriously. Sony and Amazon have this problem as well and have limited their distribution outside of the United States.

48 Comments on eReader enforcing geographical restrictions

  1. Depressing to see that the publishing industry seems to have learned nothing from the years, if not decades, of precedent in the music and movie business. Imposing such restrictions is just pushing otherwise legitimate customers into illegality while alienating them and losing precious sales.

    That said, there is a possible workaround, at least for now. Not every source or format operates these restrictions, and if you can’t buy the book you want in eReader, you may be able to get it in Mobipocket, Microsoft Reader or PDF. Hate to advocate this when it applies to one of my own favourite formats, but …

  2. I have been bitten by this and it is a real irritation. Fictionwise are obviously being leaned on by the publishers. Audible have enforced this for years – seems a good way to lose business.

  3. What I’d say this points to is foreign/sub rights becoming more important in the digital provisions of a publisher- author contract. This issue is beyond the control of the retailer. Consider: the problem doesn’t exist where publishers have acquired “world” rights to both print and electronic editions.

    Unfortunately, many bestsellers from top authors are under contract that split world rights; the publisher may have North American rights, but the author (or his or her agent) may have retained foreign print and foreign digital, and even UK or world (non-US) English-language rights.

    In the past, this split meant more money for the author (and the agent) if the team could aggressively sell foreign market subrights (print, electronic, serial) better than the publisher could sell them. And, in the present, there’s not enough activity in brokering foreign digital to justify sales efforts of either publishers or agents (unless you’re talking overseas English-language, still a good market for textbooks).

    In the future, I do see a market in foreign language digital, especially Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and Portugese. Near future, I would expect rights departments of publishers at least looking into going back to authors and re-acquiring world English digital rights, in the form of a contract amendment, similar to amendments sent out back in 1999 to nail down digital.

    Mia Amato

  4. The absurdity of this is clear – I live outside of the US/Canada and buy a lot of books from Amazon US. Despite world rights splits and all that outdated medieval nonsense (it’s the age of airfreight and the internet people!) I’ve *never* encountered a book Amazon won’t ship to me, yet just recently I encountered my first Fictionwise ebook (I buy a lot from them too) that I couldn’t download because of “geographical restrictions”.

    Why do these absurd restrictions seem to apply only to ebooks and not physical books? Why do publishers insist on trying to strangle at birth the very technology that may well be their only hope of surviving, let alone growing in, the 21st century?

  5. This has nothing to do with the B&N acquisition, it has been in the works for months. This is being enforced at the aggregator level. All retailers are theoretically doing this now. If not, they may find themselves cut off from their source of ebooks soon.

    The publishers are not to blame here, the rights are carved up geographically and if the publishers in the USA don’t enforce the restriction they are potentially infringing contracts of publishers in other countries.

    This does not affect any multiformat titles. It affects about 1/3 of the encrypted titles.

  6. That doesn’t make sense one bit, because if it is the publishers enforcing the rights (and possibly suing each other), then they are completely and utterly to blame. You can’t pass the buck to some nonexistent nebulous overforce with no name.

    You aren’t telling us that authors and shops would prefer not to sell things to us, surely?

    Basically then the implication is they want to charge us as though we will still be getting books sent to us airmail, or some percentage, so ebooks are 1.5 times as expensive in the UK and twice as expensive in Australia, etc?

    That way only leads to more free downloading, less buying. Probably also a lot more current US resident customers. :)

    If they don’t want to sell to us, fine, but then we of course don’t want to hear bitching when we don’t buy in the manner they prefer. Can’t have it both ways.

  7. I am with Blue on this, especially for back catalog books that have long been available in all regions. I have bought hundreds of books from Fictionwise, but more and more I am thwarted, first by Mobipocket only titles and now by this spurious restriction. Geographical boundaries on digital goods makes little sense, but I guess that has never stopped people in the past!

  8. This restriction so irritates me that I was prompted to leave a (first) comment here. I too am from Oz and the increasing frequency of geographic restrictions on ebook purchases is really getting Frustrating.

