Authors, Publishers, E-books and Piracy

ebook-piracy-300x411Living in a corner of the world where reading is not everyone’s favorite past time, also hindered by the fact that little variety is available to voracious readers like us who tend to read a lot and that also costing an arm or a leg to acquire a book you covet, needless to say, reading can become quite an expensive habit out here in the Maldives. And reading through a discussion thread on a forum the other night, I found that we Maldivians are not alone in this. There are other countries out there who do not have many book sellers willing to furnish their stores with an abundance of paperbacks or hardcovers, maybe because of the fact that a very small percentage of the population actively take an interest in reading and continue with it long after they finish school and start working.

When I first discovered the concept of e-books and that they existed back in 2006 (yes, we are kind of slow on the uptake over here) needless to say I was ecstatic. I first stumbled upon a collection of e-books whilst googling out of boredom at work on a slow day. It was as if I had struck gold, and to this day I can still feel the buzz of excitement I felt upon the discovery. Back then I didn’t give much thought as to whether people sharing e-books over the Internet was right or wrong, I was just a happy book lover, ecstatic over the endless supply of books to read.

But as the buzz started to fade off, I realized that actually very few books are freely available on the market, and that as technology progressed, e-book readers that worked on the computer such as Microsoft Reader and Mobipocket Reader protected the content that was purchased by making it available only for the owner of the e-book. As with any sort of restriction that is laid out in terms of technology or otherwise, workaround solutions that enabled users to strip the protective features and share their e-books with whomever they pleased cropped up as well – a nightmare for authors and publishers likewise. What struck me as the most ironic thing when it comes to the sale of e-books is the fact that certain e-book sellers restrict the sale of e-books region wise. Somehow, I always managed to find another seller who is not so picky and managed to obtain the book I wanted, but it was cumbersome as hell to always look for an e-seller who wouldn’t discriminate based on the region where I was purchasing my books from.

Then came the reign of e-book readers, handheld devices on which books published in the e-format could be read. When Amazon released its Kindle, I was practically drooling over here on the other side of the world. But as usual, like as with most good things in life, Amazon preferred to sell its Kindle to American users alone. And when Amazon announced that it was releasing Kindle’s International version, I was almost about to jump up and down with joy; until I found out that Maldives wasn’t international enough for Amazon.

Somehow, knowing that all I needed was a USB cable and a computer even if we didn’t have Whispernet over here, I managed to purchase a Kindle from a seller on Ebay who wasn’t so picky with the region stuff. After much nail biting and worrying over the late delivery, I finally received my Kindle and I don’t think you would have found a happier person on Earth at that very moment!

With the large content of e-books on Amazon, I was happy and content with the fact that I was set for life with my Kindle. Never would I have to worry that such and such book was not available for me to buy and download and sink into. But then, as all good things do tend to end, this particular euphoria abandoned me with a feeling of futile hopelessness in its wake, when Amazon refused to sell me their e-books, because once again I was attempting to purchase their content from Maldives – God forbid!

I was quite pissed off to say the least because compared to other e-book sellers, Amazon tended to sell at the lowest prices imaginable. I made a note of complain and received the following reply from their customer service.Since publishers give us eBook rights on a country by country basis, availability and pricing of titles from the Kindle Store can vary by your home country or region. We are actively working with publishers to get the rights to all titles for every country and adding selection every day.” This was back in June and to this day, I haven’t managed to purchase any content from Amazon for my Kindle.

When publishers open up their mouths and complain or talk about the legal ramifications of piracy and its effect on their income and that of the authors, I believe this is one critical point that they ought to ponder upon as well. I am all for paying up and actively owning what I read, but if I meet these kinds of restrictions from every e-book seller website that I come across, I wouldn’t want that to stop me from reading what I want now would it? Any techno savvy person would needlessly search for other avenues, and maybe even come up with ways on their own to share whatever content that they have with other fellow readers. Maybe its the wrong way to think but discriminating e-book buyers by region – yes, I would call it discrimination, is not actively helping curb piracy and its aftereffects. I for one hope that this discrimination stops here and now, and that we readers in regions unknown (it’s not like we come from another planet or something!) would also be able to access and buy content at equal prices as those who are lucky enough in this instance to live in the US, UK or other developed countries.

3 Comments

  1. There are lots of readers, all over the globe, who share your frustration. Paying customers are a valuable asset, and it would certainly make sense to make things as painless and convenient as possible for them to get the content they’re looking for.

    However, the publishing industry is having a hard time arriving at a solution. Typically, publishing rights are sold by region, and with good reason. The average North American publisher doesn’t want to pay the author’s for worldwide rights. They don’t intend to publish globally, nor to translate the book into a fifty or a hundred languages, so why would they pay for the right to do so?

    The author, on the other hand, knows that he/she can sell publication rights to various countries, and those foreign sales, collectively, often add up to more that the North American rights, so they’re not willing to sell global rights cheaply.

    The situation has worked well with print books — and the various contracts only involve point of sale, so companies can still buy books in one country and ship them somewhere else for sale. Ebooks, however, throw a wrench in the works.

    Many publishers are TRYING to negotiate things like “worldwide English-language distribution rights” for electronic versions of new purchases, which would solve the problem for newly-published books. However, there’s still some uncertainty about how much such rights should be worth, with publishers wanting to acquire them for a few dollars more, and many authors claiming they’re worth tens of thousands. My guess is that, eventually, this will all get worked out, but it’s going to take a while.

    For older books, publishers would have to negotiate a new contract with the author of each book, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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  2. HI Mike,

    Thanks for the explanations that have clarified some of my questions about why this is continuing to happen.

    My viewpoint is that electronic media and publishing is quite different from that of publishing and printing of paperbacks and hardcovers. Electronic content CAN be distributed worldwide and thus bring a lot of isolated markets closer to the publishers as well as the authors.

    I just don’t find any valid reason as to why e-books HAVE to be sold region-wise. Maybe I am dumber than the average person, but I just don’t seem to get it!

    I do hope that these issues get resolved in the near future so that readers, publishers and authors alike come out as winners in the end!

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