the e-book geographical problem…

Dame Keri

There’s been some pretty lively discussions recently on Dear Author about e-books, regional restrictions, and what can be done to fix it so that anyone, anywhere, can download any book they want at any time.

As those who don’t live in the US undoubtedly know, many books that are not available in e-book form thanks to the mess that is geographical restrictions. That is, if you live in Australia or the UK or many other countries, you cannot freely download an e-book that might be available in the US simply because the e-rights to that book may not have been sold to that particular region. Readers hate it, authors hate it, everyone wants it fixed and no one seems to know just how to go about it.

But the one comment I kept seeing over and over was that we authors should be doing something about it—like keeping our e-book rights and selling them separately. Which, I have to say, made me laugh, simply because the publishing world does not work that way when it comes to 98% of us authors.

Sure, if you’re Stephen King or J K Rowling you probably have the clout to withhold e-rights or even ensure they’re sold worldwide, but the rests of us don’t.

Generally, we have two basic options. Sell the publisher the print & e-book rights (sometimes world wide, sometimes just English speaking, depending on just how savvy your agent is, and just how much the publisher actually wants the book) or don’t take the contract. There is no ifs or buts—publishers want print rights, they want e-book rights, they want audio rights, and if you’re not careful enough to read the fine print, they’ll even take rights to media that hasn’t been invented yet.

And of course, just because your publisher takes said rights doesn’t mean they’re actually going to use them. That depends on print sales, overseas interest, etc etc. Publishers are a business and they’re in it to make money. If they don’t see the money trail happening, then they’re not going to change anything any time soon. And there’s nothing we authors can do about it, as much as we might like to.

But e-books are booming, rights? Sales are increasing 100—200%, aren’t they?

That may be true, but the fact of the matter is, e-books sales are currently sitting around 7.5% of all sales. Which means 92.5% of sales are still printed books. Guess which figure the publishers are going to take more notice of?

So, what can be done?

As I said before, publishers are a business. They want—need–to make money. If they don’t know just how big the demand is for e-books, then they’re not going to motivate themselves to fix things with any great speed. Which means readers are going to have to let the publishers know if the books they want aren’t available in their region, and we authors will need to pass each and everyone of on those complaining emails we all get to our editors. The more we do this, the more someone in the publishing world might get a clue.

The one thing that won’t help is downloading illegal copies–but that’s a whole different rant


  1. says

    I’m not sure why people have such a hard time understanding that the writer cannot control certain things. I know it’s frustrating not to be able to get a book when you want it whether from lack of money, unavailablility, etc. but it’s a business and as such we have to wait for those wheels to turn. It’s sucks, but getting angry with authors won’t fix it.

  2. Rose says

    I do see where you guys are coming from and I really pity you as what the publishers are doing is almost guaranteeing that your books will be pirated in the countries where you can’t buy the ebook.
    I have a Sony PRS-505 and love it, but finding content can be a huge pain – I have a lot of books, and want all of them in ebook format (sometimes so I can get rid of the hard copies, sometimes just to make life on the go easier) but the publishers are making this hard. I hope something gets sorted soon though!

  3. WFEATHER says

    Definitely a good post! Although I am in the States, I have seen on several Web sites the disclaimer that eBooks can only be sold to people in the States and have wondered how the rest of the world would react to that. It really is not any different, however, than the region coding used for DVDs and any video games. In terms of video games, the argument I heard years ago from the manager of my then-local GameStop was that it forces players to support the retail establishments in their area, which in turn supports the regional entities of Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo (and the video game developers themselves).

    Of course, there are ways around everything – including illegal downloading, which certainly must be a significant fear for the book publishers. On the other hand, there are a number of authors who publish in eBook format only, and for us readers, that can be a great way to discover new talent, explore a type of content which the (mainstream) print publishers are not providing to the marketplace, etc.

  4. Firewolf says

    Thanks for sharing. This ebook thing has opened up a very interesting can of worms that just keeps on giving. It will be interesting to see how this all works out.

  5. Mikaela says

    I know that author’s can’t do a thing. Heck, they need to eat, right? But geo-restrictions annoy me. A lot. ( Come on, Macmillan!) More than DRM and high prices. DRM I can strip, and the prices… Let’s just say that if I buy f.ex one of Devon’s books as e-book I pay 5-6 dollar ( The joy of living in Sweden, you still get discounts 😀 ). That is almost half the price compared to what it costs in my local bookstore.

  6. says

    A big problem is that the publisher’s customers aren’t readers, they are the booksellers, and quite often it is very difficult to find someone to contact at the publishers!

    While I don’t necessarily think it is the author’s problem, it does seem to be an issue that needs to have a multi-pronged response involving all interested parties.

  7. says

    Marg, authors can quite often give you contact email addresses, so its always worth contacting the author of the book you’re trying to buy. At the very least, we can pass the email on, as I said.

    The more we do this, the more the publishers might be inclined to do something