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Is There a Downside to Selling Your E-Books Abroad?

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By Edward Nawotka

In the past six weeks there has been a drumbeat going through the industry about the opportunities for publishers to sell their e-books in foreign lands. Much of the discussion has revolved around English-language books, which have a large audience of readers across the globe. Much of the traffic is flowing from the US to Europe, Asia and elsewhere, though European publishers — as discussed by Eoin Purcell, publisher of TheIrishStory.com, in today’s feature — are now looking at selling more aggressively in to the US.

The question is, if you as a publisher sell your e-books overseas, are you, ultimately, foregoing the opportunity to cash in on potentially more lucrative foreign rights deals?

One of the arguments that has been made, particularly by Northern Europeans (where there is a large audience of English readers), is that as the Americans push more and more English-language e-books into their markets, publishers are likely to turn away from purchasing translation rights from Americans, as the demand for the books is likely to be met.

Likewise, a British or Irish publisher who sells their e-books into the US market, may find US publishers more reticent to want to purchase the rights to republish such a book in the US, again with the belief that the market for the book may have already been tapped.

For certain publishers — specialist publishers, for example — selling foreign rights may never be an option. But for the large trade publishers and others cater to a general, mass market, selling e-books may generate a revenue stream, but that number may not ever match the revenue that could be generated had the rights been sold.

Granted, each book and situation is different, but should publisher prioritize foreign rights sales prior to pursuing direct e-book sales?

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 15, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Long term, the best option is always taking the perspective of the reader. It is frustrating, to say the least, finding an ebook, trying to purchase it only to discover it is not available from where one is. That really makes the reader unhappy and it can easily lead to piracy.
    The digital market is meant to be global, and actually one of the many advantages of digital books is that they can be available with no geographical boundaries. Similarly to DRMs, perhaps it’s not the most clever option to build artificial obstacles to a new technology, which itself could instead overcome obstacles that the previous technology had.

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