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US to Face Domestic Competition from Overseas Digital Publishers

By Edward Nawotka

America, watch out. In an attitude switch from recent years, foreign publishers are looking at ways to create market opportunities and exploit the rich digital market in the US. And it starts with the devaluing of foreign rights deals by the growing e-book distribution markets across the globe.

flags of the world“Territorial rights barriers can’t stand and are falling,” said David Cully, President of retail markets and EVP of Merchandising for US book distributor Baker & Taylor during yesterday’s Publishers Launch conference as part of BookExpo America. “When a book goes on sale, it goes on sale — if you go online on the internet, rights are being violated each in their own way. I think the market will deal with it financially. Publishers are recognizing that the rights they once acquired, will have a different value.”

To this point, Javier Celaya, CEO and Founder of Spanish consulting firm Dosdoce, noted that this isn’t simply the case overseas and the United States is seeing it’s own disruption. “A lot of European publishers are holding on to their own rights in an effort to create their own markets.” While the United states has “no tradition of translation, and those books that are translated are considered ‘difficult’ books,” overseas in markets like Spain, France and Italy as many as 30-40% of all books are translations.

This means that publishers from these markets have the skills to translate and market those books, and the US is likely to see even more competition coming from overseas.

“The US is already a crowded market, but it’s going to have foreign publishers coming to this market with English books or their own versions as they are looking at creating new market opportunities, said Celaya. “And they will come with new authors with American sounding commercial names. They have the clout and business structure to deliver that product.”

One example of that was offered by Blanca Rosa Roca, director of Barcelona’s Roca Editorial, which has partnered with Open Road Media to bring Spanish books and English-language translations to the American market under the brand name Barcelona EBooks. “We choose the books that we know have been successful in other countries around the world and will bring them to this market.”

But there remains an indigenous market for foreign language material, as proven by the sales of titles on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK, where a vast library of foreign language material is available for immediate download.

Patricia Arancibia, Editorial Director of International Digital Content at NOOK, Barnes & Noble’s digital e-book division, said, “For a long time, the British and the Americans were the international brands. If you wanted to sell a mystery, it was likely going to British. If you wanted a romance, it was likely to originate from English. But that has changed.”

She identified Russian and German publishers as especially keen to reach American readers, a point underscored by the 17% of Americans have a German background.

But in the American market — where as much as 15% of the population speaks Spanish — books in Spanish represent a particularly fertile opportunity. “There are more people speaking Spanish in the United States than in Spain,” said Arancibia, who noted that it was books from Latin America — titles on current events and biographies for example — that are among the top selling titles in this category. “The truth is that all over the world, fiction has been digitized faster than fiction, so that is skewed. We are dealing with that bias.”

Unfortunately, pricing remains an obstacle. “Right now Spanish language e-books coming from Spain are 40-60% more expensive than the same in English, which is discouraging. German and Italian sells at a slightly higher rate than English titles, but when it’s much higher, you’re out of market.”

DISCUSS: Is the US a Fertile Market for Foreign Publishers?

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 8, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    On a positive note – the increase in international publishing to the US Market will make more a more varied and multi-cultural reading experience for readers, which in turn might result in more being read.

    With advances in digital media, reading has become more of a mainstream activity anyway – so there might be room in the ‘crowded’ market for exploration of more international titles.

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