Why It's Difficult to Buy eBooks While Traveling

Why It's Difficult to Buy eBooks While Traveling

Joelle Alcaidinho
May 24, 2011

To say that the Book Expo America has been enlightening would be an understatement. During the expo we've learned a lot about why eBooks are where they are and where they're likely headed. Some items bode well, like the new ePub 3 standards, but mostly we have not been terribly encouraged. One of the most interesting/ frustrating things we learned was about why we have so much trouble buying eBooks while traveling overseas.

Like many frequent fliers, we bring our eReaders/tablets with us whenever we travel. eBooks are kind of the best thing to happen for frequent travelers, as they offer a vast library without sacrificing luggage space. However, one of the things we've come up against while in another country when we try to buy a book are these very frustrating little messages notifying us that the book we're trying to purchase is not available in the country we are currently located in.

These "not available" messages always seemed a bit odd considering the product we're seeking is electronic and the country we are in share the same official language. We're willing to pay whatever the rate for the book in local currency and have always wondered why this is not even an option.

Today, during an enlightening panel about the future of eBooks, we learned why some titles are available as eBooks in some countries, while in others they're not. Surprise, surprise, this has to do with the legacy of print books retail arrangements. Getting a paper book into another country requires much legal work, including mundane, but necesary details like shipping. Publishers work out international rights for various books which is why a title might be carried by one publisher in one nation and a different publisher just one country over.

We can see why this procedure makes sense for paper books, but we do think that it does not really work for eBooks for consumers. With a digital delivery system in place in today's "small world," it seems incredibly ridiculous that an eBook is not available because one has hopped on a plane to another country. We can understand if a title is not available in another language due to a translation that has not yet prepared, but the barriers of digital availability based on geographic location just seem to us book loving folk to be rather artificial in 2011. As one Australian reader summed up after today's panel, "we get that it costs a lot to ship a paper book to us, but really do we have to have less eBooks available to us as well?"

So what's the eBook loving traveler to do? We recommend:

Loading up ALL of the titles you are thinking of reading/ buying before leaving home. We tend to continuously overestimate how long it takes for us to go through eBooks, so if you also have this problem, throw an extra eBook in just in case. It's better to have a great reading selection settled on your device before leaving home since you don't know if the titles you'd like to read will be available in your destination's eBook store.

How do you handle buying eBooks while abroad?

(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)

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