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e-Book problems in Philippines

Discussion in 'Technology Advice' started by Micawber, Oct 22, 2011.

  1. Micawber

    Micawber Renowned Lifetime Member

    The Big Book Barrier

    The e-book isn’t a new thing. In the 1970s, Michael Hart thought to transcribe the US Declaration of Independence into ASCII code, and Project Gutenberg was born. Sometime in the late 90s and early noughties we had people start pushing e-books on the Rocket Reader, PDAs and Palm Pilots.

    But e-books didn’t quite take off back then, and it took two big and innovative companies — Apple and Amazon— to come out with two distinctly different devices, albeit both capable of reading e-books, to change the game and make the digital publishing industry a viable and vibrant place for readers, authors, and publishers the world over.

    One of the things that was supposed to happen was that books, freed from the constraints of atoms, pages, and the limitations of shipping costs and availability, would become more accessible to more people for much cheaper. This has generally happened with the aforementioned Project Gutenberg offering free books for download. While the accessibility has gone up along with the rise of online storefronts for e-books, prices remain somewhat inaccessible.

    Moreover, accessibility and price are still problems for Filipinos in the Philippines.

    Let’s address the first concern, accessibility. Granted that there are a number of books available to us through various sites, but the three big players in terms of hardware and ebook distribution, Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, offer us three different sets of limitations.

    Apple’s iBookstore is inaccessible to Filipino users if they register a Philippines account. But despite Apple’s penetration into the desktop, laptop, digital media player, and tablet markets in the country, we are still locked out of their content stores.

    We shouldn’t feel too bad I guess since there are, as of this writing, only six major iTunes store countries. There is always, of course, a workaround to this and one can, through a little hassle and ingenuity buy books from the iBookstore.

    But why should we have to go through that when we are already willing to buy books?

    Barnes & Noble makes it even more difficult, as they check your IP address and if you are outside of the United States, they will block any and all purchases. This is even if you have a US account and are registered there.

    Again, there’s a workaround which a lot of googling and a little bit of fiddling will reveal. But the point remains, why stop people from buying books? B&N doesn’t seem to have the framework established to cater to international buyers just yet, but one does hope that they can start addressing this larger market.

    Lastly, Amazon allows us into the Kindle store, but it limits content. While we’ve got to give Amazon points for acknowledging and working with the international market, particularly the Philippines, they still don’t give us access to all books.

    Sometimes when one is shopping for a book, it will say that that book is restricted and not allowed in our region.

    This is already a bummer when you can’t buy something. I personally went through something worse.

    A friend bought a book for me because he thought it was just the kind of thing I would like, and it was around the time of my birthday. But then when I tried to download it, Amazon wouldn’t allow it because the book wasn’t available in the Asia Pacific.

    Can you imagine buying someone a gift and then the store you bought it from suddenly runs up and tells your friend, “Oops, you can’t have that!"? Sure they gave me a gift check of equivalent value, but that’s still so different from being given the gift the friend selected.

    I wonder what the limitations will be, especially in terms of other content such as music and film, when the Kindle Fire becomes available. At present, I can’t purchase digital music from Amazon when I am in the Philippines. Will they follow what Apple is doing and snub us too?

    I am sure that these companies, and others, do not mean to snub the Philippines. It’s not like they have gone out of their way to single out the Philippines and stop us from buying books. It might be that they don’t think the profit margins are worth doing business with us (I’d disagree) or they might just have difficulty setting up the infrastructure and going through the legal loopholes.

    Which is to say that I am generally forgiving of these limitations.

    Frustrated, but forgiving.

    There’s a problem that these limitations create though. And it’s that information wants to be free, not necessarily free as in free lunch, but free as in having the capacity to be transmitted.

    As a result, even if the big three e-book storefronts are stopping us from getting those books that aren’t supposed to be available in our region, these books are still accessible to us.

    It’s a pretty simple equation here: make it hard to buy original, legal content, and people will find ways to obtain that content. Sometimes it’s even easier to obtain the content through other, ahem, means than it is to get it through paying.

    Inadvertently then, by not addressing the Philippines as a viable book market, they wind up encouraging people to get their books however they can. Make it easy to buy e-books and people will buy them. Make it hard, and people will find easier ways to get the books.

    I understand all of the legal hoops that have to be jumped through before things happen. But though I might understand that, most digital natives don’t, and the internet doesn’t either. It’s a borderless world where information travels as fast as your net connection will let it. As a result, it doesn’t make sense that content can be available online in one part of the world, and not in another. It’s all on the net at the same time.

    That means that the constraints placed on the movement of this data are artificial, and thus can be subverted.

    Adding onto that, though, one can’t help but wonder about the “international fees" that Amazon charges are for. Hooray for Amazon that they let us buy a good majority of their e-books without having to resort to VPNs and the like. But then they make us pay an extra $2. Sure that amount isn’t that big, but what is it for? How different and how much more does it cost them when someone in America or Europe downloads their book against someone in Asia?

