Not Available

This is my least favorite page to encounter when browsing for a book.

Can't get it here . . .

This page conveys the message that the book is not available for sale in the US, at least not through the major distribution channels, but it is available elsewhere in the world (in this case the UK). Delay international release — whether because of protracted subsidiary rights negotiation, deliberate waiting to resolve market size uncertainties, or whatever else — seems to serve to keep readers from becoming aware of the books (because of the lack of corporate marketing in the foreign regions) rather keep books out of determined hands. For determined consumers have recourse to both piracy and a ready supply of foreign resellers to meet their demand.

. . . but can be gotten from the magic that is Royal Mail

The only parties clearly hurt by the staggered book release dates are big foreign retailers (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores) as the merchandise is kept out of their hands but not anybody else’s. Are losses due to the frictions of international publishing usually compensated for by increased profitability accrued to the authors?

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4 Responses to Not Available

  1. Mike says:

    The region-locking of books is a problem that needs to be addressed, and the publishers are trying, but it’s difficult. Publishing is basically a giant spiderweb of legal contracts between individual authors and the publishing house. The vast majority of those contracts give the publisher the right to publish the work in a specific language and in a specific country or group of countries. The publisher can’t just wave a magic wand and grant themselves worldwide publishing rights, and there’s no way to re-negotiate the contracts in bulk. They would have to approach each individual author to acquire those rights.

    Traditionally, publishers were only set up to print and distribute to a small area, so it made no sense for them to purchase worldwide rights. As an author, about 30% of my income is currently derived from foreign sales, and I don’t want to throw that money away by giving my US publisher worldwide rights for free. Besides, they’re not equipped to translate and market my books in dozen of foreign languages and locations.

    Publishers ARE adapting. New contracts usually ask for “worldwide English language sales”, allowing them to sell the books globally. The problem for authors is that the publisher doesn’t usually want to offer much compensation for those extra rights, which are becoming increasingly important. I suspect that, eventually, it will all sort itself out. But it’s not as simple for an honest company to offer worldwide sales as readers seem to think, and of course the bilge-swilling pirates have no problems at all.

    • teasandbooks says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

      I agree with you that subsidiary rights — rights to publish in foreign markets, authorize adaptions to films, translations to other languages . . . etc. — needn’t be lumped in with the initial right to publish the work. It’s not clear to me that simply because these are licenses that can be negotiated separated, there is inevitably a gap in the timing of the release of the work in different countries. After all, there are works that are published simultaneously in different nations and even different languages. Of course, there are many reasons why this doesn’t happen all of the time (and even in the majority of the cases?), and I tried to suggest some of them in my post (“protracted subsidiary rights negotiation, deliberate waiting to resolve market size uncertainties”). However, part of cost of all this frictions is readers’ frustration. But as you say, there is no magic wand. One can only hope that going forward with new books being brought out, the money is that left is the table is increasingly incentivizing all parties involved to sign satisfactory contracts more quickly.

  2. teasandbooks says:

    Oh, I should also say that as an American consumer, I probably have the least right to complain about things not being available. There are more books published in the US of A than anywhere else, not to mention all the tech gadgets (Kindle readers, iPad, iPhone . . . etc.), big Hollywood blockbusters, and new services that are released here first. Maybe instead of my complaining less (which would be painful), you guys can complain more?

  3. teasandbooks says:

    While we’re on the subject of international release of books, contracts and copyrights, if I have any reader from a country that hasn’t signed a treaty committing itself to observe international copyright (e.g. Iran, Ethiopia . . . etc.), would you share your experience as it relates to books? Since all the stuff that would be considered copyright infringement here doesn’t meet that definition in these countries, does that mean you can freely visit places like Pirate Bay without fear of repercussions (any censorship or poor infrastructure issues aside)?

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