Territorial rights for ebooks


The book industry is fighting a battle that they are already loosing. While I agree that territorial rights are needed in the case of hard copies, I do not think that they should be used for digital content.

Something that never made sense to me – and I don’t think it made sense for a lot of angry readers – is why websites (Amazon.com for example) are allowed to sell hard copies and ship them to another territory but cannot sell soft copies (ebooks). Exporting books with limited territorial rights seems okay why not for ebooks? Anyway, that is not the point here because I think that territoriality should not even exist in the first place for ebooks.

Another thing that made me laugh more than once is that authors do not seem to comprehend that more and more fans do not want to read the translation (even if it is good, most of the time they are not) but the real thing. They do not want the ugly cover made just for their country, they want the original one. A very good example is Lothaire by Kresley Cole – it is a romance I am sorry – which was published in the US and the UK but with different covers. The UK cover was an absolute disaster, the hero on the cover was black-haired (the hero in the book had fair hair, come on people at least read the first pages of the bl**dy book for heaven’s sake!). Luckily, for UK residents, the UK version of the book was more expensive: I mean why would you pay less for more when you can pay more for less? That is the current idea. I am not british but I still think it was a slap on the face of the author’s fans.

US cover


UK cover

kresley cole lothaire ugly

One of the main arguments for maintaining separate territorial rights is that authors can make more profit that way by selling their rights locally. This was true ten years ago when digital content was very limited, but not today. It is a given, the new generation likes ebooks. It saves time to have everything on your e-book reader, you can read what you like any time anywhere. The only problem is that it took a long time to have enough content in digital format. For this generation who has adopted ebooks because it is easier for them, to have more difficulties finding a title in e-book format than paper is not what they were expecting.

Ebook rights should be given according to the content and not the territory. For example, distribution rights for a French translation should be given to a publisher from a French-speaking country (preferably based in France) since they know the market better. However, rights to distribute the original content should not and here is why:

  1. It is a waste of money and time to try separating the markets for ebooks by territory. Seriously it is and when the book industry finally understands that, they will do so much better than now. It is business my friends, you either adapt or die. You can resist all you want but it is still going to happen. At least, publishers became finally aware of that – quite recently actually – and they are just trying to buy time. So they keep resisting instead of using their energy and resources to adapt to the new economy.
  2. Just because you forbid the reader to read the original book because you want him/her to read the translation that you specially made for him/her does not mean he/she is going to do it. A few might, but most people who read the original books do it because they want to. If they cannot get their hands on the original version online, they will just either give up or get it another way (legally and illegally). The targets are completely different – you do not need to have graduated from a marketing or business school to know that -.  Still, publishers want them to read the translation. How do you explain that? I can’t. If I was an author, I will be prouder to have readers buy my work rather than just a translation. Having people love my writing rather than the translator’s would make me happy. Instead, they force people to read those very bad translations they sell. Why? For money of course. At least they think so.
  3. The truth is that by restricting ebooks rights, most authors miss opportunities. Which means sales, which means money. Believe me when I say that over half people on the Net will abandon after the first try – they have other things to do, there are authors who do not restrict their rights by territory -. The other half will only try for an author they know well. There is always the usual small website that does not have any control on rights. You can always get lucky. Some will make mistakes for the first release. Otherwise, you have those websites that ask for an address. What to do?

    A/ Give a completely fake address

    B/if you travel a lot, you can always give the address of your hotel – never mind if you left the said hotel 1 month ago ^_^-.

    C/ You have family or friends there so you give their address, – may I give your address for an e-book you’re not going to receive? Sure.- Believe it or not, I have several addresses registered on Amazon and other websites that I use to ship to family and friends their gifts from their actual country of residence, it saves me money (free shipping costs). They do the same. I could use these to buy ebooks if I wanted to, or I could just visit them and give the address to buy ebooks while there which I did on more than an occasion.

    D/Some websites track your IP address. These are the nastiest. Do you know how many times I had to wait to go back home to buy a bloody book?!!! Forget buying them while on holiday, but when do you have time reading? Holiday…Forget it… Of course, the cunning readers could always find a way to change their IP Address, there are rooters, websites and other means for that. Some companies have global or regional IP addresses that can be used by their employees who work off-site. I know a few people who use them for work (that one is legal, many global companies do set a global connection to avoid having sensitive information leaked)

    E/ Other websites do not accept cards that have not been issued in the country of residence. These are even worse. I know two people who were residing in the country (moved there for work) but who could not buy them. They could buy about anything but digital content with their foreign card – it is a sad word-. Well for that one, you just need to open a bank account in that country or keep the one you had when you were residing there. Otherwise you can always try a prepaid card. I heard that a few people use them now to secure their travels. So that even if your wallet is stolen, you still have the card that you leave in the safe in your hotel room. You need only to add the daily funds to your card. Never used that, not sure that many do. Most of us, I believe keep some cash in the safe for emergencies like this one.

    F/ Order the pocket/paperback version and wait 2-4 weeks.

    G/ Download it for free online. You can find them everywhere on the Internet.      

  4. Having territorial rights for digital content only encourages piracy. Piracy, you see, thrives most of all when unfair restrictions – yes they are unfair to the readers – exist. I understand a little why some people would download these.

    A/ They feel cornered, forced. They want retribution. “Serves them right. They do not want my money. I did try.” the reader thinks.

    B/ They need something to read while the pocket-book is being shipped. “Come on. I bought the bl**dy book. What else do you want from me? You are already making me kill the few trees left on the planet.” the reader shouts.

    C/ They truly do not WANT to pay a book four times its worth just because it is imported by your “greedy” foreign bookshop owner. “Seriously man? Did you use gold dust for the cover or what? Not this time mate, I need to eat meat this week”

    D/ “Saves time. I promise to buy the ebook as soon as they get unrestricted rights” It is way too easy to download a book, believe me. It is small, could be converted to a doc file or pdf. It is much easier to download than music and movies.

So what do you think?