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October 07, 2011



As one who was involved in the exchange of comments that inspired this post, thanks for answering it from your perspective. I wonder, though, if there might be an unintended consequence for publishers and agents. Could authors, frustrated with not being able to get their books into the hands of willing readers, start holding onto some of their rights (digital, foreign distribution) and start turning more to self-publishing or placing their book with smaller, independent publishers. At least one crime writer has turned to self-publishing and is apparently doing well. I know of another whose latest book wasn't picked up by a US publisher who put it out as an ebook himself.


I too left a comment on the earlier post that may have helped prompt this post and also appreciate hearing about the complexities of it all. I suppose 10 years or so ago readers like me weren't jumping up and down about geo-restrictions because we simply didn't have easy access to information about what was being published elsewhere and now we are armed with information and angry about it. So while your explanation makes sense I do still feel that "the publishing industry" (i.e. all the players you mentioned and probably book sellers as well) needs to address the issue more intelligently than it has done to date because the system in use still seems to be working on the basis of a world in which readers don't know what's going on elsewhere. The problem I can foresee developing for example is that even fewer books will be sold into small markets like Australia because by the time the rights are negotiated (often months or years after US or UK publications) half the people who would have bought the book have already done so from overseas shops. I buy two thirds of my books from outside the country (either in e or p format) and while price is a factor the main reason for this is that the books are available and I like reading a new book at the same time as the crime fiction readers I know from England and the UK so we can all discuss it together. I know I am not alone in doing this so I wonder what happens then when the book is finally on the shelves here...who's left to buy it? As for small publishing markets like Australia it is even more insane that global rights aren't sold at once...as an amateur reviewer with a website devoted to Australian crime fiction I know that most of our blog readers are from overseas and there are many books that I review that American and English readers can't buy locally (and they're not insane enough to pay ludicrous Australian prices)...for the most part these are lost sales as people have forgotten all about the reviews 12 months later when the books might be made available in their local markets.


Ditto what Bernadette said.

The time lag between publishing a book in foreign market and its availability in the US is a serious hinderance. You are losing the immediacy of a new publication. I once went so far as to have a book sent to the hotel of a friend who was visiting the UK so that the friend could bring it back to me in the states.

What also happens is that I sometimes turn to used book sources and even book swap sites to get titles not otherwise accessible. I want to and am willing to support authors but it isn't often easy for the niche in which I am interested.

I'm with Bernadette, publishers need to think globally.


I've been thinking more about what I wrote earlier and I'm not sure I was that clear. I certainly think publishers and agents and authors are well within their rights to make as much money as they can and don't expect anyone to 'give' me anything as a reader. But I do strongly believe that the system of discrete geographical based markets is no longer the best way to generate sales as we (the readers) are not the same isolated clumps we once were. And whereas thousands ( or even millions) of pirated copies of a book in China or India are unlikely to represent significant lost sales ( those people would not have bought the full price legal book at all) I can foresee that continuing on with the outdated country-by-country rights sales could lead to increased piracy by people who otherwisw would have bought the book legitimately but are frustrated at not being able to. I can appreciate that authors, agents etc might not want this to be true but the genie is out of the bottle. We, especially the 'we' who are avid readers who read dozens of books a year are well informed and accessing sites like Amazon and Good Reads daily and we know what books are available somewhere in the world and we're going to get our hands on the books we want regardless of arbitrary lines on a map. I am certain I'm not the only reader who would prefer to do this legally but who will consider illegal options as the risk of doing so reduces and the ease of accessing them increases.


I understand the reasons for "rights". By the way, many authors do hold their "e" rights because their books were published in the print era before ebooks were known. There is quite a healthy business now in publishers or others offering to publish the eforms of these books for authors, or indeed authors doing it themselves (which means they have to do a lot of work in production, marketing etc of course, hence these new business models from publishers offering to do it for them - you may have seen the Amazon suggestion on the product entries for OOP books now that they have entered the epublishing business with their various imprints).

But to return to the main point. For readers, it is very frustrating not to be able to read a book when it is published "somewhere". Publishers are presumably doing their sums re piracy, etc, and when the tipping point comes where piracy is economically costly, I suppose they will tend to make the e-versions of their books available globally earlier.

Though you are correct about print piracy being common in China, India and elsewhere (eg many African countries), this has always been the case since long before the internet. Ebooks have just created another type of piracy for publishers to contend with, in addition. Publishers must be aware of what has happened to the music industry and what will probably soon happen to the TV/movie content industry if companies like Google and (we now hear via Steve Jobs's legacy) Apple have their way -- all that is stopping them are rights!!

Book publishers do need to wake up, and change their business models. As far as authors are concerned, the publisher does have a strong bargaining position - if the author wants the service and honour of being independently published rather than self-published, I am sure he/she and her agents will be prepared to negotiate a simple "one world" right, ultimately.


I just wanted to add - the reason we need a "one world" right is because readers themselves are not limited to their "own" market any more. As more bookstores go out of business and people buy online, the country they are in is increasingly insignificant to them and to the publisher. (Translations are different, but once a book is translated, on the "one world" model it, too, should be available everywhere eg for Germans living in Canada to read, not just Germans in Germany).

The sooner the publishing industry gets on with doing this, the more likely it is that publishers will stay in business, rather than falling more and more behind the real world and what people (customers) in it do/want.

Pepper Smith

There are a number of epresses (not self-publishing services) where world English rights are part of the contract. They're usually small enough that publisher and author both know limiting themselves to only one country/region would be financial suicide.

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