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Summary:

Slashdot recently pointed out that the distribution restrictions of the eReader e-book retailer had changed and implied that the changes had to do with the Barnes & Noble acquisition of parent company Fictionwise. Since we’ve long been customers of eReader e-books, we wanted to get to […]

booksSlashdot recently pointed out that the distribution restrictions of the eReader e-book retailer had changed and implied that the changes had to do with the Barnes & Noble acquisition of parent company Fictionwise. Since we’ve long been customers of eReader e-books, we wanted to get to the bottom of the matter and so have gotten the real scoop from Fictionwise.

At the heart of the matter is the fact customers find they may not be able to purchase a given e-book if they reside outside the U.S. or Canada. An attempt to purchase said content results in the information from eReader that the sale cannot be completed due to distribution restrictions.

The folks at Fictionwise have pointed out to us that first of all this has nothing to do with the B&N purchase.

This has nothing to do with the B&N acquisition, it has been brewing for months and this affects all ebook retailers who serve books from large publishers.  As of right now, any retailer who is not enforcing these restrictions on the affected titles could find themselves losing titles from major publishers.

So we see that Fictionwise is not the only retailer affected by these outdated licensing practices, and that’s exactly what is at play here. Publishers like Fictionwise and Amazon do not own the content they sell, they simply license it for sale just like you and I license it when we buy e-books. The archaic licensing system means that publishers have to make separate license deals for each country in which they want to sell e-books. This is something that is very difficult to do, even for the bigger houses like Fictionwise and Amazon.

So why did this hit Fictionwise just after the B&N merger if it’s not related?

Several publishers have recently taken the position that geographic rights have to be enforced on ebooks. Fictionwise, in conjunction with our content aggregators, negotiated to be allowed several months to implement systems to properly track and manage geographic rights on a per-title basis in the data feeds we receive. Those systems were finally implemented the first week in April and started going live.

The good news is that if Fictionwise and other e-book retailers can develop complicated systems for handling global sales in light of so many different distribution restrictions, then e-book sales can be done without blanket sales discrimination, as is the norm today. The folks at Fictionwise are working on such a system as we speak, but it’s not easy to implement.

It’s important to note that not all Fictionwise content is restricted.  The information we’ve received indicates that unencrypted content is not restricted at all and only about a third of their encrypted content is restricted. That affected content has varying degrees of restrictions, with some of the e-books not very restricted geographically. Let’s hope the book publishing industry gets its act together and gets up-to-date technologically in order to remove barriers to selling their content. One has to wonder if this situation plays into why Amazon won’t sell the Kindle outside the U.S.

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  1. From what I’ve read its not quite as simple as fictionwise let on. Many authors use multiple publishers globally, as an example look at the Harry Potter series – English-language versions of the books are published by Bloomsbury in the United Kingdom, Scholastic Press in the United States, Allen & Unwin in Australia, and Raincoast Books in Canada – as quoted from Wikipedia. Publishing rights can be region or country specific which can make it very complicated to distribute via the Internet.

    1. Cybertactix,

      I don’t think we said anywhere that the problem was “simple”, in fact I believe the article above indicates that it is complex. There are some books that actually have different rights in dozens of different countries.

      Yes, you are correct, there are many cases where the author (or the author’s agent) has carved up rights and sold them geographically and that is the crux of the problem. This is not the USA publishers’ fault, they literally do not have rights to sell outside their geographic area, and they feel they might be liable for infringement if they do not take steps to enforce the geographic restrictions.

      In fact I can’t really put my finger on any one party that is “at fault” for this situation. It’s a matter of 500 years of publishing business practices suddenly colliding with the Internet. As indicated in the article, there may be a technological solution, but it is difficult to implement and can’t be done overnight.

      -Steve P.

  2. I hate this region my region release shit, it’s so big business 1.0. Right here is the kind of backwards idiotic thinking that drives people to unrepentant piracy.

  3. Nurhisham Hussein Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    Same thing happens with Audible.com and audiobooks.

  4. Well Amazon and other sellers will ship a physical book (or DVD) outside the US. Why should Ebooks be different?

    Totally agree with Griffon.

    It’s like the DVD/Bluray region restrictions. I have a DVD player in my laptop, and I travel to many different countries. If I want to buy a DVD while I’m away to watch on my laptop on the plane or in my hotel room…there’s no way to do it legally.

  5. I am still not sure all the necessary details are known. For example, I have a US bank account and billing address but I live in Hungary (and I am a Hungarian citizen, my wife is American). Can I buy?

    What if I was not in possession of US billing info but I was (say, traveling) in the US?

    Is it enforced on the basis of IP tracking or billing info? It makes a difference (for me at least).

    Take for example iTunes. I have full access to the US store with my US billing info. The Hungarian content sucks. But Netflix I absolutely cannot use.

    They need to figure this out as the best way to fight piracy is good availability and low prices. Neither are met in most cases.

  6. I wonder how many ebook buyers are not from the US and Canada. All those people, me included, not being allowed to buy their ebooks. There’s no alternative either. That has got to be affecting Fictionwise where it really hurts: their profit.

  7. Alternative Sunday, May 3, 2009

    There’s an alternative in some cases, just like for tv shows and movies they won’t show or sell. Although there are many more books than there are videos, as such.

    Unlike tv shows of course, books aren’t shown for free in the same manner. (Take a while to get to libraries, etc.)

  8. As an American citizen living abroad, I find this new “ebooks geographic restrictions” situation a really sorry state of affairs.

    Strange move of the publishers, especially during a worldwide economic crisis, to go down the path of “free trade out”, protectionism in.

    RM

    1. This is not new, it’s the way they’ve always done business. It’s just now coming to our attention due to the rising popularity of e-books.

  9. just change country code on credit card to US

    1. just change country code on credit card to US

      won’t they confirm your billing address before charging?

  10. This action will just encourage more people to join the pirate crowd. I’m from Canada and all the non-fiction books I want to purchase are restricted and I cannot download them – a number have been purged from my wish list. I would have purchased another Sarno book before the change took place had I known restrictions were upon us. Have downloaded and stored all my purchases and should my iPod touch crater on me.

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