e-Book Echo: Publication Rights Confuse Us All


Our platform focus continues this fine Sunday with the e-Book Echo, our take on the week in the digital publishing world. I’ve weighed in before on the confusing area of international e-book publishing rights. It seems almost arbitrary which books can be purchased outside the U.S., as apparently each vendor needs an agreement for each country, author, and sometimes even individual books. How unclear this can be for artists was driven home this week in a comment left on jkOnTheRun by novelist David Hewson:

As an aside you might like to know that anyone buying the Kindle ‘International’ edition can’t buy my ebooks. That routes people through the US store and my US publisher doesn’t have US rights for some territories including the UK. So I am now getting complaining emails from UK Kindle owners saying ‘Why aren’t your books out as ebooks?’ Which they are – but for Sony in the UK from the UK publisher.

It is one almighty mess right now outside the US.

Confused yet? I know I am the more I hear about how this works (or fails to work). A conversation I had with Barnes & Noble (s bks) last year addressed the mess from the e-book seller’s standpoint. They indicated they must often negotiate an agreement with each and every country in which they want to sell a given e-book. This must be done for each book they wish to sell, which is why you may notice that some books cannot be sold to consumers in a given country.

This situation is going to become more troublesome as the e-book industry grows, and it’s critical that the players get a handle on this. If an author wants his/her works sold as e-books, and their publisher does too, then it should be much simpler to sell them online without all of these lawyers involved. No disrespect to the legal profession, but when something relatively simple becomes so difficult due to legalities, it’s rarely a good thing for any involved parties.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The Price of E-Book Progress



2 words: Baen Books :) http://www.webscription.net/

Its too bad every publisher can’t be like them. I know fantasy and science fiction isn’t everyone’s bag but if it is, you can download wherever. If your in the US, the UK, etc. it doesn’t matter. You download in non-proprietary, non-drm format (I like rtf) but they also offer sony, microsoft, epub, mobi/palm/kindle, html and rocket/ebookwise. Your ‘audio’ on your ebook reader will never be disabled and Baen supports ‘fair use’.

They also have a free library. And they give books away free to disabled readers . . . what a great company to support whenever you can.

Other publishers will also have limited offerings on their site from time to time (ereads, night shade, tor). When these offerings land on the Baen website they are also in the non-drm format.


Unfortunately, when a publisher aquires the rights to an authors work, every type of right, includng foreign territories, and ebooks, are up-for-grabs–it’s a situation where the author’s agent says “you want the UK also… Ok, pay me” and “you want Ebook rights–ok pay me”; the editor who is buying the rights has to make cost benefit decision, and until recently, the ebook rights were hard to quantify. In addition, many book contracts remain in force until a book goes out of print and the author actively asks for the contract to terminate (“asking for rights to revert”), so these old deals hang around for a very long time.


I think Hewsen meant: “my US publisher doesn’t have English language rights for some territories including the UK.”.

Publishers are territorial, which makes a lot of sense when you’re talking about physical books, but much less so for digital books.

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