Sunday, 31 July 2011

Attitudes to buying ebooks: USA vs. Europe

I'm sitting in Dulles Airport (Washington DC) about to return to France after a week's business, reflecting on very different attitudes to ebooks here compared to UK & France.

I wasn't here to sell ebooks, or in fact anything to do with my writing - this was a technical safety workshop with peers in the US. However, during the short breaks we end up talking about what we do, and my SF writing came up on the first evening. The reactions were along the following lines: "Wow, that's great, I've got a kindle/nook/Iphone/laptop, what's it called?" Two people bought it that evening and started reading it. By the end of the week I reckon I've shifted six copies without even trying. I stress these are work colleagues I see maybe every 2-5 years.

In the UK/France it goes more like this: "Really? Ebook. Hmm. Is it in paperback or only ebook? I don't have a kindle, I like to hold a book in my hands. Let me know when it's out in paperback."

In the UK, the ebook also has a different status - if it is a paperback as well as an ebook, that's okay, but if it's only an ebook, people think there's something wrong with the writing/author. In the US, people didn't even ask if it was in paperback.

I'm not going to ruminate on why it's like this - just hoping the UK and Europe is going to catch up.

Soon, please.

On the way to the airport lounge I checked out the top books in Borders. Lee Child, an English exile living in US, was topping the chart with his latest Jack Reacher novel. I picked it up and read the first two pages. Solid details, sharp dialogue. As usual. Way to go, Lee. I put it back on the shelf, but only because I'm going to download it tomorrow onto my Sony.

As I head back to France I can console myself as an author that the two people who, this Monday, bought my ebook The Eden Paradox have said, respectively "holds your attention" and "stayed up till 4:30am reading it."




  1. I have a sony e-reader which I love (I am from England) only I find it very difficult to buy English Language e-books when in other countries in the EU. I get error messages saying there is no license available for selling this item in your country! So what do I do? This year I have spent 9 months in mainland Europe and if I want a new e-book I have to wait until I get back to the UK! Surely the whole point of them is that I can buy books wherever I am?

  2. Actually I have the same problem. I have a Sony I bought in the UK in Waterstones, but I live in France. The Sony ebook sites are national-restricted - so I can't buy ebooks from UK when I'm in France (or any other country). The only sites you can buy from internationally are the .com sites like, which try to restrict their sales to Kindle. There is software you can download for free called Calibre, which can sometimes change Kindle files into Sony-readable files.
    I'm afraid the market isn't there purely for the benefit of the reading public, and companies like Amazon would like to squeeze out the competition. There are some other .com sites, but they usually don't have the same breadth of books on offer as Amazon. As for Sony, I guess this isn't their priority, which is why Amazon is cleaning up...

    The law needs to be changed - why can I order a paperback from UK, but not an ebook? Who does that benefit besides Amazon? Certainly not the reading public.


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