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Reaching for an international book market

5 January 2015

As we enter another new year it seems that the book world is becoming ever more global. Our new list of 2015 International Book Fairs brings home just how many are aspiring to international status and trying to establish themselves as attracting a truly worldwide audience of publishers, booksellers and authors.

From the point of view of writers this may all seem a bit secondary, but it is the global nature of the internet which is breaking down national boundaries and encouraging readers to find and buy books online. It's surprising really that traditional publishing contracts have lasted as well as they have, as the territorial rights they safeguard are threatened in a major way by the freewheeling spirit of the internet - and by its ability to reach a global audience instantly.

Many indie authors may think that reaching a worldwide audience through the internet is just what they want to do, but the old structure of the international publishing world did also offer protection to authors in various ways. It is easier to steal or pirate authors' work online, whereas traditional publishing contracts offered more protection and it is still part of the publisher's job to defend their authors' copyright in their work. The English language market (see our Inside Publishing article) may have cosily divided up the English-speaking world between the US and the UK (including the ‘open market') but it stood, and still does stand, for the rule of law.

The English language has become the international means of communicating online and traditional territorial rights also protect authors who are not writing or publishing in English. There is a real danger though that those writing and publishing in other languages, whether by themselves or through a publisher, will find the edition of their book in their own language threatened by the English language edition.

Another new trend which is more heartening is the growth of interest in reading translated work. It still represents a small minority of what is published, but translations are beginning to make more of an impact in the UK and USA, partly because of the commercial success of authors such as Stieg Larsson and a wave of talented Scandinavian crime writers.

And this is where the internet is an unashamedly good thing, because it is the best means ever invented of promoting books and finding an audience for them. How wonderful it would be though if bricks and mortar bookstores could survive as well, to bring books to readers where they are, at a local level, and to preserve the great pleasure of browsing in a well-stocked bookshop.