small world.jpegThe Frankfurt Book Fair this year was an interesting one for me. It crystalized a few of the many ideas that have been bouncing around in my head. Publishing Perspectives in particular touched on one of the MAJOR issues for smaller market publishers and I wanted to hammer home the point in this post.

I have bad news for publishers of English language books in smaller markets and by that I mean English language markets outside of the UK and US:

Being a small market english language publisher is going to get harder as digital grows

Put simply I believe that US and (initially less aggressively but shortly with the same fervour) UK Publishers will seek to control world english language rights for digital and with it any rights (enhanced/video/audio etc.) they may need in order to sell ebooks and enhanced ebooks on a global basis. This may spread to an all out claim on world English language right including print, somehow I suspect that’s a ways off for now and the emphasis will be on ebook rights.Why is this?

The reason is that US & UK publishers a compelling economic case for holding those rights while smaller English language markets have less of a business case for retaining those rights.

As Kindle sales, and B&N’s Nook and Apple’s iBookstore and sales through the multiplying ebook retail outlets grow to 10% of group revenue US and UK publishers can begin to plausible include revenue projections for digital editions of new titles.

And some of the growth in ebooks is global. Kobo talks about serving over 200 countries with their ebooks:

Meanwhile, our direct business at is rocking and we’ve delivered ebooks into 200 countries from Azerbaijan to Vanuatu – we’re making books available in more places to more people than ever before.

What’s more, they know that the markets that are currently buying ebooks globally are likely to grow rapidly if they even partially reflect

So we have large publishers seeing sales internationally that they can EASILY service at little marginal cost. Acquiring the right to sell to those markets is a sensible strategy that hedges against future global digital sales while delivering real if small sales now.

But the impact on smaller markets is large

Take for example Ireland (I could as easily choose the English language markets in Spain, Slovenia or San Marino), where ebook sales are lower than 1% right now. From that perspective any Irish publisher approached to do a deal for a title they have published in Ireland would be fools to let that deal flounder over digital rights.

And yet, at what point would a publisher be crazy TO do a deal that required them to cede global digital rights; 5%, 10%, 20%, 25%, 50%? What’s more, if a publisher agrees the principle now at sub-1%, how can they hope to grab back that principle at 5%, 10% or 75%?

And it’s not just English

This will be a problem for smaller markets in all languages as larger publishers realise they can reach markets profitably in a digital world that they once could only do expensively and perhaps unprofitably in print.

And it works both ways

US and UK publishers may sell print rights to smaller markets, but they will become increasingly reluctant to sell ebook rights. How would a print only publisher hope to make a run viable in a small market served 10% or 15% or 20% by digital sales from the UK or US based publisher?

Be prepared

So, publishers, what will you answer when US and UK publishers demand your ebook rights? And whatever way you answer, are you prepared for the implications?

There’s more on Frankfurt, but this is the top priority I think.

Via Eoin Purcell’s Green Lamp Media blog


  1. Correct me if I am wrong Eoin but this all comes from trying to migrate a regional/national marketing model into a new global market and finding that it just doesn’t fit.

    The model has to be changed away from a regional based discussion to an eRetailer based discussion.

    Previously a Publisher would sell the rights to sell in, say, the USA and Canada to Company A – while selling the rights to sell in France and Germany to Company B. Right ?
    The problem comes with the fact that Amazon can now sell to all of those countries and in fact demands to be able to do so.

    Surely it is inevitable therefore that this model must be abandoned, and what needs to happen is that the Publisher must retain the right to sell non exclusive global sales rights to multiple eRetailers.
    Then Amazon can sell however many copies they can sell wherever they like though their web site and apps – while B&N and other local eRetailers also get the same right.

    I cannot see another model working. I know that achieving this change of model will be difficult. Amazon will initially demand all world rights or else they won’t do the deal. But competition will drive the market and other eRetailers will accept the deal, in time, if the Publishers stand fast.

  2. As Howard points out, the supply chain is being streamlined by the reality of digital publishing.
    No amount of negotiation or contract-mongering is going to change the fact that degital retailers have global reach.
    Selling regional rights is just another form of distributor-ship. Or, in hardware terms; OEM-ing.
    Well, in a global market, that doesn’t fly.
    Trying to force it is a good way to commit suicide.

    What small regional publishers need to do is stop thinking regional and start thinking global. Stop thinking as importers and start thinking as exporters.
    You’re a small irish publisher?
    Find irish writers before the big guys do and export their content the world over. (For that matter, why limit yourself to irish writers?) Why argue over somebody else breadcrumbs when you could be selling your own loaves?
    The beauty of digital distribution is it costs the same to ship an ebook 5 miles as 5 thousand.
    What globalization takes away it gives right back, with interest.
    Methinks there is too much whinging and not enough vision out there.

  3. Amazon can sell paper books worldwide if the publisher has USA rights because the point of sale is defined to be the Amazon office or point of distribution which is in the USA. The fact that they will be shipping the book afterwards to whatever country doesn’t count. Surprisingly they cannot do this with the ebook version because the point of sale for some strange reason is defined to be the location of the seller. This is really the world turned upside down. Ebook distribution should be less restricted than paper book distribution.

    Surprisingly, Kobo will sell me ebooks that Amazon and Barnes & Noble refuse to sell me unless I go through hoops like using VPN and supplying a USA address. Despite the fact that the books come from the same publishers. This is very strange because the distribution rights lie with the publisher, not the shop.

    This whole strange thing has to change and be in line with the global nature of the internet.

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