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.