    Rather than charging us an extra $2, the nicer thing would be to actually consider we are a third world country and give us a break on the costs. Consider then that we are paying for digital books, which should ideally be much cheaper than their print counterparts.

    This should be reflected in the costing of digital books. Record and movie companies did this, albeit slowly, reluctantly, and in the face of near-industry death due to the dirt cheap costs of pirated DVDs.

    Whereas DVDs and CDs used to sell at prices comparable to those in the West, now we can get our DVDs for P100 or so. This is to address the local market and adapt to the buying power we wield. We weren’t willing to pay P800 for a DVD, but at the time we were willing to pay 50-70, even if they were pirated. So the prices were dropped and that helped a little in addressing the piracy problem.

    Let’s be honest, it’s so often the piracy problem that content providers point to when they are asked to justify limited availability in the Philippines. But then it becomes a chicken and egg question: we don’t make things available because they will pirate them vis-a-vis we pirate these things because they aren’t available.

    I think this is the big barrier to e-books really taking off in the country:we’re locked out, and if they let us in we have to pay more. This goes too for royalties. Whereas an author or a digital publisher can stand to earn as much as 70% of digital sales in major countries, if a book is bought in the Philippines the author or digital publisher only get 30% of the sale. What accounts for this discrepancy? I don’t know but it’s there and it’s pretty big.

    I believe that ebooks will definitely define the future of the book and publishing industry. And at present people are still exploring the new world, learning the rules of this new game. It’s because of this that I understand and tolerate the uneven treatment that the Philippines is getting at the moment.

    I write this because I am hopeful that soon enough these playing fields will be as level and flat as the world is becoming. I hope that soon enough we can buy the books we want without having to check for its availability in our region or without us having to get VPNs or register as anything other than Filipinos in the Philippines.

    Let the e-books do what they do best, spread knowledge, information, thoughts, ideas. Give us Filipinos full access to all that the new technology has to offer.

  2. Micawber

    Micawber Renowned Lifetime Member

    I honestly had no idea there were such problems like this with e-books in Phils.

    I'm now wondering if there are any other 'barriers' to technology in the Philippines.

    Anyone know of any?
  3. oss

    oss Tech Guy Staff Member

    Ebay is very restricted, Paypal only opened up to the Phils properly a few years ago, Amazon won't deliver real books or anything else to the Phils, you have to get a third party in a nearby country to receive and forward for you if you really want to use Amazon.

    Lots of little things are not as good, internet connectivity is limited, certain cars like my old Honda S2000 were never sold in the Phils because the infrastructure for servicing was not present and at one time the appropriate grade of fuel required was not available.

    I actually know a young Filipino lad that works for Ebay / Paypal in the Phils, he's on the IT side of things for call centres but is in quite senior management. He said they were trying to open up Ebay and Paypal a lot more for the local market but that it was hard to get the trust required for international custom because the Phils was so well known for fraud of one form or another.

    I mean look at the fact their local airlines were not allowed to fly to Europe or the States because they could not come up to international safety standards.

    Lots of little things are way behind the rest of the world.
  4. Micawber

    Micawber Renowned Lifetime Member

    Thank you for your insight oss. :like:
    Very valuable view. I'd better soften my expectations for when and if I ever end up there. :dream:
  5. oss

    oss Tech Guy Staff Member

    The monopoly's like PLDT have little or no incentive to invest in infrastructure, they do it but at a glacial pace.

    We all know construction quality is very poor compared to the likes of Japan or Europe, skimping on materials, poor workmanship because the labour force is paid so badly and is probably not properly trained.

    Many of their utility systems are strained to the max, it would not take a lot to create a humanitarian disaster in Manila if anything happened to the water supply, likewise the electric supply is fragile, in a lot of ways they just cling on to the basics required to run a modern society but as we all know in so many places in the country they already fail.

    They will catch up Peter and it will get better, things like the internet are just tolerable at the moment, the only cable company to offer a proper digital service refused to wire us up because there was no one else in the neighbourhood was already wired. Two weeks later after we had signed with the local cheap analog cable company they came back begging to let them put the infrastructure in for our subdivision.

    It's bad but I could live with it.
  6. TheTeach

    TheTeach Le Maître Senior Member

    Forgive me if I have missed something here - but I have no problems buying books for my Kindle over here.

  7. oss

    oss Tech Guy Staff Member

    I might be out of date Al, the Kindle I don't really know about, but there certainly were problems with conventional book purchases in the past, and also if you wanted to buy anything else in the Amazon marketplace, Kindle maybe is more open?
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2011
  8. TheTeach

    TheTeach Le Maître Senior Member

    I'm no expert Jim - all I know is that my Kindle is a fantastic piece of kit and that when I purchase a book (even over here) from Amazon, it is on my Kindle within seconds.

  9. Micawber

    Micawber Renowned Lifetime Member

    Here's what the news item said about Amazon..................:-

    How does that stand against your experiences Al ?
  10. Micawber

    Micawber Renowned Lifetime Member

    Here's what the news item said about Amazon..................:-

    How does that stand against your experiences Al ?

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