    Just yesterday I went to purchase Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy after reading some good reviews, but was thwarted by restrictions from both Fictionwise and BoB. So today I googled Brent Weeks, found his site, and left a comment to him in the forums which basically says, ‘mate I want to buy your books but some neanderthal is preventing me because I’m from Australia’.

    I also pointed out that if I do read his books, it will be because I purchase them from a second hand book store or borrow them from a library. I will not give money to a publisher (or whomever) is enforcing these restrictions and, if he cares, he should look into it.

    Perhaps every time time we get hit by geographic restrictions, if we go directly to the author and point out the loss of sales and good will things might change. At least new authors with debut novels or series, may be more willing to pay attention.

    Lastly, I don’t think the aspect of geographic restrictions gets enough attention on TeleRead compared with, say, DRM. At least you get to read your DRM’d books even if you don’t own them.

    Anyway, don’t make me come back here and tell you off again :-).

  9. Greg,

    While it’s good to tell the author, the publisher is deserving of your spleen, too! ‘You suck, never giving you any money again’? Maybe we can do a form letter? :)

    They want to turn us into biggest per capita or threreabouts book downloaders to go along with tv perhaps?

  10. Dear Publisher,

    On geographical restrictions:
    You suck. Never giving you any money ever again.

    Yours Sincerely,


  11. Alan Wallcraft // April 22, 2009 at 11:23 am //

    There is a simple solution to this: let US ebook stores sell US ebooks to anyone and let UK ebook stores sell UK ebooks to anyone. This is exactly the situation for paper books.

    There may be good legal reasons why this can’t happen, but my impression is that the current setup is entirely due to publishers throwing their weight around. Whether or not publishers are correct in their interpretation of what ebook geographical rights are, the reason ebook retailers are adding restrictions is because the publishers are refusing to sell to retailers who don’t do so.

  12. What an idea! Then their cozy arrangements would have some capitalism injected. The horror. :)

    Plus what they won’t say, the poms want to sell for 10 pounds what is 10 dollars, so won’t be selling too many to the rest of us that aren’t there.

    Best of all, let the Indian shops sell to all of us! That complete Modesty Blaise run has my name on it.

  13. I just encountered the geographical restrictions today on Fictionwise. I was stunned. I have been buying ebooks from them for years and I live in France. Not just a few ebooks, quite a few. My bookshelf is many, many pages long.

    Until this is resolved, they have lost me as a customer and I am sure that I am not the only one.

    It does not make sense to me that the industry cannot get it together and have ebook worldwide rights. We’re on the World Wide Web, right? Doh!

  14. Alan Wallcraft // April 23, 2009 at 5:01 pm //

    Jane: two approaches I have seen reported to work are a) buy with micropay or b) buy with paypal. In both cases you first change your country to USA (say).

    Other ebook stores, including Sony and Amazon, have similar loop holes. Sometimes they involve gift cards and multiple accounts. This is actually even more futile than DRM, there is no good way to tell where an Internet purchase is coming from.

  15. Thank you Alan for the suggestions. :)

  16. I personally buy 4 to 5 books a month, well not in the ebook format any longer. If i employed the idiots that started this debacle i would now be getting rid of them!!!!!!! No information at all on this from fictionwise or stanza. I recently bought an iphone and use the stanza application, well no more…… I am absolutely sick of this. I think one word sums it up… Twats!!!!!!! How much money have these publishers lost, it must be an absolute fortune.

    You buy one book in a series ok then there are restrictions on the rest of the books in the series!!!!!! Whats that all about

    This also appears to be another case of “america rules the rest of the world drools” typical!!!!

    I wont be back

  17. How does this work then? I see that Never Cry Wolf (a book I read as a boy last century) is available in eReader format. I go to buy it, but it is GEOGRAPHICALLY RESTRICTED. WTF? This book is at least 40 years old! Bizarrely, the new evil empire, Amazon, will sell me a paperback happily enough and post it to the UK from the US.

    It just makes no sense.

    Grumble, Grumble.
    Mutter, Mutter.

  18. Also note the complete lack of shops selling ebooks a la Fictionwise, based in pommieland, or oz, or wherever. At least in similar quantities of titles, anyway.

