Report compiled by Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License
The two markets in the spotlight this month, whilst not exactly polar opposites, illustrate some of the ups and downs being experienced within the international publishing scene.
Focusing on the UK market for a moment, it’s been reported that the rise of ebooks and pressure from important retailers to discount titles are forcing increasing numbers of UK publishers out of business. According to research by accounting firm Wilkins Kennedy, ninety-eight publishers of books, periodicals and other materials became insolvent in the year to the end of August 2013. It’s clear that UK publishers are in the midst of some difficult times. In contrast Sweden is enjoying a continued boom in foreign sales for fiction with Scandinavia in general continuing to dominate the international rights scene, especially in relation to crime-based fiction. That’s not to say that all UK titles are performing badly on the world stage, far from it. But the research certainly does underline the need for UK publishers and beyond to maximize the international rights market as it continues to provide an important revenue stream for publishing houses of all nationalities, shapes and sizes.
Here are more in-depth views of the Swedish and UK markets
Sweden: Shifting Away from Crime
Elisabet Brännström, Director at Storytellers’ Agency, looks at the evolving Swedish marketplace and how we will see a broader range of Swedish titles in translation over the coming years.
No-one will have escaped noticing that Sweden, and the rest of Scandinavia, has enjoyed an unprecedented boom in the last few years in foreign sales for fiction, especially crime. Had you asked anyone in the publishing industry some years ago which market would dominate the rights scene in the naughties and I’m sure that Scandinavia would have been far from their thoughts. It’s come so far that most international editors agree that the Swedish fiction export can no longer be considered hype or a bubble, but a genre. And a genre that will be around for a long time.
So, what’s happening now and what’s the next big thing? It’s no news that crime has completely dominated the Swedish literary export over the last few years, and during the same period in Sweden itself, crime and thrillers held most – if not all – positions on the bestseller lists. The overwhelming majority of these being Swedish home-grown authors, very few translations make it that far. Is it true then that what works in Sweden also works in translation outside of Sweden? Yes, it seems it does. And using the Swedish bestseller list as a crystal ball, it seems we’re in for a bit of a shift.
Looking at the top selling titles in Sweden for the last four months, for the first time in years the lists are not dominated by crime. Instead we find wry humor (Fredrik Backmans Min mormor hälsar och säger förlåt (My Grandmother Sent Me to Tell You She’s Sorry) and Jonas Jonasson’s Analfabeten som kunde räkna (The Analphabet Who Knew How To Count), erotica (E L James is still holding strong), upmarket women’s fiction everyone can read (Khaled Hosseini…I hope you’ll forgive me for shoe-horning him into that label) and of course this time of year the Nobel Prize laureate usually makes a, brief, appearance on the list.
This is in no way a scientifically controlled sample of course, but it is fascinating that fewer than half of the titles on the lists over the last four months are crime titles, a big change compared to previous years (Jul-Nov 2013: 11 non-crime vs. 9 crime/thriller titles, Jul-Nov 2012: 12 non-crime vs. 16 crime/thrillers, Jul-Nov 2011: 10 non-crime vs. 13 crime/thrillers). This is a new development, and I think it’s signaling a shift away from the acute focus on crime toward both quirkier and more literary titles. Looking at the Swedish authors represented on the lists, be it crime writers or not, all of them are by now big, internationally well-known names who have enjoyed great sales in Sweden and abroad.
I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that we will see a broader range of Swedish titles in translation in the coming years. Were I an editor looking for the next big [Scandinavian] bestseller, I’d look outside the crime genre. It’s getting harder and harder to launch a new crime author these days, in Sweden and abroad, unless it’s genre-breaking, out-of-this-world spectacular. How about some Swedish feel-good women’s fiction instead? Katarina Bivald’s recent foreign rights success Läsarna i Broken Wheel Rekommenderar (The Readers in Broken Wheel Recommend) is a good example of that. And I think we’d all love to see some more off-beat tear-jerkers like En Man som Heter Ove (A Man Called Ove). In general, genre-bending books that are hard to define and label, which break the mold and rewrite the rules, that’s what I’d like to see.
My personal hot-tip: look out for the next Swedish literary, subversive, sci-fi blockbuster…
UK: The Risk-averse Seeking Surefire Hits
Lauren Parsons, Commissioning Editor at Legend Press and Paperbooks considers the balancing act being taken by UK publishers and the diminishing airtime for home-grown talent.
The UK market is an interesting place at the moment. There is a tangible unease about the future of the industry and this is reflected in book sales stagnating, higher discounts becoming compulsory and the sheer amount of outlets available diminishing every week. One look at the bestseller list and you’ll see an overwhelming amount of celebrity autobiographies or cookbooks. The airtime of stunning talent from home-grown debuts, has been reduced significantly.
Frankfurt Book Fair has been and gone and one palpable element is that the fear of risk still holds publishers in its grasp. When a book is being considered you have to think about market trends and how the book would be sold in. However by doing this, we might run an even greater risk, and miss out on the ‘next big thing,’ something that doesn’t fit into a tidy niche.
Once in a while, something comes along that gets people listening. From household names like Martin Amis, Philip Pullman and JK Rowling to Elizabeth Haynes, David Nicholls and Jojo Moyes. And slowly emerging from the dense fiction jungle is an old favourite: the short story. Bestselling author Victoria Hislop’s The Story is set to remind readers of the wonder that fewer words can create. While these names may already be established, there’s also Cassandra Parkin’s debut novel The Summer We All Ran Away which was shortlisted for the Amazon Rising Star Award and gathering momentum to reach a far wider readership than any sales and marketing team may have predicted. When we go against the grain, and start providing readers with what they crave rather than a generic rework of something they have already read, we find books that people like. We discover a thirst for something new, something different, something that breaks the mould.
Battling against the stiff tide you’ll find sparkling gems of literature, that highlight the best of what the UK can offer.