Geographical Restrictions, Take Two
After last week’s post, there was quite a bit of discussion in a number of areas about the issue of geographical restrictions, some in response to the creation of lostbooksales.com, a site that I, Maili and Keishon created based on a comment made by Suze
If I had the time and computer savvy, I'd set up a lostebooksale.com site where people could submit each book they didn't buy, and why. After the first three or four hundred stories about "I didn't buy Book X because it's not available in my country, so I got a pirate copy", maybe somebody in publisher with the drive, imagination, and ability could prod the industry into action.
Lostbooksales is a place for readers to record the book that they wanted to buy and how they were prevented from completing the purchase. Remember last week when authors were telling the readers that we should contact the publisher? In fact, one author, under the cloak of anonymity, was emphatic that even if a reader had attempted contact, she should TRY AGAIN (all caps used by original commenter).
my experience is the exact opposite over the years. I got very few responses and the few I did get either didn't address my questions at all or completely blew me off. Clear indication they couldn't have cared less about me as a reader.
1. I am very sorry this happened to you. No one should ever be made to feel like they are undervalued or unimportant.
2. TRY AGAIN.
I know emailing customer service is a fricking pain, but maybe that's the foreign customers need to start doing. Regularly. Making a point of just how many sales are being lost because of geographical restrictions-but don't email the booksellers. Email the publishers.
Asking a reader to contact a publisher about in territory availability is akin to a self published author asking readers to send letters and emails to random US publishers telling them to publish the author’s book. It’s possible that some authors don’t understand the complexity of this issue either. Here’s why reader’s should not have the responsibility to contact publishers. Which publisher, exactly, should the reader contact?
Take, for example, Simone Elkeles‘ “Perfect Chemistry”. This book is published in the US (and maybe Canada) by Bloomsbury USA. Simone Elkeles (represented by Kristen Nelson) did not sell world rights to Bloomsbury. There is a Bloomsbury UK division. Instead Whitney Lee of The Fielding Agency, on behalf of Nelson, negotiated International rights to Simon & Schuster UK Children’s and Susanne Stark at Bertelsmann Children’s in Germany. (This information I got off of Publishers’ Marketplace which is a pay for website).
In 2009, Nelson negotiated another deal for Elkeles with Bloomsbury to publish the sequel, Rules of Attraction, and again Nelson sold only the domestic rights. The entry on Publishers Marketplace gives the email address of Whitney Lee presumably so that interested international publishers can know who to contact for international rights. This book is thus not available to the a reader like Sarah Tanner in Switzerland, at least not in a digital format. (I will note that it is possible that this book’s international rights have been sold but I don’t see it on the PM site. It could have happened and the agent/author didn’t post the sale).
Tessa Dare’s contracts for her first six books with Ballantine were for World rights. The last contract for three books with Avon, however, were all for World English rights. The right to distribute the books world wide rest with Ballantine for the first six books These last contract gives Avon the right to distribute Dare’s books throughout the world but only in English meaning translation rights and foreign language print are still to be determined. Strangely, however, the first book in Dare’s series with Ballantine is not available in digital format in Canada even though the other five are. Update: The Dare books are all available in Canada but currently (and at least since March 2009) Sony Canada has shown these books to be unavailable. Ms. Dare has taken the information and is attempting to get the issue resolved for those readers who shop at US Canada. When we have resolution of this issue, the post at lostbooksales.com will be converted into a “found sale”.
Bronwyn Parry’s Australian romantic suspense books are not available digitally in the US because no US publisher has bought the rights to these books. Parry sent me the books but I hate reading paper so after reading the first few chapters in the print version, I resolved to find the digital books. I found them at Waterstones and bought them (with my US address and US credit card, if you were wondering). Amazon UK says that they aren’t available to me. As much as I enjoyed Ms. Parry’s books, I don’t have the energy or initiative to start a letter writing campaign to the big 6 publishers in the US asking them to publish Ms. Parry’s books. (and not that she has ever asked me to either).
Stephanie Laurens has a page dedicated to audio and ebook enthusiasts including a list of where individuals from different territories can buy her books. She does note that she has no ability to control the format of the digital ebook. For that, a reader has to contact the publisher.
And yes, some older formats appear to be no longer available. It seems to be Kindle, iBooks, and Kobo everywhere, and the other formats only in the US. If you want to complain, you need to complain to publishers and/or the originators of your devices. Authors are unable to do anything about this (and believe me, I’ve tried).
Laurens does suggest that SHE has made sure her books are available in all different territories which would indicate to me that she does have some control over this (unlike the different formats of the books):
Speaking of e-books, I have finally got to the bottom of what’s making many authors’ e-books so hard to access from outside the US (although mine should be available–see below!). Sadly, there is little I can do aside from making sure my e-books are available in all the different “territory” stores. That, I have done and will continue to do, especially if you let me know whenever you find any book of mine that is not available to you at any of the major e-book stores (like Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Google when it comes). My books should always be available at those four stores at least, regardless of whatever territory you are in.
Over at eReader.com, readers are instructed to NOT contact the publisher directly:
Should I complain to the Publisher of the eBook?
No. The problem is that the rights to these eBooks is not held by a single publisher. In some countries it might be one publisher, in another country a completely different publisher. The publisher who gives us the right to sell the eBook only has the right to grant us that for customers who live in the geographic region their contract covers.
