Eyes wide open

Eyes wide open

Publishing is a global industry: publishers are 360°, rights are global, copyright is being superceded, and the concept of territories is imperilled. In such a world the pan-international players—including Amazon, Kobo, Ingram and Penguin Random House—will dominate, while local players will struggle for air.

That’s the theory, and we can already see this world taking shape, with decisions made locally now having global implications. One good example comes from the US. In May, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of John Wiley v Supap Kirtsaeng, finding that if a publisher produces a cheaper physical edition of a book overseas for an export market, it is now legal for the buyer of that edition to resell it (under the First Sale principle) in the US.

This week, as result, the academic publisher Cengage introduced a new global pricing structure (pp4–5)—meaning students from Bangalore to Boston will have to pay (broadly) the same price for its titles. The move is designed to ameliorate the risk of cheaper foreign-produced editions of the same titles being imported into the US, but it does so to the disadvantage of students in poorer countries, where prices will inevitably rise.
Cengage’s decision provides a twist to the Kirtsaeng case, but not an unexpected one. Other academic publishers will likely follow suit, as they face students who are price sensitive, web savvy and ready to source their materials globally.

This is just one example of how globalisation will impact the book business, but other results may not be so predictable. The world’s book markets are not homogenous, and they will behave differently to agents of change, particularly if they are external forces. I have yet to find a single country whose bookshops and publishers operate under the same characteristics as those in another. It is in these nuanced spaces that local operators achieve their successes, and how we celebrate these vital idiosyncrasies while taking advantage of the benefits of globalisation will be key.

In France (p10) the government feels that subsidising its independent bookshops is the best bulwark to creeping globalisation, but does so under the guise of attacking Amazon. That is good sport, of course, but the Kirtsaeng case suggests that hoping consumers won’t notice cheaper book prices elsewhere looks like wishful thinking. Their eyes are wide open. So ours must be too.