    Makes it even stupider..

    What would be interesting would be say, Barnes and Noble saying ‘sorry we aren’t carrying your middle of the road paper-we-don’t-care-very-much book in our shops, if you won’t let us sell the ebook to everyone.
    Wonder how fast things would change then?

    e.g. if a choice of titles to skip of equivalent perceived buyer quality, always skip the restrictive publisher books over those that aren’t. Be something to consider, anyway.

  19. This is all so depressing, I have purchased over 600 ebooks from fictionwise and now all my favourite series are denied to me because I live in Australia, Isn’t there supposed to be a recession are we not being told to spend money if we can, it seems that publishers want to cut their own throats who would believe that anyone would want to restrict their sales at this time, how stupid.

  20. Yep, great way to lose any sympathy, that is for sure. I knew Penguin was an out of touch dinosaur, but this was very surprising.

  21. Maggs, part of it is that media companies of course have long had a rampant disregard for/couldn’t give a rat’s arse about Australia. This is another example in a long line of such.

    More recently at least we have had a chance to reciprocate. They’ll get some more, here.

    You tell people enough times you don’t want their money they’ll eventually take you up on the suggestion.

  22. I wrote James Patterson about his books being restricted with no reply at all, not even an automated one!! However this week his new Murder Club book came out without the restriction. However his older ones which previously were not restricted have now had it placed on them as well!! It sucks!! I have bought over 300 books from Fictionwise and am thinking of going back to paperbacks because of this stupidity and also their lack of current titles.

  23. No, don’t do that. Buying paperbacks still benefits them.

    Better off just not buying anything from those publishers at all. New, anyway. Second hand they get nothing.

  24. I’ve been buying tons of books form ereader and Stanza (which seem to be the same in a different package really). I bought for example a dozen John Sandford books from Stanza with no restriction whatsoever. As I wanted to buy an extra set of books this morning, they are all restricted (Child, Sandford, Koontz, King, etc…). I have 12 US$ credits I can’t use because nearly all the (good) books are restricted. Ok, maybe those publishers are still in the stone age and they have regional agreements, but I live in Chile! Who’s the publisher in Chile having the english rights to the Koontz books. Come on. This is ridiculous. We’ll have to revert to piracy once more to be able to have what we want (oh, but Amazon in the US will send me any books I want by mail to my address in Chile, no problem and no restrictions there. Ok, so where can I find pirate ebooks?

  25. Mark,

    Some combination of words like google torrent koontz rapidshare ebook have no chance at all of leading you to what you want.

  26. Alan Wallcraft // June 19, 2009 at 11:05 am //

    What has been reported to work for FictionWise (and may also work for the eReader site, which is part of FictionWise) is to change your self-reported country to USA and then use your normal credit card and address but change your credit card country to USA. This works because FictionWise does not forward your country to the credit card checking agency, but it does use it to confirm your location.

    There is probably a similar work-around at any ebook retailer. If you can’t find one for a particular retailer, searching and/or posting at will likely get you a solution.

  27. As another Australian who has bought heaps of books from Fictionwise, I also was taken aback to not be able to buy many of the books I wanted. The work around of using your aussie credit card but with a country of US seems to work fine (so far anyway). Well it’s either that or use “alternative means” to get the books I want. At least this way the author gets the money. Purchasing using Micropay also seems to work fine (have changed my country to US)

  28. Living in ireland I am unable to buy any of the books I want from ereader. Thanks to everyone who suggested alternative approaches.
    Best suggestion is for us all to buy only second hand paper books as this will affect publishers and authors most.

  29. As I could no longer buy any ebooks I wanted from ereader I asked them to refund my credit.

    This they agreed to do no problem.

    Clearly ereader no longer wants non-US customers.

  30. …even Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are geographically restricted on
    This is extremely weird, since they are both in the public domain.
    I might have to get off my lazy ass and help to do some proofreading. Alas, this will not help me get new titles by living authors.

  31. Today I received an email notifying me of new releases (from not eReader) but when I attempted to purchase one of the ebooks, I was told that the purchase was restricted to certain countries.

