Digital must not make territories obsolete, warns Franklin

Digital must not make territories obsolete, warns Franklin

Profile managing director Andrew Franklin mounted a robust defence of territorial rights agreements at Digital Book World in what may become a prolonged battle as US publishers look to Europe's English-language speakers for digital growth.

In a session entitled "Will territorial sales become obsolete?", Carolyn Savarese from US publisher Perseus argued that for mid-list authors it made more sense for the US publisher to retain global English language rights over digital books.

Savarese argued that while for print books the old rules should be retained, for digital they could more easily be circumnavigated, particularly for authors who might otherwise be overlooked by local publishers.

She said: "The fact of the matter is that there is a very hungry readership out there, and there are a lot of publishers who don't normally get their books out to those readers. I don't mean piracy or breaking the rules, but you are not beholden to the same burdens of the supply chain when it comes to digital. This is a brave new world and it is really exciting."

But Franklin was unimpressed. He said: "I don't think the argument stands up at all. The fact is that if Perseus fails then it will tell the author that the book wouldn't have worked anyway. And in fact the argument can be turned around completely. If you are a huge bestselling author you don't need to be published locally, because the marketing will go in waves globally, but smaller authors need local publishers to fill in those gaps in marketing."

And Franklin warned of the dangers of not allowing local publishers freedom to publish into their own markets unchallenged, drawing an analogy with Australia, where he said indigenous local publishing had become threatened by consumers buying export editions from Amazon.com and The Book Depository, undercutting the local publishers. Franklin warned that e-books made this scenario even easier to replicate, and said the problem was that "one publisher in one place in the world draws all the benefit, despite all the work done elsewhere".

Franklin also warned that if agreements did break down, and markets became more open with competing editions available online then the downward pressure on price would become "unstoppable" as it would become the only differentiator.

But Savarese said the open market was "only going to get more open", because consumers wanted access to books, many of which weren't under traditional publishing contracts. And she warned that the big US publishers were already pushing for global digital rights.

But Franklin called for a firming-up of territorial rights agreements as a way of maintaining local publishing. "Territories matter because if local publishing doesn't survive, then culture is diminished, and in the long term the consumer does not lose by ensuring the health of local publishing and the indigenous literary market."

The comments will increase fears that territorial rights agreements will come under threat as US publishers look to take the success of their native e-book programmes overseas, particularly into Europe, and could rekindle the "turf-wars" disagreements of the mid-2000s, when US publishers sought to break UK publishers' hold over Europe.

Publishers earlier in the day at DBW heard digital guru Mike Shatzkin, who helped programme the event, indicate that the digital "globalisation" of the English language market was likely to be the dominant theme at next year's DBW. The way foreign rights were carved up was going to have to change, said Shatzkin, especially when US publishers woke up to the fact that there were 1.4bn English speakers in the world, many of them in continental Europe. "There is a pretty well established habit in Europe in reading in English," said Shatzkin.

Shatzkin also predicted a surge in digital reading across Europe, despite a slow take-up of e-book readers so far. The "difference between the US and Europe cannot be forever, it is going to equalise, so you are going to have a spurt of growth," he said.