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Taking Advantage of a Global English Reading Market

It’s hard for me to tell exactly how many of the readers of Dear Author are from outside North America, but it is not insignificant despite the fact there is no localization of the blog. In other words, we are an English blog that can be run through a translator but is not translated directly.    Likewise, on a much greater scale, books have international appeal even without translation.   

In this age of digital publishing, books can easily be transmitted from one country to another. In the digital publishing world, there are no borders.   This is a wonderful thing.   It means that the market for a creator’s works is not merely limited to an aging, dying, decreasing number of North American readers. It means that those who live in the UK, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Africa, India, China, and other countries are potential markets for publishing growth.

Yet publishing operates under an antiquated rights system that divvies up rights primarily according to geographic territories despite the fact that translation rights have long been a part of the contractual bundle of rights. Given the mobility of the economy, particularly when it comes to digital books, hewing to artificial geographic limitations is harmful to the health of our genre.

Rights affect readers in this manner. The author has a bundle of rights like a stack of straws. Each straw can represent a different right. The author sells each straw or a bundle of straws to the publisher. The straws that are sold determine what product reaches a consumer/reader and when. Authors and publishers have all the control in this scenario. All we readers can do is hope and pray and bug our favorite authors to release their straws in the format that we desire.

Author Courtney Milan suggested on twitter that perhaps the future of distribution of rights should be language based and I think this is a brilliant idea. Here’s why language based divisions make more economic sense in today’s environment.

First lets talk about primary rights and sub rights. Traditionally, primary rights are included in the “Grant of Rights” clause which assumes the right to publish and distribute a printed book. Thus, the primary right is the right to publish and distribute a print book within a certain geographic territory and in the home language of the contract.   Another way to state this is that primary rights are those rights a publisher can and will exploit directly.   Subsidiary or secondary rights (let’s call them “sub rights” from now on) are those that the publisher licenses to others.   Primary rights and sub rights are paid differently to the author under the current system.   Primary rights earn a percentage royalty and sub rights pay a percentage of the lump sum that the publisher receives.  

The “Grant of Rights” clause can include sub rights such as foreign, translation, book club, electronic, film, television, audio, dramatic, serial, and digital rights.   (Given the conglomerate state of publishing, the primary and subsidiary rights may vary from house to house).   Because contracts are so onerous for an author, the author tries to keep as many rights as possible to exploit or sell at a later date, perhaps at a time she has more bargainining power.   Plus, if the sub rights are in the hands of the publisher, the publisher can sell the sub rights for a small amount of money and the author has no ability to nix the deal.    Some of these rights are negotiable and some are deemed non negotiable. Currently digital rights fall into the “non negotiable” category.   Foreign rights and translation rights are often negotiable, in part because not all of the houses have either a great foreign rights arm of their house or the publishing house doesn’t have any direct access to foreign markets.

Part of the sub rights for a book are foreign, which are territory based, and translation, which are language based.   Under the print publishing paradigm, foreign rights and translation rights are often sold together.   This is due to the fact that many North American publishers don’t have a print distribution network in other countries and must license the rights of the author to a foreign publisher.   As with any publishing contract, the authors push for a high advance so as to force the   foreign publisher into a position to actively market and sell the translated book.

Under a digital paradigm, no new distribution network needs to be set up. The internet provides ready access for all users who have access and a means of payment.    For those who read English, there is no need for a translated version of the book.   All the international reader needs is for the author to provide those rights to the originating publisher.

The existing state of rights are a mess.   For example, Book A could have been sold originally to US publisher with the foreign & translation rights reserved.   The author then sells German territory and translation rights.   Encompassed in the German rights sale is the right of the German publisher to distribute the ebook within the borders of its country regardless of the translation.   There may be no German publisher who is willing or able to deliver digital content and thus no digital content is sold.   

A better scenario is this:

Book B is sold to same US publisher with world rights.   US publisher sells the digital copy worldwide and the author reserves her print territory and translation rights and digital translation rights until sufficient interest is shown to license the territory and translation rights to German publisher.   German publisher then translates Book B and sells German print and German ebook version of Book B.

Print rights can be divided into traditional sub rights which include both territory and translation rights. Digital rights should also be considered a primary right. Currently I believe most authors   receive a percentage royalty on ebook sales and therefore are treated like a primary right in terms of payment.   

The author benefit   is a legitimate digital copy is made available for purchase to all individuals with the means and ability to purchase.     This can be accomplished by selling the digital primary right inclusive of world territorial rights but reserve translation rights for digital copies.     Otherwise, the reader has only two choices.   To not read or to pirate a copy.   

Perhaps authors believe that by allowing an english language digital copy into a foreign market will reduce their ability to negotiate for a foreign rights sale.   I would argue instead that the digital copy sales can prove to the foreign agents that the book has an audience in their market and that if there is no legitimate digital copy for purchase there are lost sales descreasing the amount of money an author could have made from the foreign market in the first place.