    Interestingly these countries include such notable ebook markets as Bhutan, Botswana, Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia, whilst excluding Australia. I don’t know that there are adequate words to describe this situation; any other life form – other than book publishers – exhibiting this level of idiocy would be extinct by now.

    A question for the lawyer types: if an ebook site sends me an email entreating me to purchase an ebook, then rejects my offer to purchase at the stated price, is this false advertising?

  32. Thanks to everyone who suggested alternative approaches.
    At least one of them actually worked.

  33. I filled in a support ticket on the ereader site asking them to at least filter books to show only those I could purchase until they have their country specific offerings launched. Even a little * or other flag in listings to indicate which books are geographically restricted to save me having to look for the restriction in the description of the book would help. Although I got an email confirming the support ticket number several weeks ago, I have not so far received a response.

    Thanks to the tips above, I have just re-added my credit card (a UK address) but selected both USA as my country and, because it did not work without this, state of New York (any would do I guess) as part of my credit card address details and that has allowed me to purchase a restricted book that I could not purchase before.

    Damned annoying. Not the fault of the online retailers – very frustrating for them in fact. Wonder how many years it will take for the walls to break down properly.

  34. Good question on false advertising. Amazon often sends email about stuff we can’t buy. :)

    As far as the geographic rights? Who knows. If sales slump enough, or shops close up leaving unpaid publishers/authors.

    Or when the average reader is talking about downloading for free at the supermarket.

  35. Despite me sending several reminders quoting the support ticket, I am disappointed to have to advise you that I have had no response from ereader regarding any kind of filtering option so that I do not have to see books I cannot purchase … as one of the workarounds mentioned above seems to be working though, I am not to fussed (and I wonder if perhaps the same is true for ereader).

  36. So, is there a way to buy ebooks from Sony on the sly? I’ve been thinking I could get someone in the US to buy a gift card for me.

    Looking around on the net, the only place I can see books I want is on bit-torrent, which is very unfortunate…..

  37. The above mentioned has to be recalled as of this week at ereader. Geographic restrictions are now policed by reading whether your very IP address of the ordering computer is outside the allowed area. The sounds of torrents are ringing in my ears. Farewell you old friends at ereader. I set my sail for new shores.

  38. I fully agree. I live right across the border from the US (in Canada) and was disgusted to find I couldn’t purchase a book I wanted from B&N. On top of that I have a US credit card and used that. However, because it reads my IP address, it won’t allow me to purchase the book.

    That said, I purchased another book today from B&N and so far it has allowed me to do so…except I got hung up when it asked me for my C/C number. I haven;’t gotten around to digging out my C/C yet so for now, the book will remain unlocked. I’m incredibly annoyed by this requirement too…what happened to the username and password? why do I have to dig out my C/C?! definitely reduces the convenience factor.

    I also second the comments about terrible customer service. I sent an email 2 weeks ago and received an assurance my concern was in the system and I would receive a response. Other than that, I have NOT received anything.

    Thank goodness for Sony eReader. I d/l the reader, purchased the book I was not “allowed” to purchase on B&N, and didn’t have to go through the crap of C/C verification.

    When I had formatting problems in the book, there is an online chat system for help. when they couldn’t help me, they sent me on to their call centre. I got prompt assistance and even callbacks afterwards. Because they couldn’t resolve the problem right away, they gave me a credit for the price I paid. 2 weeks later, they have continued to follow up with me as they attempt to resolve the issue. Now that’s what I call good customer service.

    where else can we go to purchase ebooks? sony ereader is good but has limited title selections. I don’t have a kindle (I read on my netbook) so I don’t believe I can download from amazon.

    I just can’t believe the sheer silliness B&N is displaying. sure there’s no probs if you live in the US. But if you don’t….you might as well live in outer space apparently.

  39. Sadly I am caught at Fictionwise who are using my IP to block the purchase. I had actually updated my Credit card address to a US mailing address I have. So I can only think the IP check is catching it.

    Seems the only way round that would be to verify your card whilst on Holidays in the US using a US IP address.

