UK Ebook Seller Refuses Foreign Customers' Money

from the geo-restrictions-make-no-sense dept

Ah, Geo-restrictions. They’ve actually been in place in the eBook market for some time, but they’ve been very loosely enforced. Why? Well, because they don’t make much sense, coupled with the fact that the way publishers license digital distribution rights becomes very complicated.

In this case, Waterstone is now declining purchases from buyers outside of the UK and Ireland at the request of their publishers. As the article mentions, this is a bit strange, because UK publishers tend to license rights by language and continent. For instance, you can purchase the rights to distribute an eBook in the [English] language throughout [Europe]. Still silly, but less so than restricting it further by country or region.

Two things that strike me:

1. Why are large publishing firms, several of them multi-national corporations, trying to pretend that a global marketplace doesn’t exist?

2. When people actually TRY to PAY for eBooks and are denied….what do publishers think they’re going to do? They’re going to go through unauthorized means, of course, which produce NO INCOME for the publisher/distributor/author.

Great plan, guys….

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Companies: waterstone

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Comments on “UK Ebook Seller Refuses Foreign Customers' Money”

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Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

A better way

Why not have umpteen thousand readers pay the author $20 each to write a book and then everyone can make their own copies for nothing, even then print them on paper, and even sell them in a free market (no monopoly) with no borders?

It seems strange to pay a publisher to ‘print’ a digital copy for someone to download, when that copy costs nothing to make and the author will soon be conned out of what tiny royalty is permitted them.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: A better way

“Why not have umpteen thousand readers pay the author $20 each to write a book and then everyone can make their own copies for nothing, even then print them on paper, and even sell them in a free market (no monopoly) with no borders?”

This, of course, is exactly what the new crowdsourcing sites and models are attempting to do. With Kickstarter for instance, a smart author releases the work under the least restrictive CC licensing, because he/she has already been paid for the work, and uses that money upon release to go write more.

The problem with that model is two-fold.

1. Obscurity is difficult to overcome, particularly in the entrenched literary world. You think new business models are tough to do with music and movies? Try it with a book. It ain’t easy. Not that that’s a valid reason to give up, of course….

2. Again, comparing to music/movies, indy book markets are virtually non-existent. In movies, indy films are seen as hip, artistic, and daring. Self-publishing a novel means you suck (in traditional thought). This transends more than just the marketplaces thoughts, too. You can’t get a reviewer to even look at a self-published book, no matter how good it is. It just doesn’t happen.

What’s cool is that history tells us that someone will eventually figure out how to provide this for authors in a way that makes sense….

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re: A better way

Even under copyright authors often started out with short stories.

Authors can and do produce and publish promotional work (free), it is from this they build up an ever larger audience from which the more interested become sponsors.

If the work is always freely copyable, the work virally spreads to promote the author, build their audience, etc.

Eventually the sponsorship becomes self-sustaining, i.e. the author can give up their part-time job.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A better way

“Authors can and do produce and publish promotional work (free), it is from this they build up an ever larger audience from which the more interested become sponsors.”

That’s *kind of* true. Many authors make a name for themselves by starting off with short stories, most often published in literary magazines of the same genre, though the author is usually paid for those stories.

I think the main problem, besides mainstream reviewers, is one of mental barrier in the transaction process. For most people, it just doesn’t make sense to pay someone prior to their performing the work.

Now, what could work would be for an author to run a subcription based site (for a small monthly charge, say $1-$5) and have them constantly rip out new short story content coupled with offering longer eBooks for free, hardcopies for a charge, and extras too, all while engaging directly w/the community (allow people to submit their own short stories in one of the author’s fiction “universes”, have the author sort of roleplay doing an online “interview” as a beloved character from a work, partnering with artists to do visual renditions of scenes from a novel, etc.)….

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 A better way

“For most people, it just doesn’t make sense to pay someone prior to their performing the work.”

Quite. I wouldn’t pay someone prior to performing the work unless I was confident it would increase the chances of getting the work produced.

However, there’s nothing stopping umpteen thousand readers pledging to pay an author upon publication/delivery of their next short story. No story, no money. Good story, good money. No money changes hands prior to performing the work.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: A better way

Why not have umpteen thousand readers pay the author $20 each to write a book

Back in 2002, Einstuerzende Neubauten started doing this with their “supporters” program.

