Publishing and non-Anglo countries

- 6 comments

And a thematic news roundup of publishing in non-Western-Anglo countries:

-Charles Tan on “How Publishing Favours the West”. All very true, sadly, and once again a case of the US (and associated UK/Canada/Aus/NZ, who benefit by virtue of language and cultural proximity, even if they’re not the same) oozing into the local markets, feeding tremendous demand but not adapt local prices to said demand (said it before, will say it again: $8.00 does NOT buy you the same thing abroad. In Vietnam, it’s one-fifth of the average monthly salary). And how Amazon and Apple are pretty much doing the same with ebooks. [1]

-K.S. Augustin on her experience with Kindle publishing in a non-Amazon country. It’s horrendous, in case you had doubts: Amazon encourages local publishers to use Kindle, but won’t even grant them access to the software for formatting books and checking out what they look like (I think preventing the publisher from checking out a preview of their own Kindle book has got to be a new low…)

-And apparently, the hot topic of the Frankfurt Book Fair is publishers parcelling out digital English rights in non-Western-Anglophone countries and selling them one by one, presumably to local publishers. That’s right: if all goes according to plan, and you want an English-language ebook in France/Spain/Vietnam, you’ll have to wait for a French/Spanish/Vietnamese editor to buy the English-language rights in France/Spain/Vietnam (yes, I know. Who in their right mind is going to pay more than a pittance for this, especially for books that aren’t bestsellers). Ain’t that awesome.

This is a particular flavour of insane (and I still think ebooks should be sold by language, not territory. Yeah, sure, authors and publishers are going to be losing out a bit, but it’s a fairer deal, and it doesn’t leave us in non-Anglo countries feeling like second-class citizens).

Also, this is all leaving me very puzzled, because I think any media business strategy today has got to be weighed against the cost of the piracy option, whether it’s for ebooks or for movies. We can argue all we want about how morally incorrect piracy is, but the fact remains: it’s available, and it’s relatively easy, and its only drawbacks are non-guaranteed quality, and possible legal prosecution (which means downloading a pirate ebook or movie is not quite free: there’s an equivalent cost, defined as the sales value when a given buyer will prefer a legit option to downloading the pirate copy).

But if you have a model in which you keep feeding demand (as Hollywood does, by exporting movies everywhere and making them the baseline of cinema; as the Big Six publishers do in a lesser measure) but not making stuff available at reasonable prices, or not making stuff available at all, you’re basically encouraging people to turn to piracy (and sure, you can say you’ll stomp on pirates, but let’s face it: stopping all piracy dead in its tracks is far from easy). And you can complain pirates are taking away all your business, but for me you’re bearing a share of responsibility because of the demand, prices and availability policy you set (not all the responsibility, to be sure, but still…).
What I’m seeing of the situation so far sounds like another music industry train wreck waiting to happen. It seems to me that we’re going to need a new legal model and new copyright laws to deal with the digital age; but so far this hasn’t exactly been happening.

An addendum on book and DVD prices: I can’t remember where the stat comes from (it was a scholarly report on piracy in various countries, but I can’t find the link for the life of me), but a DVD in India is sold for an equivalent value of $700, if we bring the price in rupees back to US-cost-of-living dollars. Imagine that you kept seeing ads and trailers for the new Batman movie, that people kept talking about it at work, kept insisting that if you hadn’t seen it, you were really behind the times and totally uncool; but that the act of seeing it cost you $700. No wonder there’s a whole generation in Asia growing up not knowing what a legit DVD or book is… [2][3]

Why, yes, I’m feeling cheerful and optimistic about the future of the ebook market today…

(and I suspect not everyone will agree with me RE copyright laws, piracy and ebooks. Feel free to comment/argue/refute in the comments. This is very much something I would love to hear discussion on).


[1] I know, it’s a complicated problem from a business point of view, especially with the permeability of boundaries: it was fine to set prices in the US for the US; and then to deal almost on a case-by-case basis on export problems, but today the market and the demand have gone global (and there are people taking advantage of this–see arbitrage in financial markets).
[2] There are pirate physical books, too. If you’ve ever gone to Asia (well, at least India and Vietnam. I haven’t tried elsewhere), you’ll find itinerant book peddlers selling bound books basically made of photocopies. It’s a sobering experience when you dwell on why they’re here at all.
[3] And yes, I agree that it’s not legal, and probably not ethical either. But the rise of piracy has all too clearly demonstrated that people do not have a natural moral fiber.

6 comments

  1. I totally agree. Books should be sold by the language. And also the price should be the equivalent not the actual. For example the book that is $8 in the U.S. should be the proportional equivalent in Vietnam, not still $8 US. No wonder why there’s pirating!

  2. Just to add some new stuff to the mix, there are countries — such as Croatia — where local books are much more expensive than the imported ones. This is not really surprising, given that Croatian market has under 5 million people, so print runs of 500 are quite normal, and the prices are inevitably higher. On the other hand, imported — mostly Anglophone, mostly American-produced — books have lower prices, which is producing (I’m trying not to say it already has produced) a sharp divide, with those who really want to read learning to do it in English on one side, and those unwilling to make the effort left with ridiculously expensive books in their native language.

    Of course, then those of us who do read in English and/or other languages try to buy e-books, and more often than not, we end up being geographically unacceptable. So even when we want to pay to get legal copies, we can’t do that. And yes, it does lead to piracy, too.

  3. Thanks for the mention, Aliette. I have another post up on Amazon this week but next week may be the one that interests you as I take a poke at where I see print books going in Europe. Would love to have you comment. Next Friday.

  4. Michele: it’s (sadly) a little more complicated than that, because the book that is sold for cheap in Vietnam could then be imported into other countries such as France, and still be cheap–and therefore undercut the market. There are ways to get around it, but they require states to cooperate with companies (through import duties), and I can see why it’s a wasp’s nest for publishers. But still, other industries have sold stuff at different market prices, and they seem to be doing OK, so there is a workaround. I just hope the publishing industry finds it before the writing on the wall becomes too clear…

  5. Milena: yup, definitely! France doesn’t have that problem because the book industry (and the independent bookstores) are very strong. But I can see that happening elsewhere. I don’t know about the sharp divide between readers of Anglophone books and readers of Francophone books, but I’ve certainly noticed that when I was published in France, I reached a wholly different readership (those who can read in English usually will read in the original, even if there’s a translation available).

  6. Kaz, thanks for dropping by! (and so sorry to hear about all your troubles with amazon). Definitely very interested in seeing what you think of the printed book industry in Europe.

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