  40. I just got caught out by this today. I followed up Fictionwise’s promo and extended my membership by another 5 years (I’ve been with them since they started), then put 11 books in my cart. I’m in the UK and all 11 were rejected. Of the 72 other books in my wish list, only 1 is available in the UK.

    I’ve written to them as I can’t see how I can use my membership. Hopefully I will still be able to use the hefty balance I have in Micropay…

  41. I live in Egypt. I just had a Sony ebook reader shipped out, which I am very happy with. I have already downloaded several public domain books from Guttenberg etc. But I would like to buy some newer titles and am becoming very frustrated because I have yet to find a site that allows me to do this. I an’t use the Sony ebook store, which is reserved to US, UK & Canada. I imagine that sales of the titles I am interested in are already very limited in Egypt – so this outmoded policy must be reducing author & publisher revenue in emerging markets. Plus this limiting of legitimate ways to acquire ebooks may encourage avid readers to resort to illegal, pirated versions – already circulating on the net.

  42. I used to buy books from ereader/fictionwise but now it worse than useless. It still shows you books that to can’t buy.

    I used to like ebooks but since I don’t live in the America but Australia it useless.

    So don’t bother

  43. I’m glad I found this site. I’ve been so frustrated with the geographical restrictions on Fictionwise that I do not know where I could let my steam off. I am prepared to pay for the ebook but they are not allowing me to buy. Looks like I will have to find alternative ways of getting it now.

  44. I accidentally changed my credit card country and state to the US and the purchase went through….

    I will have to remember to change it back….



  45. So far I’ve been able to buy one (1) book for my Sony e-Reader.. All other e-books I’ve wanted where not available in the only Dutch e-book store: In the end I turned to Piratebay and downloaded a bunch of illegal torrents in ePub-format. I have money, but will spent it on ice cream instead.

  46. Bart Bogaert // July 4, 2010 at 7:42 am //

    What I completely fail to understand is why we are able to buy a hard-copy of the same book even from US-stores. What is so different with respect to “rights” on a hardcopy book then an e-book? In the end it is just a medium used to carry something and whether this is paper or bytes in a file does not make a difference to me. Luckily I did not buy an ereader device but a SW ereader as I wanted to experiment a bit before actually buying something. I have to say this failed miserably when I tried to purchase Taleb’s Black Swan in MobiPocket format. What do these guyes want us to? Search for a Torrent or some other website where we can find (at 0 cost)? All these stupid restrictions have just the opposite effect it seems.

  47. @Bart – the reason digital books are easily “controlled” is that distribution metadata can be embedded in the file. With print books, I suspect most publishers didn’t bother trying to tell etailers not to sell in various countries because they knew the shipping costs would stop large volume sales from happening.

    Now we have a situation in which authors and their agents are refusing to do global rights deals – they like the old way, where they could negotiate a per-country contract and get an advance on each new contract. So many, many books are “in limbo” in terms of ebook sales outside the US or UK, for example. Add to that the fact that agents are seeking much higher royalty percentages (even while demanding new advances and multiple contracts which = high legal costs for the big publishers, and you have a world of geographic/language fences being built around ebooks.

    Doing this was proven to be a wonderful recipe to encourage Napster back in the early days of digital music; it happened again when the Harry Potter series was not allowed to go to ebook. All this is only going to encourage pirate sites and spur greater efforts to use ever-nastier DRM schemes. No one benefits.

  48. The new evil empire Amazon (as someone kidded above) has spent some time, apparently, negotiating with publishers re digital rights outside the U.S. and can send more than they used to.

    When traveling abroad, U.S. residents can buy books from the U.S. as usual but have to pay $2 more for them due to cost of wireless outside the U.S., it’s said. But they can at least buy them.

    B&N for now has said that U.S. travelers abroad cannot buy books from the U.S. B&N store but can read what they already have on their Nooks. They hope to change this later on.

    In the meantime, those travelling abroad who have Nooks CAN use WiFi to buy from other places like Sony (if Sony store carries the book). Sony’s e-books can be read by the Nook but not vice versa because of B&N’s method of credit card keying on its DRM thing with Adobe.

    I read that Adobe is trying to solve that prob.

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