Licensing restrictions for ebooks

May 4, 2010 | Opinions

It’s safe to say that I read a ridiculous amount of material every day. I’m a speed reader by nature, so the 300-500 items I get daily through my RSS feeds don’t seem like much. I read so fast that I’d probably be bored otherwise.

It has its drawbacks, of course. It’s very nearly pointless for me to buy books casually anymore; they’ll last me a few hours, if that, and then I have to either keep them and reread them, or take them to a second hand store or a willing friend. I do enjoy them, but it gets to be a little bit wasteful.

Ebooks were the perfect answer. I could download books to my little iPod touch, and read them when I have an hour or two to spare. I have classics like Sherlock Holmes that I never get tired of, and a few other free titles from Harlequin and whatnot. I didn’t feel the need to buy any ebooks, because I hadn’t seen any that really caught my interest – or that would justify the cost.

They’re very much something to fill the time when I’m bored and out somewhere that has no books or other diversions around. I have said that I’m not all that enthusiastic about ebooks, but again, that’s mostly to do with the price vs. functionality; I always have my iPod with me, and although I prefer real books, it doesn’t cost me anything to download an app and grab a few out of copyright titles to keep me amused.

All that might have changed today.

I was reading through my feeds, and I happened to come across a post by Natalie Whipple which mentions a book called Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern. Well, suffice to say, she had me at the title – I wanted to read it, and I immediately dropped everything to look at it a little more. Then I decided I really, really wanted to read it – but it looked like the kind of book that would only last me a few hours. No problem, I thought, I can get it on the iPod if it’s not too expensive. I won’t have another book clogging up the house, and I’ll have another happy little diversion for the next time I’m out and about.

After a further investigation, this is what I found:

In case you can’t read it, that’s Amazon telling me that I can’t have the ebook. It’s not available in Europe. I could buy the hardback version from for a mere £9.61, but I don’t want the hardback. I want the damn ebook, and I want it downloaded to my iPod so I can read it tonight, if I choose – not in two days time when it ships to me.

Hello, Julie Halpern? And her publisher? I want to give you money. I want to buy your ebook. More than that, I want your ebook to be the first one I actually spend money on. Right now, you’re stopping me from giving you money, and I have to question what exactly is going on if you’re happy with that.

I mean, I do understand that there are licensing restrictions for physical books. You want to be able to sell the rights to publishers in different countries and different languages, even if the distinction between the US and the English-speaking parts of Europe is largely irrelevant. But really, ebooks? From Amazon? The product is exactly the same. The company you’re dealing with is exactly the same. The company sells your book outside the US. Why on earth would you only allow them the ebook rights for within the US?

If this were a movie that had just been released in the US and wasn’t expected in other markets for a while, people would already be going to their preferred method of piracy to find it. This is because people will get what they want, when they want, in the form that they want, and trying to sell them what you want them to buy is a waste of time if it doesn’t match up.

As for me, I’ll have to settle for Sherlock Holmes, and accept that I will not be giving my money to Julie Halpern and her publisher for the time being.

[added by edit]
Alright, after reading Natalie’s comment below, and commenting myself, I want to set the record straight here. My post above implies that I’m blaming Julie for the lack of her ebook over here.
That’s not what I intended.
I apologise for being a bit of a jerk. No excuses; I take this stuff seriously, and getting frustrated is no reason to get pissy as well with someone for a situation out of their control. So – sorry, Julie. Really. I don’t blame you at all.
When I asked, “why on earth would you only allow them the ebook rights for within the US?” I thought I was addressing the publisher. It doesn’t look like that though, and for that I apologise. I’ll be more clear in future.
As penance, I shall order the hardback from Amazon immediately.