It didn’t work out quite as well as they hoped, because they didn’t earn enough to tour. (Their tour costs are much higher than an average band’s – their instruments alone cost thousands to ship overseas.)

On the other hand, supporters were much more involved in the process. One of the resulting CD’s actually included supporters singing in a chorus. And the albums were (in my opinion) far superior to their output previously. So, from my standpoint at least, it was extremely successful.

Drizzt says:

There is a simple answer to your first question: they want to make the most money possible. So you can expect a book being more expensive in richer countries than in poorer regions (or at least that’s what they want).
Big corporations tend to want to have the global market for themselves to get the lowest costs but don’t want to pass that through to the customer. Which is legitimate for them to think/want (I mean their main purpose is to make as much money as possible). Though the line of thought is flawed, especially if the goods we’re talking about is information (however its storage might be).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“There is a simple answer to your first question: they want to make the most money possible”

OK, try this then: I live in Spain. If I want to buy an eBook, I want it to be in English. Being from the UK, Waterstones would be one of the big name choices for that. If I’m blocked from buying English language eBooks in English from them, or other UK outlets such as Amazon, which Spanish outlet can I choose?

That is, if I want to buy an eBook in Spain, but want it in the English language, which retailer accepts my money? I’m not aware of any, so they have lost my money. It’s insanely short-sighted, and does not consider the realities of the modern market (which potentially includes a market hundreds of thousands of British people in my situation, in this country alone).

“Though the line of thought is flawed, especially if the goods we’re talking about is information (however its storage might be).”

The line of thought is not just flawed, it’s immediately and heavily damaging to their needs. They’re literally refusing to accept payment for their goods. Not to mention that it also breaks every concept of free trade upon which the European Union was originally founded.

Drizzt says:

Re: Re: Re:

I never said I support the notion that you should impose regional barriers I just tried to point out why they’re trying to do that. IIRC this was also the reason for the region codes which first appeared with DVDs. So that people aren’t able to buy $cool_movie cheaper in Taiwan than in some European country.

The concept of fair trade is ? at least companies tend to think that way ? only for their benefit. Not for the private customer. (Again I’m not supporting this, I’m just saying this is how the execs like to have it.)

RikuoAmero (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Buy the movie cheaper in Taiwan? Are they seriously afraid that someone is going to think “It’s cheaper to buy movies in Taiwan, therefore I shall buy an expensive plane ticket, stay at an expensive hotel, and spend a ton of money on 500 movies and Fedex them back home”. So what if on a holiday I buy a cheap movie or two, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No, what he’s describing is like what people in the UK do to buy movies and games. If the movie or game is region free, they buy it online from the US because our prices are arbitrarily cheaper then the UK prices. Cheap enough to still cost less even with shipping. If they’re region encoded the people in the UK are forced to pay the more expensive price.

Now, his argument is still invalid for one reason. You’re not forced to pay more in Spain, your not allowed to buy at all. This is a different mindset for the publisher, it’s one of control. They want to control what you read and what you do with their works.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Let’s keep in mind, folks, that these are eBooks I’m discussing in the article. No shipping costs, no extra burden in distribution based on location. The idea that you charge what the market bears is absolutely valid.

The problem is that these folks are trying to artificially define subsections of the marketplace, rather than understanding that with digital goods, the marketplace is inherently worldwide….

JackSombra (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“So that people aren’t able to buy $cool_movie cheaper in Taiwan than in some European country.”
Except never seen a decent justification for said price difference (beyond taxes, which if imported legally should be the same) beyond “they are richer so lets charge them more for exact same product that was probably produced in same place”

Anonymous Coward says:


Honestly you’re totally ignoring localisation costs.

UK/European ebooks have to be gone through and comprehensively misspelt for the North American market and North American produced texts have to have their misspellings removed when being sold into the UK/European market.

It’s not like the publishers can be expected to do all that for nothing.


DogBreath says:

Re: Re:

With or without GPS (wireless e-readers), I can see this happening. While traveling outside of your home country where you purchased the ebooks, it would restrict access to them by informing you:

“Unauthorized Access. We are sorry, but due to publisher rights and/or copyright restrictions, you may only access this ebook in the country of purchase. If you would still like to continue reading this ebook, you may purchase it in the country you are currently located. Thank You and have a Nice Day”

out_of_the_blue says:

They've looked into it, and have their reasons.

