In the most internationally-engaged publishing companies, the selling of rights to the major English-language territories (in cases where the publisher has licensed those rights, and they do not remain with a literary agent) and the exporting of physical books are highly co-ordinated, and the departments responsible work closely together. A number of core facts and principles need to be considered when deciding on the right approach in each case:

  • In the rights field, the knowledge required to fit a book to a market, to a publisher, and within that publisher to an individual editor, is at least as wide-ranging and varied as its equivalent for export; and it is built up only with experience, so that an accomplished rights sales person is often a specialist in a particular publishing area, developing relationships of expertise, shared interest, and trust which come to form the foundation of their activities.
  • In terms of personnel resource, most of the endeavour in rights selling comes in the finding of the customer (through existing contacts, desk research and attending book fairs) and the closing of the agreement. Managing a range of rights relationships is demanding and time-consuming. Once the contract is signed, digital files will need to be supplied, and there will often be discussions about editorial and design matters. Thereafter the arrangement will simply need monitoring to ensure compliance with its chronological and financial terms.
  • In the case of export, by contrast, books will be fitted into a seasonal pattern of interaction with a wide customer base. Staff resource is applied to liaising with customers, providing materials whether digital or printed; planning and implementing formats, design, manufacture (including a decision about printing location), and shipping, all to comply with required publication schedules; closing orders and agreeing sales quantities; and providing and adapting marketing campaigns in association with overseas partners, which may include author attendance at international events. Initial print quantities must be decided, and stock management continues with the monitoring of demand and ensuring books remain available as backlist.
  • The reward for this more complex activity is that unless a rights sale commands a disproportionately high advance (unrecoverable up-front payment) against future royalties, exporting is considerably more profitable. It is generally true that if you license  in this way the copyright you hold, the lion’s share of the profit from the sales made under that license will go to the licensee. The licensor receives a royalty to be split with the author.
  • In the English-language markets of the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa), and in Canada, the distributors and the associate companies of international groups have over many years developed modes of distribution which are indistinguishable from, and as effective as, the full publishing operations applied to those titles in their home markets, and to the local companies’ own publications. They bring to bear the complete range of sales, marketing, promotional and stock management expertise on the leading overseas titles.
  • In the US, those ‘distribute-as-you-would-publish’ approaches have been and can be found and developed, but for a key title to be published with full marketing support it will more usually require the treatment of a publisher. A common approach is to hold back a title from distribution in order to give the rights sellers an opportunity to find a US publisher. If that has proved unsuccessful over a certain period, the titles are released for distribution. But care must be taken in such instances to keep faith with the distributor, so that they are not demotivated by ‘cherry-picking’ of the list or deprived of a timely sales opportunity by the delay. It is in this area that rights and export selling activity needs particular co-operation.
  • Against this background, small and medium-sized businesses need to make a strategic assessment of the demands on their actual or planned resources when deciding which course to take, bearing in mind also the impact on their cash flow of printing for international markets. As well as these considerations, the interests and wishes of the author in individual cases are clearly central.
  • An overall hybrid model of rights and export selling is often the best choice, assessing advantages and disadvantages on a case-by-case basis.