Every contract can be modified.   As a condition to signing the second contract, the terms of the first contract can be rewritten to capture the evolving marketplace and growing international readership.    Authors should look at each new contract as an opportunity to create a more perfect contractual environment which enables the readers who are willing and able to purchase the legal right to do so.   Readers, all we can do is hope, pray, and write to our favorite authors and publishers and encourage them to make these digital books available to all those who want to buy them and read them.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

54 Comments

  1. Coral
    May 31, 2009 @ 05:39:15

    Live in Australia and have already come up against the geographical limitations restriction at both eReader and BooksonBoard – unless you are a US or Canadian citizen, you cannot purchase certain books from them. In fact, TeleRead had a post on 19 April regarding this issue. It makes more sense in our “global village” to sell the language rights rather than a geographical area. The publishers seem to be positively encouraging people towards bending the rules.
    BTW, I have always thought it would be interesting to know where people commenting on your blog, reside. Where you live colours your opinions but no doubt it would become a “privacy” issue, like all other information over here.

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  2. Stuart
    May 31, 2009 @ 06:29:45

    I’ve found this a problem, too – I tried to order some Deborah Crombie books from Fictionwise and was a bit shocked to find out they refused to sell them to me!

    I’m not sure how much input the author has into this though – as you say, the digital rights are non-negotiable. Even to accept global Engish language digital rights would require some flexibility on the part of the publisher (both original and then overseas), and for a lot of publishers – judging on their oh-so-speedy uptake of ebooks – that flex simply sn’t there.

    PS – Coral, I’m in the UK, for what it’s worth!

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  3. DS
    May 31, 2009 @ 07:22:27

    There are books in print in the UK that have never had a US edition that I have had a tough time getting hold of a (physical) copy. I would love to be able to order a digital edition of the latest Felix Castor or Merrily Watkins mystery without having to wait for a US publisher to bring it out. And then there are audible books– I keep looking hungrily at some now on sale on Amazon.co.uk and Audible for the UK that I would love to have.

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  4. Coral
    May 31, 2009 @ 07:28:40

    @Stuart
    There is a work-around if you buy from one of the companies I mentioned, use PayPal and choose a country of residence that meets their selling criteria….

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  5. Jayne
    May 31, 2009 @ 07:44:35

    For years there were lovely German language editions of OOP Eva Ibbotson books. I was paying through the nose for used copies from online bookstores. Now there are (finally) English language editions out again.

    However, the same thing is now going on with Diana Norman OOP books. German language versions with gorgeous covers but zip, zilch, nada for English speakers.

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  6. SarahT
    May 31, 2009 @ 08:29:32

    I live in Switzerland. The selection of English language books sold at regular bookstores is limited and the prices are outrageous. I use Amazon.de as their English bookstore sells almost everything which is available at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk for a fair price.

    As for ebooks: I would dearly love to go digital, but not under the current conditions.

    Firstly, the ebook readers themselves are lacking. The Sony Reader launched in Switzerland in April but the device is apparently language specific (i.e.: German device only for books in German; French one only reads French). There is no English version sold here. Ideally, I’d like to be able to read both English and German on a reader and I don’t understand why this is not the case. Kindle has yet to be launched in Europe. Amazon want to make it available here but they’re hampered by the multitude of wireless providers in the individual countries.

    Secondly, the geographic restrictions on ebooks is a definite deterrent. Why should I invest in a digital reading device only to find that half the books I want to buy are unavailable to me? What I find most puzzling is that both etailers and regular bookstores sell US paper editions. Given that they all do this, I’m assuming it’s legal. Why, then, are only ebooks restricted? Do they intend to extend these restrictions to paper editions in the future?

    I fully support the efforts of authors and publishers to combat piracy. But seriously, this sort of thing will only encourage it. Peruse any file-sharing site and you’ll find copies of some of those restricted books available for download all over the world for FREE. Now I’m not saying this is right. But the publishing industry needs to be realistic about it and realize that the current restrictions are losing them sales and potentially encouraging piracy.

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  7. Lisa Hendrix
    May 31, 2009 @ 08:52:21

    Print rights can already be sold by language: World English (North America, India, ANZO, So. Africa, etc.), Dutch (which then also get sold in Indonesia, for instance), French (which includes parts of Africa), and so on. I’m not sure why erights are being handled differently, but it seems extraordinarily stupid that someone in Brisbane can’t buy and read a US ebook or vice versa. Are there, perhaps, such huge differences in copyright law that different editions have to be produced to meet them?

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  8. Debra Date
    May 31, 2009 @ 09:09:10

    I will out myself as being from Trinidad in the Caribbean.

    I will further out myself by saying that I pirate most of my books.

    This is for a few reasons;

    I live in the Caribbean and thus have no access to many of the e-pubs. None. I don’t exist to them.

    On the dead tree side of things, if a book didn’t land to the top of the NY Bestseller list, it will not be imported here. The brick and mortar stores just won’t carry them if they don’t have a built-in market. I understand that, but it doesn’t help me.

    If I happen to want a book that they’ve imported? Well, a mass market paperback costs me a minimum of $10 US if I buy it from a retailer here. If it’s popular (think Harry Potter) it can cost much more.

    If I try to ship the book? The shipping alone usually works out to be 3 times the cost of the book, then I have to pay an import duty…

    Another problem with importing my books is that if I were to try to import anything that deals with m/m sex, (and if it runs across the desk of a nosy customs officer) it could be seized and I could be criminally charged for it.