I don’t know exactly what those reasons are, but “complications” covers it adequately for me. If economics works, they’ll lose theoretical income, or effectively gain because of reduced costs dealing with complications, or it’ll be negligible, or perhaps even profit somehow because they’ve some secret deal or agenda. Maybe they’re afraid of liabilities for material infringed from where they’re not selling to, or maybe they just wish to hoard information. — All that is for them to decide; they have all the data and a direct interest. So long as they don’t try to *force* me to long for but *not* be able to buy any of their books, I’ve no quarrel with them.

In short, this piece is trivial musing.

Erik says:

Don't take my money

I can attest to this issue being there for a while. I’ve often tried to purchase eBooks from various sites and been told that I can’t due to “geographic restrictions”. Unfortunately, living in France, many of the books I’m looking for simply aren’t available from any of the French resellers.

I don’t know what deals Amazon has signed with publishers, but as long as I go to for my Kindle purchases (with a french address) I have yet to run into any eBook with these restrictions. But this is the silliest thing ever. A purchase is a purchase, and for many books I have no other recourse than to try to find an “infringing” copy somewhere on the net.

I am there with credit card in hand and the seller isn’t allowed to make the sale. There’s nothing about localization issues since I want the eBook in the form it was written in American or British english as the case may be.

As far as I can tell, this is simply based on the old paper distribution rights structures where the publisher would get paid a chunk of money up front for the rights to print and distribute in a given region and the publisher tries to enforce these agreements from the point of view that the people they sold the rights to will sue them if other licencees are selling into their region. The idiocy of this is that there are many regions where there appears to be no licencee hence the impossibility to purchase.

And then there are the publishers that simply don’t have any eBook presence at all like “J’ai Lu” which is the dominant player in translated works in France. So for these, the only available source is torrents from people that have taken the time to scan in their books.

And anyone in the publishing industry who’s whining about the production costs of eBooks seriously needs fire their IT staff. The work involved in extracting text from any of the existing publishing tools (even worst case the raw postscript code sent to the Linotypes) followed by some XML formatting is trivial and completely automatable. As long as you’re working from electronic source you shouldn’t even need to proofread the way you do from a scanned OCR’d copy.

bdhoro (profile) says:

Produces No Income

I’m surprised the article is written that way. I figured it would say something more like “they’re going to get the books through unauthorized means, providing no direct income to the publishers.
It just goes with the idea, that has been stated many times on this blog, that consuming infinite goods provides many indirect benefits to the producers of those goods, by increasing interest and spreading the goods.

Karl (profile) says:

"Piracy" isn't an issue here

They’re going to go through unauthorized means

Equally likely, they’ll be law-abiding citizens… and simply not get the books at all, which still results in NO MONEY for the publisher/distributor/author.

I agree it’s a bone-headed move. But I think this is one of those times when “piracy” shouldn’t even be mentioned. In this case, it’s definitely a red herring.

Paul Keating (profile) says:

This happens more often then you know. For example, the ITunes “Store” in the US is far more robust than the store outside of the US. I have had friends of mine in the US publish “free” content and then not been able to download it from a non-US IP address.

Why do such restrictions exit? IMO because copyrights are licensed nationally and the “seller” does not have the rights to “sell” in the location where my IP is located.

The response is not always to steal from the copyright holder but as I will show you it is taking money away from someone. In most cases, people simply buy gift cards or open a “local” account using some other form of payment. Note the gateway in most instances is not the IP address but the billing address for the credit card. So, while I do purchase from US “Stores” online, I do so using a US billing address. The only person who is losing out in my case is the “local” middleman – which of course is how it should be since he/she/they/it had nothing to do with the sale whatsoever.


Anonymous Coward says:

Greed causing lost sales

1. Load gun.
2. Point at foot.
3. Pull trigger.

If I tried to buy something like that, and couldn’t simply because of where I lived, I wouldn’t waste my time trying to find somewhere else to pay for it. Same goes for MP3s. Tried buying them from Amazon, and couldn’t. Most certainly did not look to purchase them elsewhere.

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