The key elements in making a plan for export are these, and those setting out for the first time will benefit greatly from the input of an experienced and informed person:
Evaluate the list: this is challenging at the point of starting out, for how can one know what of one’s list will travel and what will not? However, stepping back from the books and looking at them from beyond our own shores in a common-sense way can take us a good way along that path. In trade books, fiction as an overall category will travel overseas better than non-fiction unless it is very specific to a locality and/or culture that will lack resonance in foreign markets (though ‘old-country’ settings can be very compelling in North America, Australasia and South Africa). In non-fiction, a subject or celebrity well-known in the home market may find little or no recognition overseas. All that said, books and subjects have an enduring capacity to surprise in this respect, and even those most experienced in the field cannot always predict take-up. (Once an export operation is under way, it is essential to seek local feed-back when estimating a title’s potential. As you become more experienced, the sometimes inexplicable quirks of which books will travel into which markets become familiar knowledge which you can usefully apply.)
In the academic and educational fields, medium of instruction and the requirements of local curricula are of course the key determinants, and these require close territory-specific research. The opportunities for small-to-medium educational publishers seeking to enter overseas markets lie mainly in supplementary materials, literacy and teacher support.
A very useful benchmark for evaluating export potential is the percentage of export sales given in the annual Publishers Association Yearbook (PAY) for your category of publishing. Provided that your list is not constrained by UK-market focus, that figure will offer a reasonable indication of the possibilities. See the Case Study at Appendix E.
An important element in this process of list evaluation is the question of quantum. That is, will the volume of export turnover my list might represent fulfil two main criteria: first, will it offer sufficient incremental business to justify the further resource I might need to apply in order to generate it? And secondly, will it offer enough to a potential agent or distributor to justify the time and focus required of them to maintain a purchasing and administrative relationship? This relationship between business generated on the one hand, and the time and focus required on the other, is central to assessing both the export opportunity and the right approach. If the answer to this question of quantum is uncertain, it may be that a consortium approach will provide a solution, where the consortium offers the combined volume of its publisher members, and—-crucially—-a single point of contact for overseas partners, with the additional advantage for consortium members that the costs of that contact-point are shared.
Prioritise your target markets: there is no such thing as ‘the international market’, though that is a phrase sometimes heard even in major international publishing houses. Export territories represent a range of astonishingly varied markets, each with its own characteristics. The PA Yearbook sets out league tables of the most important markets within each publishing category. Consider this example of the top export territories across all categories:
Beneath this overview it is possible to drill down into the categories and identify the top markets for your area of publishing: it is helpful to think in regional terms when it comes to engaging with them. For trade publishers, the markets to target first are the leading English-language ones: Australia and New Zealand, North America, and South Africa. These will be accessed through distributors or agents on the ground. The European countries are of great importance for English-language publishers in all categories, and Europe is the UK’s largest region in export revenue terms. South, South-East and East Asia make a very significant contribution within which China and India are the leading markets. The countries of the Middle East and Africa represent an important bloc in commercial terms: here it is particularly important to identify which parts of the region are important for which publishing categories. Agents specialising in particular regions travel to those territories representing a range of publishers to a customer base they know well.