    I have never had this happen to me, (I have been very careful not to test it) but I have heard of it third hand and it has reached a kind of “urban legend” staus in my country.

    This is because depictions of, as well as actual Gay sex is still illegal in my country.

    I never paid much attention to how the various rights impacted the availability of a book, but it certainly does affect me. I would be very willing to buy from the e-pubs, as I those are what I read the most right now.

    So, e-pubs, Please PLEASE sell to me !!!!

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  9. Imogen Howson
    May 31, 2009 @ 09:14:41

    I was completely bewildered a while back to find that I could buy a print copy of a book from Amazon.com, a print copy from Amazon.co.uk (where I live), but an e-copy only if I lived in America. I initally assumed it was one of those irritating glitches.

    I now understand (more or less) the legal issues, but it’s so frustrating to have money in your Fictionwise account, to be all ready to buy a book, and to have that “geographically restricted” message come up.

    Specially when I know I can buy the print copy from Amazon.co.uk–and often for less money. Here I am, offering to give the publisher/author more money, and they won’t take it!

    Before I realised this wasn’t just Fictionwise being glitch-ridden, I searched hopefully for somewhere where I could buy the e-copy. And right at the top of the Google page were links to pirate sites. I would never get a pirate copy, but it was depressing to have the illegal copies so readily available while the legal copies were barred to me.

    Also, since this started to be enforced, there are very few books on Fictionwise that I both want and can get. I usually buy epubs’ books from the publishers’ own websites, and I’ve loved being able to get big publishers’ books from Fictionwise. I ended up spending my money on a very mixed bunch of Marion Zimmer Bradleys written in the late fifties, when what I wanted was books from Hachette and Simon and Schuster.

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  10. EAP
    May 31, 2009 @ 09:39:31

    Does anyone know if the geographical restriction on ebook buying sites is IP-address related or connected with a user’s account details?

    Reason I’m asking is that in terms of English-language material, I’m geographically-challenged too, and currently my newly-purchased ebook reader is gathering dust in a relative’s house until I go back to the UK to collect it. But if I can only buy English-language ebooks in the UK, because Czech ebook sites are few and far between & hardly sell anything in English, I am going to be seriously po’d.

    There’s a fantastic English-language bookshop here who get enough business that they will order any book you want that’s in publication. They even let you pick whether you want it from the US/UK/wherever depending on your price/cover preferences/current exchange rate.

    And since anything ordered off Amazon is usually double the cost because of shipping and frequently mysteriously vanishes ‘twixt warehouse and my address, the wait is worth it. They are lovely.

    Except y’know, I’m building a HUGE mountain of books that are seriously hard to dispose of if I ever leave, hence the decision to go electronic… I am not going to be happy if Fictionwise and others won’t let me buy.

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  11. Imogen Howson
    May 31, 2009 @ 09:54:21

    EAP, I think it’s connected with your user account details. Because I met someone who lives outside the US, but her FW account has her details from when she lived in the US, so she’s still able to get the geo-restricted books.

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  12. ShellBell
    May 31, 2009 @ 15:25:45

    Whenever I have tried to purchase books from Fictionwise that have been geographically restricted it has been due to my credit card details as my credit card has been issued in New Zealand. Anyone who has a credit card issued in the US, but lives overseas is probably still able to purchase eBooks. Having had my eBay account hacked into a couple of years ago makes me reluctant to join up with PayPal again.

    There have been about 20 books that I have not been able to purchase so far this year due to geographical restrictions. For me the author ultimately loses out on sales as I will borrow from the library. When I do that I don’t tend to bother purchasing the eBook at a later date when the geographical restrictions may have been lifted. It is definitely becoming more prevalent as 7 of these geographically restricted books were in the last week – I wanted to purchase 4 Mary Balogh books, pre-order Nalini Singh’s Branded By Fire, pre-order Marjorie M Liu’s Darkness Calls and purchase Marliss Melton’s Forget Me Not. Strangely enough I was able to pre-order Nalini Singh’s Branded By Fire and Marjorie M Liu’s Darkness Calls from BooksOnBoard without any problem, so in some cases it may be the retailer that misses out on sales! I didn’t bother trying with the Mary Balogh books, will just try the library for them

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  13. Ros
    May 31, 2009 @ 17:28:53

    It's hard for me to tell exactly how many of the readers of Dear Author are from outside North America, but it is not insignificant despite the fact there is no localization of the blog. In other words, we are an English blog that can be run through a translator but is not translated directly.

    It’s hard for me to understand why you think that the only native English speakers in the world are North American.

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  14. Jayne
    May 31, 2009 @ 17:53:21

    No, we didn’t say, nor do we believe, that only North Americans natively speak English. What Jane said is that we don’t know how many of our readers are international. The only way for us to know that would be if someone mentions it.

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  15. Jayne
    May 31, 2009 @ 18:04:13

    Debra, your situation makes me want to cry.

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  16. Jane
    May 31, 2009 @ 18:10:27

    @Ros No. I was trying to clarify what I meant by “no localization of the blog.” Localization means, to me, translation of the text in other languages. Sorry if I didn’t explain that very well.

