Earlier in the year, I listened to a panel of major publisher CEOs point to their company’s attempts to grow sales, mainly digital, in new territories. When discussing rights licensing with publishers, certain areas of the world are often named as a focus – looking to break into China, highlighting Eastern Europe, currently very interested in Latin America, and so on.
And the principle makes sense – it’s a big world out there and it is more interconnected than ever before. The internet and email means you can be sitting in a shed in Slough speaking to a major conglomerate in Singapore. If you’re working out your projections for the year ahead, why not add a few more rows in Excel and roll out a couple of the multiplication formulas?
And all publishers, no matter their size, should now be looking at their international strategies. I want to encourage this but also to add a warning – how well do you really know these markets?
If you were starting a business you would, hopefully, look closely at the target market before planning your products, see what works well and where, and highlight key opportunities. And it should be no different when looking to launch in a new territory. What works in Basildon is not likely to work in Bangkok.
Sales data in publishing is bad enough – key retailers don’t provide it, many organisations offer it but none comprehensive enough. And this is just for domestic markets. We can see global market figures to some degree, via Nielsen for example, but often in ad-hoc way, without being able to view through a single source what is currently selling best across hundreds of different markets.
Cracking this and improving sales data is vital to taking the book market forward. And a note on this - the e-book subscription services could well come to the fore as they receive such a high level of customer behavior information from their users due to their lending model. What are readers snapping up and giving rave reviews to in Russia, Nigeria, Denmark, India and so on?
This understanding of different markets is not only for sales – editors should know it to find the best new work from an exponentially increased pool. Everyone now recognises the importance and opportunity in licensing, or they should do, and here this information is invaluable too.
Mention this to the more traditional in publishing and they say I do know that market and will reel off a few personal contacts there. But that is not what I am talking about - this goes to a deeper and more important level. I don’t want to know what a former colleague thinks, I want to know what the customers are buying, the media is covering and the readers are reading. I need the hard data of reality and not dusty anecdotes to understand a market.
There are some advancements in this. Publishing Perspectives are very good at covering different markets and topics around the world and new international events appear to be popping up by the day. And of course there are the global rights licensing platforms.
But the point is that saying you are looking to sell in a new market isn’t enough. Setting up selling in that market isn’t enough. Understanding that market is the first step in making an impact in it. It doesn’t take huge resources, just a little time. The internet can now easily make businesses appear global, but selling in a market what someone wants to buy is what makes businesses successful.
I would be very happy to hear your thoughts as always - @Tom_Chalmers