Publishers are stupid

So imagine this scenario: you are on an isolated tropical island that does not have a bookstore, you are out of books, but you happen to have an electronic reading device with you that is wirelessly connected to the internet and that is tied to you credit card account (which is not maxed out). This should constitute one of the most ideal business cases for selling books to this particular individual, but for some reason the publishing industry does not seem to be willing to cater to this scenario.

Two months ago while on vacation i found myself in this very scenario (aggravated by the fact that i had left my copy of Salinger’s ‘the Catcher in the Rye‘ with 30 unread pages to go on the ferry boat that took us to the island). Unfortunately for me (and the rights-holders) you cannot buy an electronic copy of ‘the Catcher in the Rye’ from the international kindle store run by amazon. instead you can get about 13 different books that deal with the ‘Catcher in the Rye’ in some form or another (reading helps, studies of the book etc) but the original text is notably absent from the international kindle bookstore. The most likely reason is that some publisher has decided that it is somehow not in his/her interest to to sell the book to people like me[1].

So instead of reading the final chapters of ‘the Catcher in the Rye’ i was forced to read the the New York Times (which is available via the kindle no matter where you are) for 7 days and once we were back on an island with a second hand bookstore i purchased a 2nd hand copy of the ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and finished the book. Of course all of the money i spend on that second hand copy (which was more than the price of the original paperback that i had left on the ferry) is going to the owner of the bookstore and none of it is is ending up in the pockets of the publishers or the author (who is dead so in this case the stupidity of the publishers does not harm the author).

Obviously there real danger to authors is not that people who are unable to obtain ebooks because of rights-issues will turn to second-hand bookstores. Instead it is more likely that they will turn to file-sharing networks and other sources for unauthorized copies instead. Already there are more unauthorized ebook editions than there are books on the international kindle book store and the only reason why this has not yet become a real problem is that only a few people own specialized reading devices. This of course will rapidly change over the next couple of years.

If the publishing industry does not get its act together and makes sure that we can purchase all books on whatever platform we like right after they have been published regardless where we happen to be, it will find itself in exactly the same position as the music industry is finding itself for the last 10 years. Of course they are free to do so should they really want to end up there, but since they have been warned it would be nice if they could refrain from the disgraceful whining that we have had to endure from the music industry for the past decade. The choice is theirs…

  1. Ok, there is an even more likely explanation: the book is probably not available because the rights to do so rest with a bunch of different publishers for different territories and so there is no-one who can make it available an online bookstore that covers multiple territories. as far as i am concerned this still counts as being stupid. ↩︎

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