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  17. Kaetrin
    May 31, 2009 @ 20:16:33

    I am in South Australia.

    I have a Sony Reader but I can’t have an account at the Sony ebookstore because I don’t have a US credit card. They tell me that’s because of the territorial restrictions on books they sell.

    I couldn’t buy Diana Holquist’s books from Books on Board because of geographical restrictions.

    I couldn’t get the free audio Lori Foster book from Audible.com because of geographical restrictions.

    There was recently a $1 Larissa Ione ebook up for grabs but I wasn’t eligible to buy it because of my location.

    I couldn’t pre-order Robyn Wells’ How To Score because of geographical restrictions.

    Same story with To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt.

    When I emailed Diana Holquist and Elizabeth Hoyt, their response, while very friendly, was (paraphrasing) “these contracts are so complicated, I don’t know what’s in them and what’s not, I leave all that up to the publisher”.

    When I emailed Books on Board recently about this issue they said they were going to be opening up a UK store which they thought would alleviate this problem – how is a complete mystery to me, but we’ll see I guess.

    I emailed Hachette at one point too, but they didn’t bother to reply.

    BoB says it’s the author, the author say’s it’s the publisher, the publisher says it’s the contract – I get bounced around from one to the other and I STILL DON’T GET THE BOOK!!!!

    It is so frustrating. I have the money. I want to buy. The author gets the sale, the publisher gets some money too – it’s hard for me to see the problem here – why are they making it so hard for us (non US) readers???

    Thank you for raising this issue Jane – I hope the powers that be listen (for a change).

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  18. Coral
    May 31, 2009 @ 20:48:54

    @Kaetrin
    Ever thought of going into your BoB account details and changing your country of residence to USA or Canada? Worked for me and I live in Perth, Western Australia and got the books I wanted (they were restricted to me before the change).
    @Imogen
    Yes, same for me too with my eReader account – ended up getting books I wanted to read but definitely not at the top of my list – the only way to use up my reward dollars.

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  19. Selene
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 00:46:40

    Print books are no problem, in my experience. http://www.bookdepository.co.uk has free shipping worldwide, and they have both US and UK editions. (Finally I can impulse buy books online!) Audio books and e-books OTOH are a pain, which is one of the reasons I stick to print books.

    I think a lot of people buy English books even when it’s not their native tongue (and read English blogs :-) ). I’ve lived in different European countries, and that’s been my experience, especially among the younger crowd where most people speak English quite well. Bear in mind that translated books in small languages cost a fortune, risk having bad translations, and it’s mostly only the bestselling novels in each genre that are translated in the first place.

    Selene

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  20. Ros
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 02:04:32

    No, we didn't say, nor do we believe, that only North Americans natively speak English. What Jane said is that we don't know how many of our readers are international. The only way for us to know that would be if someone mentions it.

    I get that was the point of the post. But the way the two issues (of language and nationality) were linked in the initial paragraph was really offensive. The implication was that you would be able to tell how many international readers you had if you could tell how many were reading in a language other than English. Which is just not true on any level. For many North Americans, their native language is not English, and for many people from other places, their native language is English. If your interest is in nationality, why mention language at all? As it is, it just comes across as yet another example of Americentric arrogance, I’m afraid.

    There is easy, free software you can add to the site if you are genuinely interested in knowing where your readers are from. Try ClustrMaps or WhosAmungUs.

    @Ros No. I was trying to clarify what I meant by “no localization of the blog.” Localization means, to me, translation of the text in other languages. Sorry if I didn't explain that very well.
    Yes, I get that. I’m just trying to point out that the issue of language and the issue of nationality are quite distinct. If your interest is in nationality, then the reference to translation merely confuses the question.

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  21. S.
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 07:16:15

    Selene, thank you so much for the Book Depository link. I’ve been really wanting the new Mike Careys and that is perfect.

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  22. Maili
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 08:20:12

    @SarahT

    What I find most puzzling is that both etailers and regular bookstores sell US paper editions. Given that they all do this, I'm assuming it's legal. Why, then, are only ebooks restricted? Do they intend to extend these restrictions to paper editions in the future?

    That puzzles me as well. I was told it’s actually illegal. If so, why hasn’t anyone said anything all these years? Or any time during twenty-odd years when online bookshops became commonplace?

    @Kaetrin

    When I emailed Books on Board recently about this issue they said they were going to be opening up a UK store which they thought would alleviate this problem – how is a complete mystery to me, but we'll see I guess.

    I’m guessing they were referring to the Commonwealth, e.g. Canada, Australia, Barbados, India, Singapore and other members can buy ebooks from the UK shop. It’s a wild guess, though.

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  23. Suzanne Allain
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 08:31:36

    As a publisher and an author, I was given the choice of geographic regions where I wanted my latest book to be available. Maybe I was being “americentrically arrogant”, (@Ros) but I did not choose to release my book in areas where English was not the predominant language and where I was afraid my book would be purchased only to be pirated. It is available in Europe, the UK, and the US. I would have liked for it to be available in Australia as well, but if I remember correctly, Australia was lumped in with Asia. (This may not be true; but I can’t think of any other reason why I would not have allowed sales of it to Australia/New Zealand.)

