Tough on Geography, Weak on Dates
One of the biggest issues with eBooks has been the geographical restrictions that apply to the sale of them. Long before digital books publishers have been grappling with how to manage territorial copyright. With eBooks publishers finally found the answer. Using an eBooks’ metadata publishers are able set which geographical territories an eBook file can be sold in. This means that if an Australian reader buys an eBook from a US retailer the eBook file comes from the publisher who has the digital rights in Australia as long as the rights holder deals with that retailer. If they don’t then the eBook file is blocked. This means that unlike physical books it is much harder for readers to get around staggered worldwide release dates.
Geographical restrictions frustrate many people. These frustrations are lessened when the book is made available worldwide at the same time. This has again been a hurdle with physical books but Harry Potter and other blockbuster titles have managed it (thankfully midnight releases in the UK and the US end up being quite reasonable times in Australia; 9am & 2pm respectively) but it doesn’t work for every book. Usually publishers will not supply a book until a specific date but this does mean some shops will get their deliveries before others. Simultaneous release times can work better because every retailer begins on a level playing field because they sign an embargo agreement not to sell the book before a designated date and time. This means books can be delivered pre release date and shops that normally get early deliveries do not have an unfair advantage. However some retailers in recent times have broken these embargo agreements.
But surely eBooks won’t have this problem because the on sale date and time can be set in the metadata like geo-restrictions? Yes and no…..
The Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson was released this week. There was no signed embargo agreement in Australia but the in store/on sale date here was Tuesday October 25 with the book being delivered on that day. This meant no physical copies were available before then. But the Apple iBooks store began selling the eBook a day early. All other global eBook retailers, presumably with the same metadata, had not made the eBook available. International time zones make all this tricky as the on sale date in the US was October 24, which basically equals October 25 here but Apple broke the date in the US as well. Because Apple went early other retailers, who were able, then also followed suit thus gaining an advantage over other retailers.
So what went wrong? The simple answer is metadata and time zones will probably be the excuse/loophole. But does this mean geo-restrictions might be similarly ignored in the future?