Once you have assessed the opportunities presented, you will need to choose what level of engagement with export markets is appropriate for your list as it stands, and whether you wish more radically to publish a programme for international markets, as opposed to exploiting the overseas potential of a list published mainly for the home market (see below under Publishing for Export). The greater the engagement, the more the investment of time, money and focus that will be required; but if your export strategy is planned and executed effectively over the medium-to-long term, it will bring many or all of the benefits set out above.

Level One: Reactive

Supply through a mix of (a) fulfilment of orders received without a proactive sales operation plus (b) international wholesale and (c) online retail

You may decide that the potential of your list does not warrant the investment required to take a proactive, strategic approach. Depending on the capability and account-base of your UK distributor, you may nevertheless be able to fulfil orders received, though there will be a requirement to agree pricing and discounts. These orders will be automatically supplemented by supplies from stocks lying with international wholesalers such as Gardners in the UK, who have wide international coverage and retail customer bases. Since such a wholesaler supplies retailers in the home market, terms of supply are likely to have been already agreed, and will include the books they ship to overseas customers.

Level Two: Publisher Agency

Supply through an agency agreement with a larger publisher that will cover the whole of export NB This option can be no less effective than some of those that follow

This level can be ideal for a publisher (the ‘client’) with an attractive list, perhaps a niche one, with sufficient identity and quantum to make it worthwhile for the publisher who takes on the representation (the ‘principal’). The benefits for the principal are (a) the defraying of costs and (b) the enhancement of their offering to their customers. The implications for resource in the case of the client are relatively low, since they must provide information and material for the principal on a similar model to that for their domestic sales people; though it is essential that this provision and responsiveness be to the same standard as the principal’s own, or the selling process and with it the list will be disadvantaged, perhaps severely.

Level Three: Building a network 

Creating a network of agents and distributors to cover the regions of the world, backed by a professional and supportive distribution operation 

This approach, which will result from a robust evaluation of export potential, comprises 

  1. agents to sell your list in a range of territories. Agents are freelancers or independent companies who are either based in, or travel to, the markets to sell on your behalf and send the orders to you or to your warehousing and distribution operation in the UK for fulfilment. They don’t hold stock but are sales (and possibly marketing) agents. You provide them with the necessary information and sales and marketing materials for selling your list. They most often concentrate on a particular region and become expert on the markets and customers within it. 
  2. distributors, on the other hand, are companies in the territories who hold stock either on a buy-and-sell basis or on consignment and sell the stock on your behalf into the designated market(s). In the case of consignment, the stock is shipped to the distributor but remains the property of the publisher until it is sold. More distributors are now insisting on this model, and in considering options publishers need to be mindful of the additional stock risk they incur in these cases. 

For this level it will be necessary to have either a consultant or an in-house manager who will assemble the network. That manager will also require the support of an export administrator who will be the day-to-day point of contact for the agents and distributors, providing schedules, title information and materials, and answering queries, as well as offering a liaison point with the distribution and credit services operations in the UK. 

Mature export operations in larger companies

Once export business reaches a significant level, companies will consider creating an in-house team of salaried representatives and regional managers (as an alternative to paying commissions to independent operators), accompanied by marketers and administrators dedicated to export. 

A yet further stage reached by the largest publishers in all sectors is the establishment of associate companies in key territories and regions, which not only bring to market the company’s or group’s lists generated in the UK, but also publish books by local authors on local subjects or curricula for a local readership. The oldest of these associate companies are of very long standing, are run by and employ local staff, and have deep knowledge of their markets. 

This guide is intended for publishers at an earlier stage of export development than these, but the associate companies of major publishers are of potential interest as distributors into their respective markets, since like the agent-publishers mentioned above they take on client publishers as agencies to sell, market and distribute; though it should be noted that they will take on a client only in the expectation of a minimum threshold of business. See appendix B for a note of the major trade publishers’ associate companies in certain key territories.