Back to school: Territorial rights

Another post I made to the discussion forum for the Whitireia Diploma in Publishing.

On Territorial rights

Well, I’m not entirely clear what the big threat to local publishers is, nor even to the big ones. And if there is a problem, I think it could be worse for the big publishers who have come to rely on revenues streams by buying and selling territorial rights. Large publishers are already dominant – that’s been the case in New Zealand for years – but maybe the end of territorial rights breaks one of their strangleholds if it mean New Zealand publishers can go straight out to other markets. Learn from the French and Spanish publishers and retain world rights, as Edward Nawotka suggests.

There aren’t currently a lot of New Zealand books selling rights overseas and there’s a probably a useful enough model that could take the place of selling territorial rights. Maybe a shared rights on world sales? I’d be interested to know how much money we’re talking in terms of overeas rights on New Zealand books and whether that might be recouped by a share in the world rights?

New Zealand authors will still primarily sign with New Zealand publishers, and New Zealand publishers will continue to sell New Zealand books to that relatively small percentage of the local population that thinks it’s important to support New Zealand authors, books and publishers. Removing territorial rights won’t fundamentally change the precarious state of these relationships one way or the other as far as I can see.

What the smart New Zealand publisher can do though is start selling ebooks and print-on-demand ready books anywhere they can find a market. Isn’t that a good possibility? And a little bit of success for a publisher is going to attract more authors wanting to piggy-back on it.

Maybe there’s a chance overseas publishers will dump stock on New Zealand, though that happens already, and New Zealand is such a small market – that may counter any increase. Typically too, dumped books are dross and not the sort of thing that many New Zealand publishers produce. (Side-note on non-dross parallel importing: here’s a project for someone with a connect at Unity Books – ask them where their yellow circle logo comes from.)

Martin Taylor defended territorial rights on Teleread last year, but it strikes me that he’s talking about a handful of local companies buying local rights and/or handling distribution deals. I’m not convinced that really encourages a local industry, certainly not one that’s focussed on developing authors and high-quality local content. I also suspect most of these ‘local’ companies are local branches of overseas publishers.

I’m optimistic that the end (and yes, I’m assuming the end will come) of territorial rights won’t mean the end of different prices in different markets. David Grigg, writing from Australia, complained that he couldn’t buy a US ebook. That was based on IP recognition: the website he tried to buy from knew where he was and refused the sale. In the same way a website will be able to recognise users coming from developing countries and price ebooks accordingly.

The inevitability of the end of territorial rights seems to have become fact. Consumers won’t and aren’t putting up with it, and it forms part of a traditional approach to the world that no longer really works. I seriously think that local New Zealand publishers can either avoid much impact as they’re not in the habit of selling overseas rights, or can benefit from retaining world rights and selling to new online markets.

Maybe I’m being naive – very happy to be rebuked!