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Why Thinking Same-Language Markets are Uniform is a Mistake

Knowing what you can and cannot sell, and how to approach each individual market, is a key to your success.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

Many might find it tempting to think of single-language markets as uniform. But it is a mistake. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Arab World, where some 25 nations have Arabic as their official language. The cultures differ wildly from countries even with a close proximity to each other—and even within nations. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, the neighboring Emirates of Sharjah (which is hosting the Sharjah International Book Fair next week) and Dubai have different rules and regulations governing the observance of Islamic law, to offer just one example. This, in turn, affects the types and content of the books that can be sold. Just across the Gulf, you’ll find different regulations regarding books in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Egyptian bookstores differ from those in Jordan or Lebanon. And so on.

Knowing what you can and cannot sell, and how to approach each individual market, is a key to your success — something Olivia Snaije writes about in today’s feature story, Case Studies: Western Publishing Partnerships with the Arab World.

Elsewhere across the world, you often hear of publishers talking about a “Latin American strategy,” as if the entire continent were one large market. But as we’ve discussed before, this kind of thinking can lead you to draw the wrong conclusions. And it goes without saying that even bestsellers can vary wildly between two nations that share borders, such as Argentina and Chile, the United States and Canada, or China and Taiwan.

H.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, a book which has been on the bestseller list for over a year in Taiwan and has sold 200,000 copies, but has not been nearly as successful in China. Part of the success, says literary agent Grey Tan, is that the title of the Chinese book was changed to Don’t Trust Anyone, something “that taps into the way people feel about the world right now.” And one needs only to read the headlines to know that though they share a common language many people in Taiwan and China likely have different views about the geopolitical status quo.

Addressing these differences is one of the missions we have here at Publishing Perspectives. It’s perhaps the key reason we exist. This is especially important when looking at the digital world, where the entire globe is often viewed as a “single market.” It is often easy to assume that because the US leading the global transition to e-books to assume that the template set out in the US is going to take hold across the globe. But anyone who has been a regular reader of these pages knows that is not always the case.

Nor should it be.

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