The traditional publishing world is a bit of a closed book* to me, as I’ve freely admitted here before. One thing that I am vaguely aware of is that a book isn’t just published and made available immediately to the whole world. There’s the whole ‘territorial rights’ issue, meaning that the original publisher of a book written in English will sell the right to publish it to publishers in other English-language countries, where it will be printed and possibly marketed differently, depending on how those publishers think it will best sell in their particular countries. For the publishers’ point of view on this, a blog post on the Digital Book World blog from February by Emily Williams explains their rationale. Here’s a sample:
Those readers are also better served, in the best of cases, by having a local publisher who knows where to find them, what cover will best signal to them the book’s appeal, which media can best match the book with its audience, and which retailers are most likely to reach them and at what price. Any big online retailer is good at giving you what you know you already want, but creating that desire in the first place – getting the word out about a great new title or author – still tends to be a local specialty, and one that doesn’t scale well on the global web.
One of my favorite examples of this is Jennifer Lee Carrell’s Interred With Their Bones, published in the US by Penguin as a literary thriller in hardcover and trade paperback while in the UK, Sphere put it straight into mass market as The Shakespeare Secret by J.L. Carrell. Who was right? Both editions did well, because they were geared to the realities of their local market.
My reaction to that particular example was to think that maybe it would have sold well in both countries anyway, regardless of the cover/title, simply because it was a good book. But then I did a bit more research and noticed that the average review rating on the UK Amazon site is only 2.5, while it is 3.5 on the US site. Seems a fair number of its readers didn’t like it too much, wherever it was published and however it was marketed.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, territorial rights. One of the things I love, love, love about having put my book on Smashwords and Feedbooks is that it can be downloaded anywhere in the world. I can’t tell where, with the Smashwords edition, but with Feedbooks there are some simple statistics available. Bear in mind that there have only been 300 downloads from that site, but here is the current breakdown by nation:
I find this sort of information fascinating. I can’t imagine a British publisher looking at my (really very English) book and deciding that it would be worth trying to sell the rights to an American publisher. But that’s where people are mostly downloading it from, with the UK a very poor second. Until this week, the UK was even further down the list. Of course, ereaders are probably much more popular in the US than they are anywhere else, which explains this phenomenon. But in Ghana? I am thrilled that six people in Ghana have downloaded it. There is no way of knowing if they’ve actually read it, of course, but who cares? The point is that they could if they wanted too. And that gives me enormous satisfaction.
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