How frustrating is it to find the book you want isn’t available as an ebook?

How exciting is it to find that a book you want is an ebook – but how doubly annoying when it is not available for sale to customers in your country?

How much sense does it make to be able to buy the first and third books in a trilogy as an ebook, but not the second? I’m not making this one up: this is the case for Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series here in Australia.

To some extent, ebook availability is no different from print book availability: does your local bookshop actually hold the book you want in stock, can it be ordered from another country, is the paperback version available yet or only hardback? But the situation does seem worse for ebooks – if a book has been published somewhere in the world in print format, you can usually track down a copy, even if it’s a library or secondhand copy of an out-of-print book. The same does not hold true for ebooks – yet.

There are three processes that need to be completed for a book to be available as an ebook: product, rights, channels. That is, an ebook is available when these criteria are met:

  1. The book has been produced in a recognised ebook format.
  2. The publisher of the digital master copy has the legal right to provide others with a copy for use, distribution or sale.
  3. The publisher has trading arrangements in place to sell the ebook to the public, whether directly or indirectly via resellers.

You can look at this in reverse: you won’t find a book on your favourite ebook supplier’s website – let’s say Amazon’s – if it’s not listed. Amazon won’t list a book if the publisher does not supply them with a copy. A publisher cannot supply a copy if they have no terms of trade in place with Amazon, even if they have a digital copy available to which they hold the rights. Nor can a publisher supply a copy if the trading terms are in place but no digital version exists. Even if that publisher who trades with Amazon creates a digital version, they still can’t supply a copy to Amazon if they have no legal right to do so.

So how hard can all this be? Is there really any excuse for not having any of these preconditions in place? After all, ebooks have been coming for some time now. Surely now that they are taking off, publishers should be falling over themselves to allow the ebook reading public access to their books? Unfortunately, none of the above processes are quite that simple – each comes with its own set of complicating factors.

The following posts outline what’s involved in each process, beginning with the Production challenges for ebooks, followed by Ebook rights (covering rights to sell in digital format as well as territorial rights); and finally Ebook delivery challenges.

© 2010 Linda Kythe Nix. All rights reserved.