BookExpo America: An International Approach

Joana Costa Knufinke, Fulbright ScholarBy Joana Costa Knufinke, Fulbright Scholar, New York University and the University of Barcelona

We may like it or not, we may be in favor of it or against it… but the United States is the model to follow for international publishers in terms of technological development. Here is where risks are taken, where money is invested and where the biggest results have so far been obtained. According to eBooks Go Global, the Publishers Launch conference held at BEA, there are clear reasons that have enabled it: “It’s the magic of 300 million people in an advanced economy, speaking one language, using one currency, accepting of e-commerce, and working with one legal system.”

Overseas, digital publishing encounters many obstacles, including price, currency, legal, language, and cultural differences. For example, at eBooks Go Global, Peter Balis of John Wiley & Sons described how in Germany, displayed book prices are required to include value-added tax (VAT), while in other countries, this is not the case at all.

How do foreign publishers feel about North American hegemony over the global book market? On the one hand, this is an advantage for them, as they can learn from the successes—as well as the frustrations—that have taken place in the United States. On the other hand, it also may fill them with fear: American companies, enterprising and experienced, are cannibalizing their already teetering business models.

Foreign Focus

Beyond bravery and fear, BEA gave a lot of signals that North American publishers are open to the International market, and the organization made it clear that they welcomed foreign industry players. The first proof of that were the foreign booths in the Fair ground, where French, Italian and Spanish editors among many other nationalities had their books represented. The second was the International Rights and Business Center, a space with at least 150 tables prepared to hold rights meetings. The third proof was the international focus demonstrated by the Publishers Launch conference and the BEA Open Market Forum on Italy. And the last in my list, was the report published in Publishers Weekly Daily Show dealing with overseas best-sellers.

However, even if BEA had a lot to offer to foreign enterprises, the feeling was that the audience was mainly from the United States, and just a few foreign publishers had budget enough to spend the three days of the Fair in New York City. Probably the Frankfurt and the London Book Fair had already consumed the funds available.

From There to Here

The digital revolution has made the cultural exchange of ideas faster and more evident than ever before, and has opened many opportunities for national enterprises abroad and vice versa. Many examples of this “symbiotic” relationship were discussed at BEA.

In terms of import, currently the most striking case is the international catalogue at BN.com that, as well as Amazon.com, welcomes books in languages other than English. As announced by Patricia Arancibia, International Digital Content Manager of the platform, B&N currently has between 20,000 to 30,000 Spanish ebooks on sale, what turns it into the most extensive e-retailer of Spanish books around the world. Libranda.com, the first e-distribution platform set up by the “three” biggest Spanish publishers (Random House Mondadori, Santillana, and Planeta) currently offers only 3,000 titles.

But, the international market is one where consumers still have not adopted reading devices and which is mired in an economic crisis. It creates huge differences in the retail landscape. I wonder if this advantage is little by little contributing to the shift of the central weight of the Spanish publishing industry from Barcelona… to New York. Time will tell.

From Here to There

In terms of exportation, the cases of Amazon, Apple, and Google Books, with daily more presence in foreign markets, were discussed in several panels. Ronald Schild, CEO of Libreka!, the ebook distribution platform owned by the German Bookseller Association, reminded an interested audience that Apple’s iPad entered the German market one year ago and that Kindle launched the German Kindle store only seven weeks ago. However, German speaking e-catalogues are still so new that real business in this language will have to wait. He admitted that, at least for the next year, the US would be their biggest market.

In contrast, as discussed in the conferences dealing with the Italian market, Google as an e-distributor to e-tailer platforms have not yet entered Italy, a market where ebooks account only for 1% of all book sales, which contrasts with the current average of 17% in the US. In spite of that, the global ambition of Google, with 15 million titles already available, will probably, sooner or later, cross all the existing boundaries.

Sweetening Agents

And in this context of books moving across the global digital space, one of the topics hotly debated was rights management. One resource to facilitate international deal making is PubMatch, the book publishing portal and rights database jointly owned by Publishers Weekly and Combined Book Exhibit. It is a leading website for multilingual rights information around the world, whose aim is to become a global rights resource available for publishers, authors, agents, and illustrators.

Several panelists, though, viewed international rights management as a challenge, not just because publishers have to navigate differences in rights, taxes, and currency, but because it’s not clear if a single global market is possible or desirable. So, even though one global market would facilitate sales and distribution, it would make it impossible to use “native pricing” to tailor price points to specific, national markets. A book sold in the United Kingdom just can’t be sold for the equivalent price in India, as one panelist commented.

But, despite these challenges, the future promises to be exciting… on both sides of the border, especially if publishers can further develop international rights management and the adoption of e-readers in these new and emerging markets.

Joana Costa Knufinke was born in Barcelona, Spain. Before coming to the United States, she pursued a publishing career first as an intern at a film and literary agency, later in a rights department of RBA Libros, and afterwards as an editor of children’s and young adult books at the same publishing house. She is currently a Fulbright Scholar at the Masters in Publishing Program at NYU and also is a PhD candidate at The Literature Program of the University of Barcelona.

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