Saturday, June 25, 2011

No - you may not buy this book!

And why ever not, I ask.

"The City and the Stars" by Arthur C. Clarke is one of Science Fiction's great works. I don't know how often I've read it. It bears re-reading.

And I bought it for my Kindle some time ago, from Amazon, in the US. I read it. Archived it. Today I was extolling the virtues of the book. We went to see what it cost on Amazon. Not there.

I thought I remembered buying it, nay buying and reading it, so I checked. Sure enough, there in my Digital Items it was. I clicked on the product information and the cover showed up.

And a note that it was not available to people living in the US. I live in the US. It is, however, available for purchasers from the Amazon UK site.

And there we have it, a concern I have about electronic books. If I want to read a book, but it's not published  here in the US, I get a friend or a relative to buy the book on my behalf (a friend of mine did that once for me - but instead of buying one copy of Paul Gallico's "Jennie", titled "The Abandoned" in the US, she bought six! The Lady C was ever thus.)

You can't do that with ebooks. Somehow, I'm not "allowed" own a book not made available in the US.

This is not good.

Lest anyone think that I'm not "for ebooks and e-readers", allow me to present my credentials. I've owned e-readers for well over a decade. My first was the Rocket E-Reader in the late nineties. The side of a large paperback and an ugly gray screen, it was a marvel in its day.

I progressed, after a couple of years,  to the Gemstar color e-reader, which had an Ethernet port (wired) that allowed, what today we would call, in-app purchases. In the end, I bought two of the Gemstars, as the device was discontinued after a few years.

Both of them are alive to this day. Both of them still capable of displaying the content they contain.

A Sony e-reader followed the Gemstar, later traded in for the next version of Sony's technology. Both versions were the new e-ink displays. The Sony still works, and still displays the over 100 books I own on that platform.

The first Kindle, then a Kindle DX, one iPad with Kindle software and now a color Nook (so I can see e-books I publish for that platform) mean that I am very much part of the e-book/e-reader enthusiast group.

Yet there is a restriction placed on me as a purchaser of books in the digital realm that does not, nay cannot, exist in the world of dead-tree books. In the world of dead-tree books I could phone a book store in another country, order the book I wanted, and have it shipped to me. I could even do so using the online-store of such a book store.

I cannot do that with an e-book - the store won't sell it and thus I cannot get it onto my device for reading.

I've just now tried to download the copy I purchased at some time in the past to my Kindle app. There's an error in synching - so no book.

This is not good.


  1. That is a concern. On the other hand, it's much easier with an e-book for the author or publisher to correct the problem by making the e-reader available in said country. It's much harder, logistically, to get hard copies of a book available in another country.

    Your e-reader credentials are impressive. You were obviously well ahead of the trend when you started on them ten years ago.


  2. That's so strange. Have you tried copying the old copy into Word and saving it as a .doc? If you can, you can email it to Amazon and they will download it into your Kindle.

  3. It's quite good for them if they can convince you to buy multiple platforms to read the thing. But for now, it is one of those few advantages a paper-book market might have.

  4. @Jai - true, it is probably easier for publishers to distribute electronically than with paper. But it seems it is also easier to - quite literally - withdraw a book and make it impossible for a reader to read a work (even in the case of someone who has already purchased the durned work.)

    That last is disturbing.

    @Laura - I bought "The City and the Stars" from, downloaded it and read it. Then removed it from my Kindle. It's still up there "in the cloud" on my digital shelf with all my other archived books. But now I can't reload it to my Kindle (or Kindle app). That's more power to the book distributer/publisher than I had expected to hand over.

    @John - Agreed, the "goodness" is on their side. And I *do* buy books in multiple formats ("Slan" by A.E. Van Vogt is one I've tried to buy on every platform I've owned - including "dead tree").

    Paper-based books still have some advantages - chief among them seem to be the rights of the reader.

    Thanks for the comments, all. Greatly appreciated.

  5. That's preposterous. You should be able at the very least to download the copy you've already purchased. Will you file a complaint?

    On another note, I always download ebooks at once, when I get them, to prevent exactly this kind of problem. ;)

  6. @Mari - preposterous indeed, though still true. I also download ebooks at once, but the tidy gene kicked in (don't know where it came from) and I archived a large number of books off to the cloud (some read - "The City and the Stars" being one).

    And now it's there - but gone.