The increased visibility of international editions on Amazon’s Global Store is fuelling fears that the retailer’s approach is incompatible with local rights-based publishing.
The concern comes amid recurring gripes about US editions being presented for sale on the retailer’s UK site. Separately, there are worries that a possible change to intellectual property (IP) law post-Brexit could remove safeguards against publishers’ export editions being resold in the UK.
Regarding Amazon, publishers say the retailer is “slow” to take down listings of US editions, which are increasingly finding their way onto Amazon.co.uk. This means that, in cases where the UK and US rights are split between different companies, the US publisher gets the revenue for the UK sale. One indie publisher commented: “It definitely affects us, because people tend to click on the first edition that comes up, and we inevitably lose sales... I spend hours contacting Amazon about things like this, and it is slow to respond—if it ever does.”
Another added: “American editions often crop up ahead of UK editions, even if the books should be market-restricted. I understand that it must be difficult for Amazon to keep track of every single product uploaded on its system, but it must make sure that if contacted by publishers, it responds quickly. It’s a mess, really.”
An Amazon spokesperson said it “has proactive processes in place to identify and remove US editions of books from sale on Amazon.co.uk where the sale of that US edition would infringe the rights of the publisher of a local edition of the same book. We also have an established process which enables third parties, including rights-holders, to provide us with notice of infringements or non-compliant products. We respond rapidly to any such notice.”
Meanwhile, a possible change to IP law post-Brexit could change the rules about the sale of export editions—potentially at lower prices—back into the UK market. Currently the UK subscribes to a “national” or “regional” exhaustion of rights, governing the sale and resale of books within the EU. However, the UK could shift to an “international” exhaustion of rights after Brexit, with sales implications.
Shireen Peermohamed, partner at law firm Harbottle & Lewis, explained: “That would mean that if a printed book is on the market anywhere in the world with the copyright owner’s consent—the US, Norway, Japan—the copyright owner will, in most cases, not be able to stop it being resold in the UK. I suspect that rights-owners will be thinking hard about this and the need to make a strong case against the international exhaustion of rights.”