    I’m sorry if this seems like prejudice on my part; I am not an expert on piracy and for all I know it could be originating in the U.S. However, it seemed to me opening it up to markets where I might only receive a handful of sales but could expose my book to further opportunities for theft was a bad business decision.

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  24. Maili
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 08:37:57

    @Suzanne Allain

    I did not choose to release my book in areas where English was not the predominant language and where I was afraid my book would be purchased only to be pirated. It is available in Europe, the UK, and the US.

    I’m a bit confused because Europe isn’t English-speaking (as far as I know, the Republic of Ireland is the only English-speaking member of Europe), so why exclude Asia and others if you included Europe? And what about Canada? :/

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  25. Jane
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 08:45:26

    @Suzanne Allain I guess I don’t understand why you think that selling your books in areas where you think pirating is lower actually protects your product. Piraters are not bound by geographical limitations. Simply because your product is sold in the US doesn’t mean that it won’t be pirated in China. Instead by limiting the options of legitimate purchasers you are allowing the only source of your material to be in pirated form.

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  26. Suzanne Allain
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 08:51:10

    @Maili: You’re totally right. I only included Europe because I have friends (and fans) there. It was not purely a business decision. I try to be a business woman but I’m not very good at it. :)

    I think my book is available in Canada. When I just checked the distribution details it only lists US, UK and EU, but I would not have excluded Canada if given the option.

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  27. Suzanne Allain
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 09:17:34

    Piraters are not bound by geographical limitations.

    I know, Jane. I guess I just thought my book might escape their notice if it wasn’t widely distributed. Reading this post has given me a different perspective on the subject.

    It’s really scary, because you don’t know how to protect yourself as an author. There’s a heartwrenching post about piracy on Pamela Clare’s blog:

    http://pamelaclare.blogspot.com/2009/05/if-you-steal-books-you-suck.html

    She mentions that there are only electronic versions of her books available in Kindle format, so perhaps that proves your point. Perhaps more availability at legitimate ebooksellers=less piracy.

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  28. Jane
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 09:21:21

    @Suzanne Allain I read that post. KristieJ pointed it out to me over a week ago and I have a post about piracy going up tomorrow. The problem is that restraining content doesn’t solve piracy because our world isn’t that limited and that’s both good and bad. Good, because it expands ones market and bad because it makes it easier for goods to be obtained through non legitimate means.

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  29. GrowlyCub
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 10:27:12

    Not a single newly released book I wanted to buy over the last month was available in a format I was willing to buy. Hell will freeze over before I buy DRM Mobi, PDF or e-reader formats that will become obsolete and are useless for my reader. I cannot tell you how much I detest the new Adobe Digitial Edition. Those colors, ugh, not to talk about the crappy functionality.

    It’s like all these publishers are *trying* to drive buying customers into the arms of piracy sites by refusing to either sell to us at all or refusing to sell us formats that can be saved/converted to a format that we can reasonably expect to have some longevity (like rtf).

    As far as I can see, they are actively creating incentives for folks to pirate with all their shenanigans rather than protecting their authors.

    It’s depressing as hell to want to buy and support the authors and being denied to do so by these insane business decisions.

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  30. Suzanne Allain
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 10:40:22

    formats that can be saved/converted to a format that we can reasonably expect to have some longevity (like rtf).

    But GrowlyCub, what’s to prevent you from taking that unsecured digital file and selling it on your own web site? Or e-mailing that ebook to everyone in your address book?

    I realize that eBooks that have digital rights are more annoying for the reader, (I’m an ebook reader as well) but authors/publishers have to find some way to protect themselves. What secure format would be acceptable to you?

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  31. Jane
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 10:43:51

    @Suzanne Allain: There’s nothing to prevent that now other than say Laws and Morals and things like that.

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  32. GrowlyCub
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 10:49:54

    But Suzanne, what’s keeping me from copying and/or scanning a paperback and selling or putting it on my website?

    While some folks don’t like the idea that folks can resell the paper books they bought, very few go around shouting ‘oh, look, reprehensible readers, they are profiting from my hard work’.

    I have to admit I’m rather insulted by your comments and their underlying assumptions about readers on this thread. Your implication is that all readers are out to make a buck off your back, are dishonest and cannot be trusted with your precious words.

    You want me to buy your books. If you make it hard and inconvenient, I will not do so and instead buy a book by somebody else that isn’t as inconvenient or hard to get. Some folks will decide to pirate the books they cannot get by legal means. You tell me who loses most in this scenario?

    If e-books were available at a decent price point, in formats that could be backed up and aren’t tied to a single useless platform, there would be no incentive for folks to hang out at pirating sites.

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  33. Suzanne Allain
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 10:57:02

    @Jane If you’ve purchased an eBook in a secured format and you only have a license to read it on a computer you’ve registered, you are not allowed to do anything with it but view the text in an eReader.

    That is, unless you’re an unscrupulous hacker that has figured out a way to get around the licensing code.

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  34. Suzanne Allain
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 11:10:50

    I have to admit I'm rather insulted by your comments and their underlying assumptions about readers on this thread. Your implication is that all readers are out to make a buck off your back, are dishonest and cannot be trusted with your precious words.

