October 05, 2010

Book Buyer's Nil Served: Ipad's absurd marketing arrangements

After the American Century

One of the chief advantages of getting an Ipad, I imagined, was that I would be able to buy American books quickly and easily. Most of the scholarly books and many of the novels I want are simply not available anywhere in Denmark, and often they are hard to find  in the UK as well. However, Apple has chosen to set up its sales in such a way it will not sell most US books to a person whose residence is outside the US. Even when I am physically present in the US,  because my Ipad belongs to a person with a Danish address, I can only access and buy a tiny selection of books selected for the Danish market.

Imagine going to New York on holiday, entering a real bookstore, selecting several volumes, and then being told at checkout that you may not purchase these books unless you have a bank credit card tied to an American address. This is material for a sketch by Monty Python.

The obvious comparison is Amazon's Kindle reader which costs only a quarter as much as the Ipad, has a much longer battery life (measured in weeks not hours), is lighter in weight by far, and apparently (I have not done this) can download an enormous number of books regardless of where you are in the world or where your billing address might be.

While the Ipad can play videos and music, show photographs, surf the internet, and do lots of other things, the  buyer without a US address who wants American books is ill - indeed almost NIL - served. I could understand (though not like it much) if Apple made a selection of American books available in the EU as a whole, but to slice up the European market into tiny national segments is absurd. Why should the Brit, the German, and the Dane be forced to go to different virtual stores? What is Apple thinking? Are they thinking?

In the present "store" I can get quite a few books by the great Danish author of a century ago, Herman Bang, but I cannot get much of anything contemporary in Danish or in English. A new German novel had a nice review in the New York Times yesterday, but using the Apple "service" I cannot buy this book in either German or in English. It is sham, a joke, a hoax, and quite nonsensical. Indeed, it is close to false advertising, for Apple to brag about their book service when it really is only for people with an American billing address.

No doubt there will be some way to work around this silliness, and eventually Apple will discover that it is not selling books abroad because they actually are not for sale. But for now the  eager young IT chaps at the Apple store could offer no help, and it was all they could do to suppress their irritation and keep up a facade of "service."