Nobody Outside the US & the UK Can Read English…

by Sarah on October 26, 2010 · 24 comments

…at least that’s the message I’m getting from publishers these days.

This latest article in The Bookseller made me want to weep. Waterstones – one of the few etailers who would still sell me ebooks – is no longer selling to customers outside the UK and Ireland. They check both the billing and the IP addresses. As I’m in Switzerland, I thought I fell under the same geo division as the UK, but I guess not.

Since getting my BeBook in May, more and more etailers have tightened up regarding geographical restrictions on ebooks. There are now a just couple of places where I can still buy them. The joke is that some of these etailers won’t sell me books which aren’t geographically restricted, so they’ve really thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

That leaves me with Harlequin and a few other publishers if I want to continue reading ebooks. I guess it’s back to print books for me.


Trish October 26, 2010 at 13:51

That’s awful. And I was so envying all of you who have e-readers. Those geo-restrictions seem as bad as the damned region-specific DVD codes.

Sarah October 26, 2010 at 13:55

@Trish: They’re worse. You can still buy, say, Region One DVDs from, but you can’t play them on your DVD player without cracking the code (which is very easy to do).

Laura Vivanco October 26, 2010 at 13:58

What about the Book Depository? I know they ship paper books all over the world. I did look to see if they mentioned anything about geographical restrictions on their ebooks, but I couldn’t find anything and according to the a post here that I found via Google they’re still selling ebooks to people outside the UK and Ireland, even though Waterstones no longer does.

Sarah October 26, 2010 at 14:02

@Laura Vivanco: The Book Depository are really strict on geo restrictions. The books you see available depend on your location. If you’re outside the zone for a particular book, it shows up as ‘Out of Stock’. I can get Harlequin ebooks there but not much else. Print books are an entirely different story. I can find pretty much any I want to read on or The Book Depository.

Kat October 26, 2010 at 14:14

The only thing I can think of is to partner with someone who lives in the US/UK and buy books through an account set up by them. I’m all for the ethical purchase of geo-restricted ebooks.

Laura Vivanco October 26, 2010 at 14:21

I really hope that paperback books don’t ever become uneconomic to produce or, at very least, not until after all the difficulties with ebooks have been resolved. It would be horribly ironic if new technologies which are supposed to make it easier and quicker to get hold of books actually make it impossible for some people to get them at all (e.g. people who aren’t in a geographical location where the books are sold, people who can’t afford an ebook reader, people who can only afford the price of second-hand books). I also wonder how ebooks will affect libraries.

Stacy ~ October 26, 2010 at 14:21

Oh man, that really defeats the purpose of the ereader! What is the reasoning behind these restrictions anyway?

Christian October 26, 2010 at 14:43

@Kat: I’m afraid that in most cases this will also not work. eBooks normally come with a nifty little DRM part which ties them to the account from which they were purchased. This can of course be stripped, but then the question of ethics arises again. Also, even though it isn’t all that complicated at all, it may prove too much for many normal computer users.
@Stacy ~: I can’t think of any reasonable reasons other than the fact that control over digital media is easier to enforce than over the well established grey market of physical books being sold outside of their intended market. Not selling those books to customers in Switzerland will hardly make any difference, as the number of people who want to read English language books can probably be described as negligeable.
It’s a sad state of affairs, indeed.

pattepoilue October 26, 2010 at 14:44

This is really something I hate! I hate geo-restrictions. I noticed that it’s getting more and more difficult to get e-books. I live in France and sadly it’s difficult for me to find e-book in English. Only last week, I wanted to buy a book on E-diesel, it had no ‘restriction’ and when I tried downloading it, they said I didn’t live in the right country. Their answer to my email was that, more and more publishers restrict to US only. O_o This is bullshit. I am SO pissed.

Geo-restrictions are just plain stupid since we can buy any print books on Book Depository. So stupid.
lol sorry end of rant.

Edie October 26, 2010 at 15:23

I just really do not get why the pubs do not make them available through their associate pub in the other countries, therefor making the sales, yet still boosting the local market.
They can still sell the print rights if the company wants them later.. but about 75 per cent of the books aren’t going to be picked up in that country anyway.
Though I do not get the left hand of the company selling rights to their right hand.. but then I not the brightest tool in the shed.

Sabrina October 26, 2010 at 17:53

I fell your pain.
I’m from Germany so I often can’t buy books because of geo restrictions. So far I haven’t understood why they are used.

Wendy October 26, 2010 at 18:30

Wow. That sucks. A lot. But it also makes me appreciate, once again, how frickin’ SMART those folks over at Harlequin are.

I have a question for you – what do you do with all your paper books you don’t want to keep? Here in the US I mostly swap with friends, donate them to work, take them to a UBS etc. But what do you do with them if you’re in Switzerland? Color me curious….

Sarah October 26, 2010 at 19:44

@Kat: I’m hoping there is some sort of (legal) solution.

@Laura Vivanco:

“It would be horribly ironic if new technologies which are supposed to make it easier and quicker to get hold of books actually make it impossible for some people to get them at all…”

That’s precisely what I’m worried about. It’s beyond ridiculous.

@Stacy ~: No one seems to know except, perhaps, the publishers. It has something to do with the way rights are bundled in contracts. Digital rights are handled differently to print, hence I can buy a print copy of the latest Karen Rose romantic suspense at my local bookstore, but I can’t buy it in e.

