In April 2012, I wrote about a research report, "Territorial rights in the digital age", that I had researched and written for Livres Canada Books, the association charged with promoting the export of Canadian books. At the time I noted:
[T]here are a number of markets in which sales of non-native language digital content make "worldwide" sales a promising possibility. It is unlikely that most English-language books would sell well enough in Germany to justify a local agreement, but sales of digital books (either directly or through e-tailers with a presence in a given market) could realize revenue that would otherwise be lost.
At the time, I characterized this opportunity as "the upside", but it comes with a potential downside: if we don't organize to deliver the content readers want, when and where they want it, we run the risk that we will frustrate demand.
An example of unintended consequences was posted last month on Galleycat, where Dianna Dilworth documented "How international travel can make eBooks disappear". In her article, Dilworth tells the story of a Georgetown professor who updated his apps while traveling and lost most of his library of books. The culprit appears to be restrictions (legitimate and otherwise) on territorial rights.
I almost made the same mistake while I was traveling recently in Canada. A new version of iOS had come out, and many of the apps on my iPhone were updated to make them compatible with the new operating system. I know Canada is a different country (really!), but I was excited to see all the updates and I tried to download the dozens of new apps. I was quickly blocked, perhaps saving the small collection of books on my phone.
This world-divided approach to territorial rights may stand, but it will diminish business opportunities if it does. Shortly after my 2012 post on the Livres Canada Books report, I noted that the Association of American Publishers had seen digital exports grow by 333% in 2011. The increase was highest in the U.K., that country separated by a common language.
A vice president at Simon & Schuster said at the time that “We’re all very excited about international e-book growth. There are far more English speakers around than have access to print books.” If only we organized territorial rights to reflect that reality.