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....


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 2:38am

    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.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 6:14am

      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....

       

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        Crosbie Fitch (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 6:25am

        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.

         

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          Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 6:33am

          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.)....

           

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            Crosbie Fitch (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 7:09am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

             

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              btrussell (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 8:29am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: A better way

              Good idea.
              To each their own, but I prefer a hard copy for reading/studying. So I personally see nothing wrong with releasing an e-book, or portions of it, and waiting for the requests for the hard copy.

               

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      Karl (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 8:28am

      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.

       

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    Drizzt, Nov 19th, 2010 @ 2:40am

    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).

     

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      PaulT (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 3:21am

      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.

       

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        Drizzt, Nov 19th, 2010 @ 4:50am

        Re: Re:

        PaulT,
        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.)

         

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          RikuoAmero (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 4:57am

          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.

           

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            Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 5:21am

            Re: Re: Re: 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.

             

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              Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 6:19am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 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....

               

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          JackSombra (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 6:05am

          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"

           

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          PaulT (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 7:15am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yeah, fair enough I do get carried away in discussions about regional restrictions, since they affect me every damn day of my life and I'm a "criminal" if I circumvent them in any way...

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 19th, 2010 @ 2:46am

    Troll

    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.

    /Troll

     

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    abc gum, Nov 19th, 2010 @ 4:48am

    If ebook readers had GPS, would they stop 'reading' certain ebooks when in a particular no-read-zone?

    I can see now why ebooks are so much better than paper books - not.

     

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      DogBreath, Nov 19th, 2010 @ 9:59am

      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"

       

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    RikuoAmero (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 4:49am

    Amazon have done this for a while now

    I live in the Republic of Ireland, and I can't buy Amazon e-books from Amazon UK. BUT, I can from Amazon US. Weird, I know. I'm next freaking door to Amazon UK but they don't want to sell to me!

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 19th, 2010 @ 5:46am

    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.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 19th, 2010 @ 5:48am

    It's the UK! What more can you say?

     

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    Erik, Nov 19th, 2010 @ 6:13am

    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 amazon.com 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.

     

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      Adam Bell (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 11:42am

      Re: Don't take my money

      The other factor, it occurs to me is sales tax. Perhaps some of these restrictions arise because the vendor won't collect the tax and remit it to the foreign country.

       

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    bdhoro (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 6:59am

    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.

     

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    Karl (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 8:36am

    "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.

     

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    zend (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 8:58am

    Happens to my wife all the time

    I bought my wife an Sony Ebook Reader that she loves very much. She has bought many ebooks for it. She has also NOT purchased many books, because they are not available in Canada as an ebook. It drives her crazy that she is willing to spend money, but apparently her money isn't good enough for some of them.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 19th, 2010 @ 9:45am

    The publishers know the global marketplace exists, they just want to make sure they are the only ones that can take advantage of it. It seems that most profit is about leveraging inequalities, and that is getting harder and harder to do with the internet.

     

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    iamtheky (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 10:26am

    My understanding was that, in trade as an EU member, you cannot treat customers from any EU state differently from each other.

    They still need to come up with more regulations they can overlook for individual industries if they want to catch us.

     

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    Adam Bell (profile), Nov 19th, 2010 @ 11:39am

    Can't have it both ways

    To DRM your project implies the belief that all Internet users are potential infringers. To regionalize your product is the opposite; clearly you believe that no one will infringe.

     

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    Paul Keating, Nov 21st, 2010 @ 8:45am

    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.

    PRK

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2010 @ 11:38am

    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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    Steffen, Feb 13th, 2011 @ 12:27am

    I WANT to pay for the book, but the seller doesn't want my money, for whichever reason, I don't care.
    Therefore, I will steal it. That's what this archaic territorial restriction will achieve. Result: less revenue, not more, and eventually the law will have to be reviewed anyway. So why not do it now...

     

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