    So sorry, growlycub, I never meant to insult you. I’m a cat lover, too. :)

    The “you” I used was in the general sense, and not meant to apply to you (or anyone else on these boards) personally. (Perhaps I should have used the word “one” instead, but that sounds so school-teacheryish.)

    As an author/publisher, I was genuinely just trying to understand what secured format you might be willing to purchase. I was also trying to point out that if only unsecured formats were sold, there would be a much higher risk of piracy.

    However, since hackers have already figured out a way to get around the restrictions of a secured ebook, I guess the secured format is merely providing authors/publishers with a false sense of security. Literally.

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  35. Jane
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 11:11:22

    @Suzanne Allain: I’m not a hacker but I do use DRM stripping tools for every book that I buy so that I can read the ebook on whatever device that I choose to use. If that makes me a criminal, so be it.

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  36. GrowlyCub
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 11:21:27

    Suzanne, I was not only personally insulted but on behalf of readers everywhere, because of the underlying assumptions you expressed. Writing ‘one’ would not have made a lick of difference.

    However, since hackers have already figured out a way to get around the restrictions of a secured ebook, I guess the secured format is merely providing authors/publishers with a false sense of security. Literally.

    Which was exactly my point. DRM does not work. It only pisses off or frustrates the customers who want to buy legal copies and it doesn’t do a thing to keep the folks who wouldn’t buy to start with from acquiring the books by illegal means.

    The only DRM format I buy is MS Lit because I, just as Jane, strip the DRM off it immediately (hence I’m annoyed as hell that new books aren’t available in MS Lit lately; according to FW that’s a publisher decision and a mighty bad one, because upwards of 15 authors lost sales just this last month of May).

    I then convert the lit file to an rtf file, change the font and increase the font size so I can import it to my Sony reader and comfortably read it in the way that makes the reading experience optimal for me. This also allows me to store the e-book in a file format that will most likely long outlive any current DRM formats/software applications, or if it were to become obsolete will most likely be convertible to a new format.

    Yes, paperbacks don’t last forever either, but I have to tell you I have copies of books that are over 60 years old that are in good shape and that I re-read often. I expect the same longevity of my e-books which mobi/adobe DRM does most definitely not offer.

    Hopefully that clarifies where I think your logic is not in your own best interest, either as a publisher or an author.

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  37. Suzanne Allain
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 12:01:10

    growlycub, I agree with you. DRM is annoying. However, I’m not making “assumptions”.
    You wrote:

    I was not only personally insulted but on behalf of readers everywhere, because of the underlying assumptions you expressed.

    It’s a fact, not an assumption, that piracy is occurring. I’m happy that you’re not taking part in it but someone, somewhere is.

    And I’m perfectly willing to admit that you and Jane are probably right: Perhaps the solution is to have unsecured books available in all geographic regions. Then maybe fewer people will be tempted to buy pirated copies. But, then again, that might make it more likely that a book is pirated.

    Obviously this is the dilemma that the publishing folks are facing. (And the same issue Jane described in her post (#28) above.

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  38. FD
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 12:01:31

    I’m not a hacker either, but I too strip the DRM off every ebook I buy.

    Why? Aside from the inconvenience, when customers legitimately purchase DRM’d books, they end up in a situation where they have in effect, purchased a right to read a book, not an actual copy of the book.

    And frankly as a customer I am damned if I am going to pay the same price for an ebook as a paper book and not end up with an at least semi-permanent copy.

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  39. Ros
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 12:07:50

    @Maili and Suzanne. The UK is in the EU, and is thus geographically, politically and economically part of Europe. We also speak English here. Particularly in England.

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  40. Sunita
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 12:12:08

    Ms. Allain, I don’t want to pile on here, but I think you’re laboring under a couple of misconceptions. It’s true that DRM books are one step more difficult to pirate than non-DRM books, in that someone has to strip the code. But that code hack is available for every format except Adobe, and the number of DRMd books that are available on pirate sites should give you a sense of how small a hindrance that turns out to be. There are lots of non-DRM books available, but there are also Harlequin, Avon, etc. etc. etc. And yes, people put up pirated versions of books that have never had an eformat.

    Piracy is not going to go away as long as there are people who want to read books who can’t. You gave reasons for limiting your distribution to certain English-speaking countries and Europe. But you left out Asia, which has tens if not hundreds of millions of people who read English-language media. They find out about your books but discover they can’t buy them. So either they ignore them (lost sale) or they pirate them (lost sale). When the world was less well connected, people didn’t *know* what they were being denied. Now they do, and they frequently don’t agree with the reasons for their denial. So they justify the piracy to themselves. I know how they feel. I wanted to watch the unedited version of the BBC series Life on Mars. I was more than happy to pay for it, but I can’t get a Region 1 DVD because of the problem of music copyright (it’s regionally restricted and has to be repurchased at great expense for other regions). So I either buy it from amazon.co.uk and figure out where to play Region 2, or I don’t watch it. Or I pirate it. I’ve just given up on LoM for now, but I understand why Americans pirate it. Same with BBC Radio 4 radioplays, which you can either stream or record (using grey-area software) during the week they’re available or go to a pirate site and download.

