Alison Brook reports
In May I was lucky enough to be asked to attend the Visiting International Publisher’s Programme at the Sydney Writers Festival. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but as well as being a hugely fun and social week it felt like an intensive seven day immersion course in the world of foreign rights sales. It also gave me a fantastic snapshot of what was happening in the global publishing scene.
Despite the major trends that unite most of the global market: fragile economies in the wake of the GFC, and the impact of digital publishing, what was most interesting was the differences between countries. In highly regulated publishing markets like Norway, Holland, Denmark and Hungary book publishing is still thriving largely because of fixed book pricing, limited incursions from digital publishing and strong government financial support for publishers. Independent bookstores and literary publishing are buoyant.
As a general rule, where Amazon hasn’t yet arrived, digital books are highly priced and ebook sales are low.
By contrast, the UK and the US, where Amazon has a local shopfront, are facing the full onslaught of digital publishing. The big issues in these markets include working out an economic publishing model that is sustainable (How can you protect and build authors when ebooks are selling for 99 cents, let alone run a publishing company?) and containing the digital piracy which is now rampant in these markets.
Other than this, I had the most fascinating discussions with my fellow VIPs around what works, and doesn’t work, in various markets. Some of it is intuitive, but other differences are harder to fathom. For instance, the French delight in Irish literature and the Greeks love to read about themselves (especially when it is from the viewpoint of a foreign author).
In Germany, they can’t get enough of Australian outback sagas. In fact they literally can’t get enough: the market in Germany for these books is so strong that they have taken to writing their own – sending German authors to Australia for a few months to write books and then publishing them under an Australian-sounding pseudonym!
To all my fellow VIPs, to our fantastic attentive hosts at the Australia Council for the Arts, to Creative NZ, and the Publishers Association of New Zealand, a big thank you. The publishers from the year of 2011 have formed a friendship and an invaluable network for many years to come.