Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Countries Shouldn't Matter on the Internet

As part of my ongoing attempt to better speak the French language, I recently decided to download some French books to my Kindle. The Amazon.com Kindle store does have a fairly wide selection of French language works--97,979 books, to be precise. Of course, only 30,259 of those are categorized as "Literature & Fiction," and genre works fare even worse; "Fantasy, Horror, & Science Fiction" altogether total 3,835 books. Naturally, I started with the "Literature & Fiction" section. Much to my dismay, the books offered by Amazon were all either quite old--hardly anything newer than Camus--or they were French translations of popular English works. Catherine, the French student with whom I'm working on my translation project, had recommended several French books to me, but none of them were available for Kindle. Some were available in print, but for a much higher price than I would normally pay for a book.

I wasn't discouraged yet, though. I'm a clever person, so I tried to circumvent the problem by heading over to Amazon.fr. Surely I'd be able to find all the French e-books I could ever want on French Amazon. And I was right. French Amazon has a significantly larger selection of French books for Kindle. I found one of the works my friend had recommended, and clicked the button to purchase it--only to receive a message that French Kindle books are not compatible with American Kindle devices. 

Why do companies do this? Surely it has something to do with licensing, but it doesn't make any sense. Before the Internet existed, I can understand how contracts for import and export of various products may have been limited by national borders. But now that we have so many digital products, it seems absurd that an American bookworm can't purchase a French bestseller. It's not only books; I've encountered the same problem with digital music. Back when I was still using iTunes (my heart now belongs to Spotify), I remember being frustrated by the fact that iTunes UK had a greater selection of Franz Ferdinand songs than iTunes U.S., and that I was unable to purchase iTunes UK songs with my account. Perhaps that's not the case any more, but as of a few years ago it was true. 

Online streaming is also affected in this way. I know that when I head to France this summer, my Netflix account may not work due to the lack of an American IP address. I certainly don't plan to while away my precious few weeks in France watching movies, but it's irritating that I can't use a service I paid for simply because I flew across the Atlantic. I know I can use a proxy site to trick Netflix into thinking I'm in the U.S., but why should I have to? If it's a digital product, it should be available to anyone with Internet access, anywhere in the world. 

Am I missing something? Does anyone know why companies are so reluctant to change this? It must damage their profits somehow, but you would think that global access to their products would only increase their profits. If I had to take a guess, it's just another example of old people being terrible at dealing with a swiftly changing society. I dislike having to deal with old people's irrational decisions and mistakes. 

Go retire, old people. Give us your high-paying jobs. 

Love,

Millennials everywhere

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