Tuesday 14 August 2012

Foreign Rights and Missed Opportunities

The three small indie publishers I work with all always offer world rights contracts. Our books are sold everywhere, and printed “locally” in the UK, US or Australia. The printer absorbs the shipping costs. Our e-books are available worldwide. We probably do it because in an operation as small as ours selling more widely means more sales.  
I read fluently in several different languages. I used to buy books from Amazon.fr, Amazon.de and Amazon.es and pay the high postage. The books on Kindle, I thought, would stop all that. Not so. It’s actually harder to obtain a Kindle book in a foreign language than it is to buy a print version. Ironically, now that Amazon has woken up to the territorial issues, it’s now harder to buy print copies.
I can understand why publishers want only to sell in one country. There may be something in their contract with their authors that makes this necessary. Selling foreign rights, anyway, can bring in some significant money. This transfers then also to e-books.
On the other hand, I can’t understand why small publishers and self-publishers would choose anything other than worldwide availability for an e-book if they don’t have to work under those constraints.   
There is another problem, however. E-books carry VAT and VAT varies in rate in different countries. Of course, we’d rather that no books attracted VAT but even that is likely to vary from country to country. For this reason, e-books from another country often have to be purchased through an agency in our own country e.g. Amazon UK. Those that are available are not well catalogued. You often need to browse them on a foreign site and search them on your home site.
Book distribution is governed by some restrictive copyright laws whihc actually were brought in to protect the film industry. In pre-digital days films were released gradually to various countries – it couldn’t be done any more quickly because of physical limitations. So the video and more recently the DVD was not released until after the film had done the round of cinemas for a certain amount of time. The same pattern was then imposed on the music industry. And now we also this issue for some books.
The consumer misses out. And ultimately it is the consumer who provides our sales. So, we miss out.
Yes, we need to worry about VAT; yes maybe there should even be some import duty. We have the technology now that could allow automatic interaction with the agencies that control these matters. After all, the same technology allows an instant download of an e-book, a piece of music or a film. The law does not. Is that law still appropriate? And if it is, why can’t we at least use technology to help us to implement it efficiently and fairly?   
Aren’t we missing an opportunity here?   

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