Friday, 15 June 2012

The Book Business Is Changing

A few days ago HarperCollins Publishing announced HarperCollins 360:

a global publishing program for its authors. The goal of the initiative is to ensure that all books published by any division of HarperCollins around the world are available in print or digital format in all English-language markets. When the program is fully implemented, the HarperCollins global catalog — 50,000 print books and 40,000 e-books — will be available, limited only by the rights held, not by technology or geography. Authors published in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, India, and Canada will be listed, published, and available to booksellers and consumers in the U.S. through the HarperCollins global print and digital platforms that include regional warehousing with on-site printing machines.
Seems like it's about time someone went global, and though it's small, it's a start.  Makes you wonder why other publishers aren't moving in the same direction, and acquiring world English rights for their books.  Oh, right, sometimes the author can sell those rights for more money by going direct...*

As Patrick Nielsen Hayden (senior editor at TOR books) explained on John Scalzi's blog recently, rights are a complicated thing.  Most interesting is his explanation of why people can buy physical copies of books anywhere and have them shipped to their home country, but they can't buy ebooks without a mailing address in a country that has the legal right to sell the book.  I'll give you a small excerpt, but the entire post is fantastic, so check it out.

The answer is a little arcane, but bear with me. The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to traditional printed books, neither the retail booksellers nor their customers (that’s you) are party to the contracts between John and his various publishers. Our contract with John says that _we_ won’t sell our editions of his book outside the territories in which John grants us exclusive and non-exclusive rights. Gollancz’s contract with John says that _they_ won’t sell their editions of his book outside the territories in which John grants them exclusive and non-exclusive rights. But if Amazon buys a bunch of copies in the US and someone in South Africa says “Hi, here’s my credit card, send me one,” no contractual agreement has been violated. Amazon owns those books, not us. They can do what they want with them, including selling them to people in South Africa, Shropshire, or the moons of Jupiter. Amazon is not John Scalzi, Tor, or Gollancz. You are not John Scalzi, Tor, or Gollancz.
But the agreements under which online retailers sell our e-books include restrictions, imposed by us, which require them to keep track of where orders are coming from, and require them to refuse to sell to individuals who seem to be trying to purchase from outside the areas in which we have the right to sell. Effectively, in this case, Amazon (or, or Apple, or Kobo, or whoever) _is_ a party to our agreement which John. So they can’t sell you that e-book, because we don’t have the right to sell copies in South Africa.
We recently saw TOR go DRM free (ok, they've only announced they're going DRM free, they haven't done it yet, but it's coming).  I wonder how long it will take more publishers to push for world English rights in their contracts (using either higher advances or higher royalties to make up for the potentially lost money on international sales).

*[Just a side note for those who are wondering why the rates would have to go up and why this is such a complicated issue.  As far as I'm aware - and someone correct me if I'm wrong - when authors sell a novel to a publisher they get an advance against royalties (which must be paid back before they see any more money per book sold), and royalty rates for future sales.  When an author sells a book to an oversea market, they simply get a lump sum payment with no royalties (so regardless of how well or poorly a book does, that's all the money they'll see from that country/group of countries).  Selling foreign rights - location as well as language - can greatly increase an author's income for the year, which is why some authors would be reluctant to sell world English rights to their publisher.]

Do you think the book industry needs to become more global?  How do you think the ebook market would change if publishing territories didn't exist?

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