What constitutes success for you in the Hungarian market?
I think a literary agency can sell international bestsellers for — relatively — huge amounts of money easily even in our small Hungarian market. So I prefer saying my biggest successes are whenever I find the right publisher for a not-so-typical or obvious book which then becomes a so-to-say bestseller in Hungary, or when I find an unfilled gap in our market. But to tell you a personal favorite of mine: I was very happy to finally sell The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. It wasn’t really my own victory, as the Hungarian publisher bought it (after some bidding) because of the movie, not because of my continuing effort for years, but they did an amazing job for the book, and hopefully once the movie reaches Hungary, it’ll become a huge bestseller.
You mention that Hungary is small. Does that pose specific challenges?
Yes, the fact that Hungary’s population is 10 million means several things. First, it’s difficult to sell multiple books on a specific topic, because if there’s a book on a special subject out in the bookstores’ shelves, people probably don’t buy up another one on the same subject. Second, our market is ruled by a handful of big distributors, several of whom often pay late. All of them run publishing houses, too, so they buy rights from us, but it also means that they are concurrences with the independent publishers. And as everyone owes lots of money to everyone, our market is quite unpredictable.
Have ebooks had much impact in Hungary?
In Hungary it’s just started. At this point, ebooks are the necessary evil for the most of our publishers. You have to do it, but you probably won’t break even on the production costs through sales. Hungary is infamous in the movie world because of piracy (although I doubt it’s a specifically Hungarian problem), and it’s a fact that there are lots of torrent sites where one can find lots of illegal (mostly scanned) ebooks. I think the main problems are pricing and lack of availability of the books in ebook format. It’s unusual for for publishers to buy digital rights together with printed rights, but it’s just started recently. So people with e-readers couldn’t buy Hungarian e-books for their devices until recently. Now they can buy a lot of ebooks, but they are not happy with the prices. Ebooks are priced at 70-85% of the print copy’s price and the majority of the people find it too high. Therefore, instead of buying it, some of them download from illegal sites. On the other hand, some publishers are experimenting with social DRM, which makes the ebooks much less expensive, and they can sell ebooks at 50% of the printed copy’s retail price. The results have been good for the publishers. But these are mostly genre publishers, and a sci-fi reader is much more loyal to his/her favorite author and publisher than someone who buys mainstream bestsellers.
Norbert Uzseka is a literary agent with Lex Copyright Iroda in Budapest, Hungary.