    I completely understand why authors are upset about piracy, it does represent lost sales (although not as much as the download numbers suggest). But as long as our outdated copyright systems remain in place, piracy isn’t going away. And I think the longer people pirate under these conditions, the harder it will be to get them to accept the logic that such products should be paid for. iTunes shows that people are willing to buy something they can get for free if the process is easy and tailored to their interests (as long as they’re in the right part of the world, of course). Maybe we’ll get there with books before all the authors give up.

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  41. Suzanne Allain
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 12:23:51

    Sunita:

    Thanks for your post. I agree that this morning when I first posted I was laboring under quite a few misconceptions. I’ve appreciated this dialogue very much.

    Perhaps I’ll look into changing the distribution rights of my most recent book. And this will definitely affect my decision-making when I release any future books.

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  42. Maili
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 12:34:16

    @Ros
    In my opinion, the UK is not part of Europe. It depends on every Brit’s POV, of course. The EU is… well, I’d better not bring politics into this. My earlier comment was based on the Euro currency structure, which is why I mentioned ROI.

    We also speak English here. Particularly in England.

    I live in England and my native/childhood language is Gaelic, but I do prefer English.

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  43. GrowlyCub
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 13:03:57

    Maili, whether GB is part of the EU is debatable, but your claim that ‘England’ is not part of Europe is rather on the peculiar side of things, I have to admit.

    I’m really curious now. I didn’t realize any part of England spoke Gaelic. Certainly, Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, and Ireland had languages of Celtic origin as well as the Isle of Man and Brittany, but I didn’t think any of those folks admitted they were part of England. I learned there were 6 Celtic languages, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx and Breton, three of which are considered Gaelic (Manx, Scottish and Irish, and Manx is considered extinct even though there are efforts to revive it). Are there more, in England, where?

    Learn something new every day!

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  44. Maili
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 13:20:16

    @GrowlyCub
    Where did I say that “England” is not part of Europe? That said, whether the UK is part of Europe IS debatable and it’s been going on for decades. It’s old news. I happen to be a member of the Euro-sceptic camp if that wasn’t clear enough. :P

    Next paragraph, you lost me. I can’t tell whether you were being sarcastic or not, but I’ll assume you weren’t.

    I never said I was born in England. I made the comment because Ros made an issue out of Jane’s opening paragraph, e.g. nationality and languages, and yet she said in England we speak English. I wanted to point out it’s not always true (which was Ros’s original point, actually).

    That said, it’s nuts if you truly believe that a person in England doesn’t speak Gaelic because I have met a few who were born and raised in, say, London that spoke Irish since birth. They are certainly a minority, but it’s no different from meeting British-born people who speak Jamaican, Chinese or Hindi since birth because of their families and local communities they are involved with. If it’s OK for them, why not for Gaelic speakers and their local communities? Why the assumption that Gaelic and Irish speakers are geographically restricted (heh!)?

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  45. GrowlyCub
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 13:28:16

    Sorry, yes, you said the UK is not part of Europe, that’s as strange as if you had said England. Because geographically speaking it very much is, whether one considers it politically part of the EU or not.

    Ros addressed the comments that seemed to make the point there weren’t many English speakers in Europe. Your point about your speaking Gaelic seemed rather facetious to me in this discussion. Whether or not there are a Gaelic speakers in England seems pretty irrelevant to the discussion.

    Anyway, guess that’s just another illustration why assumptions about where people read English as in books published in the English language are not a valid way of restricting sales by geography.

    ReplyReply

  46. Maili
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 13:43:19

    @GrowlyCub

    Because geographically speaking it very much is, whether one considers it politically part of the EU or not.

    Ask any Canadian, Australian, Singaporean and Indian if they feel they’re part of the Commonwealth. Some will say yes and some, no. It’s the same thing with the whole UK and EU debate. A lot of British people I know feel the same way I do. Actually, it’s same with people of Northern Ireland on whether they see themselves as British or not. No different, really.

    Whether or not there are a Gaelic speakers in England seems pretty irrelevant to the discussion.

    Then, you must have a problem with Ros’s comment:

    For many North Americans, their native language is not English [...]

    I had that in mind when I made my response to Ros’s “we speak English in England” comment.

    I’m sorry you found my responses irrelevant, though. On this note, I will bow out. No hard feelings. :)

    ReplyReply

  47. Patricia Rice
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 14:25:16

    I read this blog to keep up with issues like this, issues that my agent and editor don’t mention to me because they are probably as clueless as I am. Cluelessness is the major problem with moving forward digitally. For too long, NYC has been the center of the universe, and they have no idea how to grapple with problems outside that center. (Even I hadn’t realized that islands in the Caribbean couldn’t get English language books!) Publishing is changing, slowly, perhaps, not as quickly as technology changes, but the more information we have available, the better it will be for all. I’ll forward a link to the blog to my agent and editor so at least discussions will start.

    Please don’t think authors have a great deal more influence than providing information! We can dig in our heels and yowl as much as we like, but if we want to be published, yowling won’t get us there. So we pass around informative links, talk to publishers when opportunity avails, and hope the problems are eventually recognized and clarified. That doesn’t mean they’ll be solved immediately, but it’s one step forward.

