Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Amazing news.

I make myself miserable these days by following people outside the anglophone world on Twitter (publishers, newspapers, magazines, writers, others).  I have already done much to make myself miserable by signing up for newsletters from various online bookstores, also outside the anglophone world.  The source of misery is that I hear of all sorts of books that sound interesting, but which would be prohibitively expensive once shipping costs were added in.  (In the past, when I've succumbed to temptation, I've often found that the cost of shipping was as much as the cost of the book.)

I had often thought how much simpler it would be if I could buy the e-book instead.  But if you are in the wrong territory for a digital product Amazon thwarts you at every turn.  Amazon had refused to process orders for so many other things that I'd never bothered to see if this applied to, as it might be, Italian e-books.  Today I suddenly thought: Wait. English-language books are sold in different markets, territorial rights to which are fiercely guarded; if an e-book is only sold in one territory, and you are in another territory, you may not be allowed to buy it.  But maybe it doesn't work that way for other languages, or at least some other languages.

So I put in a trial order for Calvino's Le città invisibili, Kindle edition, and lo and behold, though I am in Berlin the order instantly went through!  (Not that this book is new to me, but it was the first to come to mind when I wanted something for the trial.)

I don't know whether this would work for books in every language that might interest me, and I don't know whether Amazon would be so accommodating if I were in a different country.  If it really is possible to buy foreign-language e-books in the US, though, this would radically change one's access to  non-English literature.  I understand why books in other languages are thin on the ground in bookstores and libraries, but it's terribly inhibiting to have to figure in obscenely expensive shipping charges every time one wants a book.

This does only help, of course, if an e-book is available, but  it still the good news of the day.


leoboiko said...

I've bought Japanese ebooks in Brazil and Germany by the following procedure: 1) create an account; 2) add your credit card and insert a Japanese billing address (they don't verify it, so just bill your books to the Imperial Palace or wherever); 3) buy books.

Kindles have a built-in touch dictionary, which is especially useful for Japanese learners dealing with kanji.

Helen DeWitt said...

In my experience, though, Amazon always requires me to identify the country in which my Kindle is located and then determines what it will let me buy depending on location. (Strictly speaking I don't have the Kindle device, I have Kindle for Mac.) So if the Kindle is identified as being in the US, I can't simply log into and buy e-books not available in the US, even if I have a credit card with a German address. (I do have an account with & credit cards with a genuine German billing address, but in the past this hasn't helped.)

So I'm surprised that the dodge you mentioned worked without localizing your Kindle to Japan. But it may be that the problems I've had in the past have arisen from attempts to buy English-language books in the wrong territory, and that this is what is fiercely policed.