Authors’ Rights Become Readers’ Headaches

Over the weekend I became aware of Lost Book Sales, a site for recording complaints about books that one wanted to buy but could not. The most common reason for lost sales appears to be “not available in my region”. Jane at Dear Author (one of the co-creators of Lost Book Sales) has more on this in two posts, with a succinct summary of her opinion in the first post:

Does foregoing digital sales in hopes of a foreign rights sale to a native publisher really make good business sense in today’s burgeoning digital market? I don’t think it does because depriving a reader of a legitimate path to purchase books makes it an easy battle for pirates to win.

In the second post, she adds:

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.

One illustration of this comes from author Aliette de Bodard, who lives in France and is often frustrated in her search for books in other languages:

The official argument is something like “wait for the publisher to release the book in your country”. Well, guess what. My country is France. The ebook I want is in English (or Spanish. Or Vietnamese. Or whatever). Chances of the ebook being released in my country in that language? Close to nil, the market is too small for most SF/F books.

So, I have two choices. I can fake a US/UK IP address and a US/UK credit card to buy where I want; or I can pirate the book. None of them are really legal; and one of them involves way too much hassle for what should be a legit purchase (while actually leaving me still open to prosecution for fraud).

…PS: and yes, as a writer, I know it’s a rights problem. But, quite frankly, as a customer, I still think it borders on the insane. Cracking down on people who buy English books from non-English countries is tantamount to pushing people into the arms of pirates, as far as I’m concerned.

Translation, international, and digital publication rights are obviously important in ensuring that authors and publishers get paid fairly for their work. But when this sort of tangle over international editions prevents that work from being bought in the first place, and with downloading illegal e-books getting easier every day, it’s starting to look like the system might need some revamping.

11 thoughts on “Authors’ Rights Become Readers’ Headaches

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  3. Judson Roberts

    Although many in the publishing industry like to portray Amazon as a villain, this issue illustrates yet another area where Amazon is ahead of the curve, and leaving other publishers behind. After establishing a strong U.S. base for e-book sales (and being largely responsible for the faster than predicted expansion of e-book sales), Amazon has established a U.K. e-book store, and is currently in the process of establishing a German one. I don’t think it is at all villainous to try and make English language e-books available worldwide–it benefits both readers and authors (especially those who publish their e-book versions directly with Amazon, and can receive a 70% royalty rate). Hang in there, Aliette, Amazon is coming!

    1. Carolyn Clink

      Amazon is already in France at

      They have Dune in English. They have titles by my husband Robert J. Sawyer, in English. They even have The Windup Girl — winner of this year’s Hugo and Nebula Awards, in English.

      1. Blue Tyson

        Yes, I know about The Windup Girl. Night Shade and all the other webscriptions publishers are smart enough to work out how to sell to the whole world.

        The idiots with the Dune rights apparently cannot. The useless English can’t even manage an ebook at all it seems.

        Dune is only on sale in the USA.

        So, no-one from the UK buying it. No-one from Australia or New Zealand. No-one from Scandinavia. No-one from Hong Kong. No-one from Ireland. No-one from South Africa. Or the rest of Europe, or South America, etc. etc.

  4. Theresa M. Moore

    In these days of an open internet I find it baffling that readers cannot find what they are looking for online. I sell direct from my own site, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, yet people say they can’t find what they want from the publisher??? That does not make sense. All I know is that readers are relying too heavily on Amazon and the others instead of looking for the book by title. I will bet that they will find it in two shakes of a lamb’s tail if they would only bother to look.

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      Most authors don’t sell their own books directly. Rights issues extend far beyond Amazon/B&N availability.

    2. Blue Tyson

      If you’d like to wager on that, I’d be more than happy to take your money.

      It is trivial to find books for free. Very hard to find them for sale.

      Frank Herbert’s Dune is not available to Australians now, for example.

      It is completely absurd.

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