Territorial wrongs

A few weeks ago Kevin Drum, political blogger for the U.S.-based magazine Mother Jones, took a break from his usual beat to write "A Brief Whine About E-Books, Digital Publishing, and International Nonsense". In it, he laments an inability to buy an update to a series of books written by Charlie Stross. They have been released in the United Kingdom (starting in April), but the U.S. publisher (Tor) has yet to publish the books.

Drum quotes Stross, who explains, "The Merchant Princes re-issue won't be sold in the USA until Tor US decide to publish it. This will not happen in 2013 (because their 2013 schedule is full)."

Because Drum wants to read the digital versions of these books, territory matters. A digital book put up for sale in the U.K. cannot be sold in the United States, even though it is plainly available in digital form. This anachronistic practice leads Stross to counsel a bit of rebellion:

And (ahem) you might want to investigate the usual work-arounds. As these books are DRM-free, all you'll need to do is set up a sock-puppet AMZN account that is tied to an address in some other country and fed by a supply of amazon.co.uk gift coupons bought via ebay, or something like that.

You know when the author is suggesting piracy, things are more than a bit screwy.

I don't know what makes Tor's 2013 schedule "full"; perhaps it's a desire to manage year-over-year revenue fluctuations. I don't think its limited approach to territorial rights will last much longer, though.

In a post tied to "Territorial Rights in the Digital Age", a report I wrote for Livres Canada Books in 2012, I argued:

Windowing the release of eBooks and negotiating rights by country used to be considered reasonable practices. Today, they feel like tactics that increase the likelihood that we’ll encourage the behavior we seek to avoid.

Drum softens his argument with a disclaimer: "I know this is trivial. First world problems and all that." He's kind, but in practice the problem is global. Availability trumps piracy, and ubiquity provides readers with options they might otherwise have never considered. That's as true in Russia as it is in the United States.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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