26 Tips for Licensing International Rights
“Wide open and full of potential” is how Anne Landa, rights and exports manager for Sourcebooks Inc., characterizes the market for licensing international rights.
“It is simply about placing the right books with the right people and seeing the whole thing through,” Landa—who works out of her home office in San Diego, Calif.—says about selling licensing rights to publishers around the globe for Sourcebooks.
International licensing rights increased 20 percent last year at the Naperville, Ill.-based publisher. Sourcebooks, an independent publisher of more than 900 trade titles, has had books translated into 36 languages and published in 34 countries. Landa says she expects the upward trend to continue through this year.
One of Landa’s main objectives is to let international publishers know that Sourcebooks exists. She wants publishers to know which books are available and which books will be available soon. She says she seeks out publishers within similar publishing categories. She then combines mailings and e-mails with personal appointments at book fairs. She follows up with what she describes as a “dedicated systematic follow up.”
“We have a very strong client list and work with great agents to ensure that the publishers we work with are viable and the right fit for Sourcebooks,” Landa says.
“There are obvious geographical and practical difficulties, which can be overcome by good local agents and e-mail organization, with prompt communication.”
Each country’s population, economy, social and political issues are all factors that need to be considered when marketing and licensing international rights, says Jean Trumbull, associate publisher and international rights director at Impact Publishers Inc., an independent, professional publisher of 10 titles per year.
“There is so much variety and so many issues that come into play,” Trumbull says. “Publishers in Japan and Germany, for example, are able to pay more for an advance, while publishers in Eastern Europe have a tighter budget. Additionally, a topic of concern in one country may not even be addressed in another country.”
The Atascadero, Calif.-based publisher of psychology and self-improvement books has licensed 60 titles for translation and has titles published in 29 languages.
Trumbull promotes the titles by regularly sending out catalogs to a list of several hundred publishers and agents around the world. Impact Publishers also displays its titles at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The fair, held in Germany each October, is billed as the world’s largest book fair with more than 7,000 exhibitors from more than 100 countries, and as “the most important trading center in the world for rights and licences,” according to the show’s Web site, www.Buchmesse.de/en/portal.php.
Language and distance are the biggest hurdles to selling rights, Trumbull says. “Being able to communicate via e-mail is so nice and really speeds up the process. When things went via regular mail it would take months and months to conclude a transaction.”
Dorothy Smyk, director of foreign and subsidiary rights for New Harbinger Publications, Inc., has attended the Frankfurt Book Fair for the last 15 years.
“The foreign market has been quite lucrative for New Harbinger,” Smyk says. “Self-help and psychology books seem to be in great demand.” The Oakland, Calif.-based publishing company currently has book titles licensed in 25 countries.
“We continue to explore various languages and countries while in Frankfurt,” Smyk says. She is looking for opportunities to increase international licensing in countries where New Harbinger, which publishes 45 titles annually, already has a presence. She is also looking for countries where international licensing rights “have remained untapped for us,” Smyk says.
Cathy Calliotte, marketing and international rights director at Gryphon House Inc. in Beltsville, Md., has attended the Frankfurt Book Fair for the past 12 years. Gryphon House publishes about 20 titles each year for parents, teachers and children. Calliotte says she uses the programs provided by book fairs to find new publishers in Gryphon House’s niche market, which consists of early-childhood educational publishers.
“Our books do very well in some countries. But there are cultural differences, and our books would not sell well in other countries,” Calliotte says. “We have quite a few books for caregivers on working with infants. In some countries, mothers stay home with their children until the age of two, so they would not have a market for a book like that.”
Allison Olson, a freelance rights agent, looks closely at each country to determine if it is a viable market for selling licensing rights. Her agency, in Woodbury, Minn., is called Letter Soup Rights. Eighty percent of her current work is for Career Press Inc., a publisher of 75 career, personal finance and real estate books each year, based in Franklin Lakes, N.J.
Olson first determines each country’s overall population and the population of literate adults. She also examines the political atmosphere to determine whether publishers in each country need permission to publish certain books, as is the case in China with New Age titles. Olson also examines whether it is difficult for the licensees to get foreign currency out of the country, as is the case with Nigeria publishers. She says publishers from Nigeria typically make payments in cash while attending book fairs.
Olson says there is always the issue of trust with regard to royalties. “One has to take the licensee’s word on their reports and sales figures,” Olson says.
Other than some payment issues, Olson says there are not many hurdles regarding logistics, thanks to e-mail and books being available in electronic formats. “It is quite cheap and efficient to provide licensees with both samples and electronic files of titles they license,” Olson says. “Communication has been greatly enhanced by e-mail. I frequently work late at night and early in the morning, due to time zone differences.”
Any publisher can sell the right topic
Jan Nathan, executive director of PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, says it does not depend upon the size of the publishing company in regards to selling international licensing rights. Her organization, based in Manhattan Beach, Calif., represents 4,000 independent publishers. “People who are small can have as much success with rights sales as major publishers. The independents or small publishers sometimes have topics that the major houses have not even touched yet,” Nathan says.
Some books that do not sell well internationally are ones that contain a lot of references to American products or the U.S. dollar system, Nathan says. “Anything with too many Americanisms—those books will probably not achieve any kind of success internationally.” She says topics have to be general enough to affect everyone around the globe. “I think that if you have the right topic, you can do a lot of good business.”
Brian R. Hook is a freelance journalist based in St. Louis. He has written hundreds of articles for numerous publishers, including Dow Jones, McGraw-Hill and U.S. News & World Report, among others. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.