Long time readers of Dear Author know exactly what I mean when I say “geographical limitations.” In traditional “trade” publishing which is dominated by U.S. publishers (or U.S. arms of international companies), there are two primary types of contracts as it pertains to geographical rights. Usually an author will sell to the publisher “North American” rights or “World” rights. These geographic denominators indicate where the publisher can distribute a book.
North American means United States and Canada. If an author sells just her North American rights then individuals outside of US and Canada have no legitimate path to purchase the book except by importation of the US/Canada printed book. If an author sells World Rights, the publisher has the right to distribute but often does not. Instead, the publisher re-sells those rights to another local publisher.
When these “subsidiary” rights are sold, they are sold in a bundle which includes the rights to translate and the right to sell the English language version in that region. Generally, the geographic territories are UK (which for some reason includes New Zealand and Australia), Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, China, India, and the like. Each one of those geographic regions are separate so a book that has been licensed for sale in France may not be available in Spain and vice versa.
A publisher will often pay more if they can obtain World rights because of their ability to sell these into foreign publishing houses. And authors will often hold on to their foreign rights because they can achieve additional advances from foreign publishers for the territory and translation rights.
When digital books gained momentum in the mid 2000s, geographical rights became a hot button reader topic (here and here) because these books were one click away from being purchased if only the reader had a credit card with the right address or could somehow mask her IP address. These books were tantalizing fruits just out of reach what with message board forums, blogs, then twitter and Facebook exploding.
Geographic limitations were an anathema to readers all over. Many small digital publishers gained readers because of their international access. Harlequin has always been available worldwide as well. Enter self published authors. They, too, controlled access and more often than not would publish a book worldwide.
One caveat for both digital publishers and self published authors. The books were in English.
Now we have digital adoption leveling off in the US. Most analysts believe based on the flattening rate of adoption for the past two years as well as the lack of any big technological push (most of the tech world is looking toward wearables and home electronics) will result in a digital adoption percentage of around 40% of trade. (Note, this does not mean for individual authors or genres, the percentage isn’t going to be much more different.) I thought for sure it would end up being a higher digital ratio but for some reason there are a huge swath of casual readers (and power readers) who refuse the lure of digital books or, at least, prefer print books.
The next big expansion will be international territories and foreign language translations. Bella Andre stated this at a recent BEA panel. Courtney Milan is one of the first self published authors I know of who has self published her books in German. Not just in the territory of Germany, but in the German language.
Indie publishing in foreign languages is tough. First you have to find a reputable translator and if you don’t speak the language, how do you know if the translator is any good. Second, you’ll likely have to pay for proofing as well as formatting in that other language. The cost of that can be four times what it would cost to produce an English version of the book.
If there is any place where I can see huge growth potential, it would be in the international author services market where translators, proofreaders, formatters, and distributors (like US based companies Smashwords and Direct to Digital). Harlequin (and now HarperCollins) as well as Random Penguin both own author service companies. But guess who else is exploring this? That’s right. Amazon.
Rumors are that Amazon is ramping up to explore native based language translations for self published authors. Authors won’t have to deal with the hassle of finding translators, proofreaders, and formatters. Instead, you’ll just check a box to indicate what countries you want to work with and presto, it will happen.
There’s a huge potential for digital growth in non English speaking markets. The question is who will become the anchor for digital first authors. Amazon or someone else?