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Transatlantic synergies?

20 June 2005

Two of the panel discussions at the recent BookExpo AmericaBookExpo America, commonly referred to within the book publishing industry as BEA. The largest annual book trade fair in the United States came up with interestingly diverse views on selling globally.

Nigel Newton of Bloomsbury expressed a positive view about the advantages of being able to publish a title across the company’s three branches in the UK, US and Germany: ‘The single most difficult part of publishing is selecting the big winners. Why not get three bangs for your buck, and leverage the acquisition across the world?’

But Stephen Page of Faber thought that this was good publishing, rather than corporate synergy: ‘I want to take a big baseball bat to the idea of global publishing. It is fantasy.’ He said he felt that global partnerships ‘make you feel great when you have access to resources, but miserable when you’re forced to publish.’

Nonetheless the pressure on editors in UK and US publishing houses to work with editors in their sister companies across the Atlantic in the acquisition of world rights is a real old chestnut, high on the corporate wish-list and not likely to go away. Anyone in the business knows that you can only work with editors in other countries who share your taste, and these may or may not work for your sister company. Because the corporation is incapable of seeing something as intangible as individual taste as an important factor in all this, it is all too easy for the view from above to be that working together is just a matter of sending out an instruction to your editors.

Agents hate world rights deals anyway, as these deprive them of the chance of selling overseas and they think, with some justification, that publishers’ rights departments will not do as good a job. This view was expressed in another BookExpo panel discussion. For a book to go automatically to another part of the same large company in another country may not be a recipe for the best publishing, which often comes through individual editors reacting with passion to a ms and working together to publish it well.