IFOA International Visitors Meetings: What’s going on in foreign markets?

At the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) International Visitors (IV) programme in Toronto Monday I had meetings with 13 industry professionals (editors, agents, and scouts) from around the world. Following the meetings was a publishing panel discussing co-publishing and featured a keynote from Stephen Rubin from Holt. The International Festival of Authors brings together the best writers of contemporary world literature for 12 days of readings, interviews, lectures, round table discussions, and public book signings each October.

What’s going on in foreign markets?

Brazil: Books are now being sold in supermarkets which is a great for commercial publishing. Only big titles are being picked up by supermarkets, like here. Door-to-door catalogue book sales are big in Brazil because not everyone has a computer. A Brazil company has its own line of ereading devices, they do not use Kindle or Kobo at this time. Publishers are looking for YA and next year the Brazilian government is going to buy tablets for every student, so expect the ebook market to take off very soon!

China: They still have government restrictions on what they can publish. I heard conflicting reports about piracy in China. One report said it was a big issue and the other said it was becoming less of a problem. While it is in publishers best interest to report little piracy, it is still ongoing.

French Canada: They are looking for shorter works of fiction and nonfiction, not lengthy tomes.

U.K.: U.K. publishers have had great success with movie tie-ins like ‘One Day’ and ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. The books that work in the U.K. that are big are often pop-culture or humour related and aren’t transferable to North American readership. U.K. publishers don’t ‘Anglicize’ American fiction and vice versa.

U.S.: Hardback sales are down 17%, trade paperback sales are down 17%, mass market paperback sales are down 15%, but ebook sales are up 153%. However, print still dominates 75% of the market. U.S. publishers are looking for authors that can repeat their success with multiple books on their list. They are looking to publish less authors and keep their lists lean, but to put more behind them. U.S. editors are still looking to foreign markets to publish in translation. They are still taking chances on debuts.

What does the state of publishing look like in 2011?

Stephen Rubin’s keynote speech focused on the positives of trade publishing, as opposed to the ‘demise of the printed word’. The important points to take away from his talk were:

  • Publishing is a business of risk.
  • Publishing is a business of instinct.
  • Belief in the work you do is a publishing prerequisite.
  • To succeed in the tough, volatile, competitive market that is publishing you need to have good instincts, spend the money when you have the goods to back it up, do not have ‘wishy washy’ behaviour so ‘go for it!’, and finally don’t listen to the skeptics.
  • Internal enthusiasm leads to external enthusiasm. It’s a cliché, but it’s true.
  • Trade publishing adult fiction ebook sales are at 25-30% as of July 2011. Some say it will hit 80% eventually. Some say it will taper off at 40%.
  • How is publishing different in 2011? Issues that are the new focus of publishers: analysing whether there is cannibalization of print books due to ebook releases, managing varied distribution channels (online, independent, and bricks and mortar), debating whether special effect covers matter in the age of ebooks, and looking at new author royalty structures.
  • What hasn’t changed is what matters most: the content.

It was so nice to welcome international publishing guests to Toronto. I look forward to next year already.

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