The fact is that readers feel a bit helpless because we have authors saying that publishers aren’t using the rights granted:
Are most authors holding on to digital world rights? According to my Random House contract, I don't retain those.
Perhaps most interesting about my new role is that I am one of the few people in my industry who runs sales and marketing operations on both sides of the Atlantic. Seeing how London differs from New York in trade is fascinating, but what has struck me most is the prevailing zeitgeist regarding world English rights. The proposition that one publisher should NEVER be sold world English rights for a work seems to have become the default position, especially by UK based agents.
This is consistent with what Chris Meadows was told at the Frankfurter Book Fair this year:
A week ago, I mentioned this problem in regard to comments from agents at the Frankfurt Book Fair who were concerned that American publishers might be trying to undermine territorial restrictions with e-book deals. One agent said that "It would upset the whole publishing dynamic if one let the digital edition seep into another market" and "Anyone trying to do that would really mess up their relationship with the author and the agent."
The Bookseller says the purpose of territorial restrictions is to foster domestic publishing industries:
Territorial copyright was set up to protect a market from overseas competition, which in turn would encourage local investment in authors, in theory leading to thriving publishing markets worldwide, a sort of anti-food chain that can prohibit big global publishers gobbling up smaller territories. Although publishers in some markets, notably Australia, have chafed at some of the restrictions of this, it has largely worked.
It does appear that some agents and publishers and authors are restricting non domestic digital book sales in order to protect regional publishing markets.
Then, we have agents saying that unless the foreign publisher buys a book then there must not be enough demand for the book:
My entire exchange with Agent Wolfson was really illuminating. Essentially, she looks at the foreign rights issue as a supply/demand thing. If no foreign publisher offers for the work, then she presumes that there is not sufficient demand. (This might be why authors say to write the publisher but as I pointed out before, which publisher would that be? Just random pubs and say, hey, “buy this author’s work” even though the same house that publishes the book in country A is not necessarily going to be the one that buys and publishes it in country B.) I pointed out that a lack of legitimate market leads readers to illegitimate channels.
Consider this cautionary tale of ceding the territory to pirates and illegitimate channels:
The combined economic impact of the informal publishing industry is roughly equal to that of their legitimate counterparts. Pirated books printed in Lima are shipped all over the country, and have been seen in Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and as far away as Argentina.
There is one problem with the myth about pirates bringing literature to the masses: street-level vendors tend to congregate in the same middle and upper-class neighborhoods where you find the bookstores. Their clients are people with money.
The territorial rights issue is rife with problems. The authors are telling readers to contact the publishers. The publishers are saying that they don’t have the rights. The readers, particularly the international readers, are in the dark and feel buffeted on all sides.
The Bookseller article mentioned above refers from a blog post from Peter Donoughue, thirty five year publishing insider. I spent the weekend trawling through this guy’s blog posts and feel so much more educated! I highly recommend it. Mr. Donoughue says this about territoriality and digital books:
But separate territorial ebook editions are a nonsense. The better solution would be to have all publishing parties around the globe who have bought the rights to their territories share revenues on the one original ebook edition. It really shouldn't be hard to administer this. Thus the ebook would be available from day one to all customers globally, and the original ebook publisher simply keeps track of customer locations and rights sales and disburses revenues accordingly. Ebook suppliers like Amazon and Apple can easily report territory sales.
All of this simply shows the futility of placing the burden on the reader to figure this stuff out. No reader should have to figure this out in order to get a legitimate channel of purchase in her region. How does a reader know all these details? She doesn’t, of course, and nor should she. I barely understand all the complexities and I am actively asking questions (which I often do inelegantly and cause authors to get offended and publishers to be pissed off).
Here is what we know for sure. Authors start with the rights. The rights flow from the author to the publisher. The publisher can choose to buy any set of rights and the author can choose to sell any set of rights. The decisions publishers and authors make about what set of rights to sell and buy are dependent upon what makes the best business decision for them. More often than not this will favor one set of readers over another usually the reader of the domestic market. This is a systemic problem that needs to be resolved and it will take the combined efforts of authors and agents demanding for a change in the standard contractual language and publishers agreeing to such a change in order for this issue to be resolved.
The best thing we can do as readers is raise awareness of the issue. We do need to keep talking about it because unless we talk about it, how important it is to us as readers, the issue can fade in importance. Thus the lostbooksales.com site. It’s a place where readers can voice their frustrations and publishers, agents, and authors who may be interested can see what is going on in the consumer mind. If anything, perhaps it will show how important it is for this issue to be worked out and sooner rather than later.
I want to make one last point. The existence of world English digital distribution does not always mean that foreign saleability is impaired. Case in point is Kindle best selling author Amanda Hocking whose success caught the attention of Steve Axeldrod, an agent who reps folks like Christine Feehan and Julia Quinn:
After being contacted by a publisher in Hungary that wanted to buy her foreign rights, she landed one of the top agents on the planet, Steven Axelrod. But here's where things get interesting: Mr. Axelrod began selling her foreign rights, her movie rights, and other ancillary rights. However, he purposely didn't sell her most important rights.
Mr. Axelrod realized that Kindle was the engine of Ms. Hocking's success. Instead of taking her books offline, he built a supporting structure around her Kindle editions.
As far as I can tell, Ms. Hocking’s books are available to Kindle readers worldwide (they were available in the UK and in North America).