Robust trading as publishers embrace ‘the new normal’

Robust trading as publishers embrace ‘the new normal’

A raft of big-money deals in Anglophone territories—and in translation—on the eve of the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair has convinced publishers and agents that the international rights market has reverted to a position of strength.

The pre-FBF frenzy arguably kicked off two weeks ago with Romanian E O Chirovichi’s The Book of Mirrors, agented by PFD’s Marilia Savvides. The title, written in English by UK resident Chirovichi, was the subject of a “frenzied” 11-publisher auction in Germany, with PFD turning down an “unprecedented” UK pre-empt. PFD has sold the book into 13 territories so far.

In the run-up to the fair a number of titles took off in multiple territories, including Gail Honeyman’s début Eleanor Oliphant, agented by Madeleine Milburn of Madeleine Milburn Ltd. Milburn reported “an enormous amount of hunger” from international publishers for Eleanor Oliphant and another début, If You Knew My Sister by Michelle Adams.

Milburn added: “I’ve had multiple auctions [for these two books] even before we had a UK or US deal. I’ve seen major activity from Germany, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Italy—in fact, [Italian publisher] Garzanti made an overnight pre-empt for Eleanor . . . before I’d heard back from anyone else. I think the average advance in these markets is still fairly modest, but publishers will go all out for what they feel are the ‘big’ books.”

Sheil Land agent Piers Blofeld credited publishers’ new-found confidence to market forces. He said: “I think there has been a shift in the axis. We are now in a much more secure place than we have been in the past seven years or so. Amazon isn’t going to eat anyone’s lunch anymore; it isn’t the all-conquering, all-worrying juggernaut everyone thought it would be three or four years ago. I think it was really noticeable this year that the buzz for FBF started a month or six weeks before the fair—that hasn’t happened for some time.”

Patrick Walsh, agent at Conville & Walsh, agreed that the market had shifted: “The translation market is really alive at the moment—it’s strong. One of the most challenged territories recently has been Spain, but even [weaker territories] are buying. If you go back four or five years, everything was different. People were still really worried about what was happening with e-books and what effect they would have, so people were more cautious. There were also the effects of the economy to think of. But now this [confidence] is the new normal.”