small markets

The Differential Rates Of Digital Change Problem

I’m not sure if this qualifies as a shameless plug or not, but it is certainly a plug for a piece I’ve written over on EoinPurcell.com:

These sales are starting, slowly but surely, to leak sales from small markets to large markets. The levels are unquantifiable right now in anything but the most sketchy way, but they are surely growing with each Kindle,  Kobo reader, iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone and Android device sold into a small market. The proliferation of devices offering ebooks sold through large market retailers  MUST be driving sales from those markets. When those retailers start sharing their data and how likely is that we will know for sure.

via The Differential Rates Of Digital Change Problem | Eoin Purcell.

A Problem: Ebook Rights, Small Markets & Divergent Digital Growth Rates

The Frankfurt Book Fair this year was an interesting one for me. It crystalized a few of the many ideas that have been bouncing around in my head. Publishing Perspectives in particular touched on one of the MAJOR issues for smaller market publishers and I wanted to hammer home the point in this post.


I have bad news for publishers of English language books in smaller markets and by that I mean English language markets outside of the UK and US:

Being a small market english language publisher is going to get harder as digital grows

Put simply I believe that US and (initially less aggressively but shortly with the same fervour) UK Publishers will seek to control world english language rights for digital and with it any rights (enhanced/video/audio etc.) they may need in order to sell ebooks and enhanced ebooks on a global basis. This may spread to an all out claim on world English language right including print, somehow I suspect that’s a ways off for now and the emphasis will be on ebook rights.

Why is this?
The reason is that US & UK publishers a compelling economic case for holding those rights while smaller English language markets have less of a business case for retaining those rights.

As Kindle sales, and B&N’s Nook and Apple’s iBookstore and sales through the multiplying ebook retail outlets grow to 10% of group revenue US and UK publishers can begin to plausible include revenue projections for digital editions of new titles.

And some of the growth in ebooks is global. Kobo talks about serving over 200 countries with their ebooks:

Meanwhile, our direct business at Kobobooks.com is rocking and we’ve delivered ebooks into 200 countries from Azerbaijan to Vanuatu – we’re making books available in more places to more people than ever before.

What’s more, they know that the markets that are currently buying ebooks globally are likely to grow rapidly if they even partially reflect

So we have large publishers seeing sales internationally that they can EASILY service at little marginal cost. Acquiring the right to sell to those markets is a sensible strategy that hedges against future global digital sales while delivering real if small sales now.

But the impact on smaller markets is large
Take for example Ireland (I could as easily choose the English language markets in Spain, Slovenia or San Marino), where ebook sales are lower than 1% right now. From that perspective any Irish publisher approached to do a deal for a title they have published in Ireland would be fools to let that deal flounder over digital rights.

And yet, at what point would a publisher be crazy TO do a deal that required them to cede global digital rights; 5%, 10%, 20%, 25%, 50%? What’s more, if a publisher agrees the principle now at sub-1%, how can they hope to grab back that principle at 5%, 10% or 75%?

And it’s not just English
This will be a problem for smaller markets in all languages as larger publishers realise they can reach markets profitably in a digital world that they once could only do expensively and perhaps unprofitably in print.

And it works both ways
US and UK publishers may sell print rights to smaller markets, but they will become increasingly reluctant to sell ebook rights. How would a print only publisher hope to make a run viable in a small market served 10% or 15% or 20% by digital sales from the UK or US based publisher?

Be prepared
So, publishers, what will you answer when US and UK publishers demand your ebook rights? And whatever way you answer, are you prepared for the implications?

There’s more on Frankfurt, but this is the top priority I think.
Eoin