    So let’s keep the discussion open and informative and let information flow!

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  48. Shelley Munro
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 15:23:07

    I’m in New Zealand and, like many others, I’m very frustrated at not being able to purchase the ebooks I want to read. It does encourage piracy. I prefer ebooks, and if I can’t buy them the author loses a sale. It’s as simple as that.

    (BTW, just to make it clear – I don’t download pirated copies. As an author I lose sales to pirates, and I refuse to do that to another author.)

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  49. Kaetrin
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 19:57:19

    Re the discussion about DRM earlier in this thread – I can lend out my paper books to whoever I want to – why shouldn’t I be able to do this with an ebook? (that, of course, is quite different to posting it on the internet, which I don’t advocate.)

    @Jane – I wish I knew how to strip DRM from my ebooks. I would if I could but I don’t know where to go to get that information.

    That doesn’t mean that I would strip DRM for piracy purposes, but it would mean that I could buy a non-Sony-friendly (NSF?) version (possibly for a cheaper price) (sometimes NSF versions are the only ones available), strip the DRM and convert it to some other format which my Sony would read. That would give me a lot more choice.

    I also don’t like the idea that I’ve purchased a right to read a book rather than an actual book. I want it to stay mine. After all, in most cases, I am paying (albeit postage and freight free – I’m in Australia) the same price as for a paper book. I want as many of the same benefits as it is possible to have.

    I agree with Jane’s view and the general consensus here. Making things harder to get legitimately – whether by geographical restriction or DRM or something else, only pushes people toward the illegitimate. I am happy to buy my books legally – if one can’t do that, one either pirates the copy or doesn’t buy it at all – either way this means a lost sale. Why is this so hard for publishers to see?

    Oh and just finally, I didn’t see anything insulting in the original post regarding locations and languages. I think the point was that digital is world wide regardless of locations and languages and publishing needs to catch up. Hear Hear.

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  50. Selene
    Jun 02, 2009 @ 00:16:45

    @S
    You’re welcome.

    @Maili

    “EU” and “Europe” are not interchangeable words. That’s like saying Norway or Switzerland isn’t part of Europe just because they’re not part of the EU. Europe happens to be a continent, of which the UK is one part. Or are you suggesting the UK is a continent all of its own? If so, I’d have to say that’s your own very personalized interpretation, contrary to any standard geographical definition.

    Selene

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  51. Kat
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 08:37:33

    To Kaetrin and the other Aussie commenters above: Have you tried ebooks.com? They’re Australian based, and while their catalogue isn’t as extensive as the US retailers, they seem to have a good selection.

    Australia is currently reviewing its parallel importation laws in relation to books, and digital copyright is one of the issues that I don’t think has been given much consideration. I agree that it should be seen as a separate rights “territory”.

    One important (to me) problem I see with the system Jane proposes is that it’s likely to result in US publishers owning most English language digital copyrights. That kind of sucks for me. It would suck not to be able to get an ebook of an Australian book with its Aussie spelling and colloquialisms. I can see that kind of system cannibalising digital books from smaller English-speaking countries. (Although, hmm, ebook readers might be able to do the simple “translations” in spelling. I’m thinking out loud here.)

    Even if I were to assume that US publishers wouldn’t dominate the digital market, Jane’s post assumes that the global market for a digital book is segmented only by language. My (admittedly very limited) understanding is that it’s not. For example, what UK readers want from a Mills & Boon isn’t going to be exactly the same as what US or Aussie readers want. Aussie M&Bs are marketed differently, with Aussie authors prominently featured. We have different covers, different title selections, etc. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Australian authors talk about having to change some parts of their books for release overseas. How much of that will we lose if all English copies of a digital book were owned by one publisher?

    Ideally, what I’d like to see is more variety in digital books, not less, to cater to local language varieties. What I’d like to see is for publishers to buy only those rights they intend to use immediately, rather than the option to license additional rights. I’d prefer that authors have a better understanding of who owns the rights to their works, and greater control over what is done to the work, where, and when.

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  52. Sunita
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 09:34:42

    @Kat: You make a really important point about regional variations for English-language books. My understanding is that US-origin fiction is not altered for the world market, but British-origin fiction is frequently changed. This affects literary fiction and genre fiction. For this reason, I increasingly buy UK editions of UK authors, even though they cost more to ship, because I’m tired of reading British books with American spelling and even changed colloquialisms. It goes beyond changing the titles of books–HP’s philosopher’s stone to sorceror’s stone, or Rankin’s Fleshmarket Close to Fleshmarket Alley–to altering the actual language and cultural meaning. And here I thought we read fiction in part to expand our understandings.

    Thank goodness for WH Smith and M&B for ebooks. They’re saving me a ton of shipping charges!

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  53. Book Bizzo #20 Bits ‘n’ pieces here and there - Book Thingo
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 04:06:40

    [...] at Dear Author proposes a future scenario in which digital rights are segmented by language rather than geographic [...]

  54. The International Digital Rights Mess (or Amazon’s Cock Up) | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
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    [...] and territory rights sold as one bundle known as “foreign rights”.  I argued that rights should be decoupled.  World digital rights could be granted while reserving translation rights.  One of the drawbacks [...]

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