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Friday, July 2, 2010

Territorial Publishing Laws


What's with territorial publishing laws? Seems they are almost Mafia-influenced!

At any rate, these sets of laws can rain havoc with getting your book, eBooks or what-have-you published across countries...And it shouldn't be so, especially in this age of instant technology.

John Birmingham, an Australian author and The Geek blogger on the The Sydney Morning Herald, gives a good insight into how these arcane territorial publishing laws have worked in the past and why they should be changed:

Book tours are cool, but they're very olde worlde. Hell, they're cool because they're so olde worlde. Your eminent scribbler lazes about the more significant capitals, checking into fine hotels, visiting favourite bookshoppes, gathering with like-minded coves of an evening over a few drinks to tell tall tales and inscribe the odd monogram on the occasional tome.

Aye, it's all grande.

The book tour I'm doing at the moment, however, is a little different from all that have gone previously because I'm pimping it via Twitter and Farcebuck and the matrix of blogs I maintain. It's cool, because I get to finally catch up in 3D with a lot of peeps who've previously only ever been known to me as their internet handles and avatars, but there is one drawback: a problem of the old and new rubbing up hard against each other.

Every time I promo After America online it reminds overseas readers that the book is now out here in Vegemiteland, but won't be available in their part of the real world for weeks (US and New Zealand), and in some cases months (say, Germany or Poland). It gets people right hacked off it does.

Having grown used to a world where everything seems instantly available - unless it's a flash-based website on your iPad - they find it hard to accept that their desire to read something right now can be foiled by a scheme as arcane and out-of-date as the nineteenth-century territorial arrangements struck between the major English language book publishers. This is the deal where the world gets divided up into zones, just like for DVD releases, with companies from specific countries controlling what gets published in each zone.

In some cases, where a book has no local publisher, it would seem that the net would be able to provide succour, but unfortunately that's not always the case. For instance After America has no British publisher, because all of the houses it was offered to described it as 'too American' to work there. They're probably right, in mass market terms. And yet there undoubtedly exists some market for books like it that could be serviced by electronic means via the Kindle or iBookstore or some other system... if the territorial rules did not apply.

I've got my minions working on this at the moment, so that readers in the UK can access to the ebook when it's released, but those minions are having to work very, very hard at squirming through some very, very awkward and tiny loopholes.

It raises the question of how long the old way of doing things in book publishing can last. I've written before that books are different from recorded music and film, because they don't strictly have to be offered in electronic form. But one of the things the online piracy wars should have taught us is that if there is a demand for something, it will be met - by illegitimate means if necessary.

It's less of an issue for a smaller, mid-list product like mine, but even having just a few thousand potential readers in a place like the UK virtually ensures that as soon as After America is available in ebook format somewhere in the world, it will be available everywhere, whether the territorial publishing laws allow for it or not.
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