@Christian: Here I was hoping you’d have a brilliant technical solution – preferably one which didn’t involve breaking laws!

@pattepoilue: It is insane. Try I’ve had more luck with them than some other etailers. Might as well make the best of it while it lasts.

@Edie: I don’t get that, either. What’s the current ebook situation in Australia?

@Wendy: That is a HUGE problem and my main reason for going digital. I’ve tried selling them to used book stores, but they will only take a couple at a time. I’ve donated some to a local charity shop but, again, they would only take a few. I have a huge box of books that I want to get rid of and it’s taking up space in my bedroom. I’m going to ask at the library, but I suspect they won’t want to take them all. I only know a couple of people here who read similar books to me. Unless a book is by an author I particularly like, I’m not fussy about them giving the books back to me. I’ll always tell them in advance.

Li October 26, 2010 at 21:16


I used to complain about living in the UK and not being able to buy certain books that were restricted to the US, but well.

What about BooksOnBoard? I know they started up a UK site – not sure how this works for non-UK customers though.

Keziah Hill October 26, 2010 at 21:57

It’s bad in Australia. Just put in an order for a whole lot of books at the Book Dep because they’re not available as ebooks here. Particularly galling to not be able to get the latest releases from Aussie authors like Anne Gracie and Kandy Shepherd.

Kat October 26, 2010 at 22:51

Why would it be illegal? I’m not advocating sharing – just setting up a dummy account for your exclusive use, but set up by someone else. As far as I know, geo-restriction applies to booksellers, not readers.

Infogenium October 27, 2010 at 01:16

This is one of my pet peeves and hate hate hate why they geo-restrict – as a consumer it obviously makes no sense. Shouldn’t book selling involve “selling” to anyone that wants the book??? I would be really interested in the factual logic behind these decisions.
I recently bought a book from Diesel (who are usually very good) only to get to the download bit and got told to “Stop fool-you can’t have this book although you have paid for it and we didn’t tell you you couldn’t have it until you pressed the confirm credit card details”. (Well not in those words but essentially). I had to resort to buying the hard copy of the book although had already paid for it (I get obsessed).
I read a recent article where the author stated that he resorted to illegally downloading a copy of an ebook he couldn’t get legitimately due to geo-restrictions (he did later buy the hard copy version) and his argument was that more people would do this if publishing houses are not going to heed the needs of their consumers.

Codenix October 27, 2010 at 14:46

I have resorted to using VPN services to “appear” to be in the UK to purchase An eBook not available to Australian markets.

I have also bought eBooks with DRM, and promptly downloaded DRM-stripped versions off torrents so I could read them on the device/app of my choice. I feel author’s / editor’s / publisher’s work should be supported by paying for books, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be told if or how I’m allowed to read them.

If publishers don’t wake up to themselves, authors may need to self-publish via their own websites (incorporating appropriate licensing fees to compensate editors, publishers who paid advances etc.). I hope they learn from the music industry’s mistakes, where overnight Apple made inexpensive music easily available, removing obstacles previously leaving nothing but illegal avenues for obtaining music not stocked by your local record store.

Lynnd October 27, 2010 at 20:05

I live in Canada and we also have problems with Geo-restrictions on ebooks, although for us it usually means that books are delayed for several months rather than not being available at all. To me, Geo restrictions just foster piracy – if people can’t buy digital media (whether it’s books, music, films, games) legally, many will find a way to get them from questionable sources. One would think that the book industry would have learned this lesson from the music industry, but it appears that they are making the same stupid mistakes. If I can’t get an ebook I want (I seldom buy print anymore – it has to be something pretty special for me to buy in print), I will either wait for my library to get it (If I have to wait months anyway, there’s no difference). If my library doesn’t acquire the book, I will probably end up forgetting about it and move onto something else.

I don’t understand why authors and their agents aren’t screaming at publishers about this as it affects their bottom line. I can say that several authors have lost a sale from me in the past few months because of geo-restrictions. I understand it’s not their fault, but it is hurting their pocketbooks.

Shelley Munro October 27, 2010 at 20:57

Geo restrictions really frustrate me too. I’m in New Zealand and can’t buy a lot of what I want to read. I’m lucky enough to have a great library that has a lot of romance/paranormal/UF. I’ve started voting with my wallet. If I can’t get a book in e-format (my first choice) or at the library I move on and the author/publisher loses a sale.

heidenkind October 28, 2010 at 02:46

It’s amazing how retailers are so intent on dividing the world, isn’t it? It really shouldn’t be a problem for anyone anywhere in the world to buy an eBook from any company.

Marg October 29, 2010 at 07:56

It does seem completely crazy for people who want to spend money buying particular books to not be able to, particularly if you can buy the paper version of a book and have it mailed anywhere! Why not the same deal with ebooks!

Christine November 5, 2010 at 23:13

I don’t have anything constructive to add to this discussion but will say that I feel badly for readers impacted by geo-restrictions. If the main reason for the geo-restrictions because e-retailers and e-publishers have a more difficult time controlling or policing illegal copies of ebooks in ‘distant’ countries, well that’s a crying shame that readers as a whole are the ones who pay the price for the actions of pirates? *mad face*

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