Regional Reading

In my last post, I recounted an economic oddity I noticed while reading 1843 magazine. It was a fruitful 45 minutes at Barnes & Nobles so I’ve got another one to share today. I just don’t get out much these days as perhaps you’ve already surmised.

The book review section of the August/September issue of 1843 features a short write-up on Yuval Noah Harari’s new book, Homo Deus. A fan of his previous work, Sapiens, I was excited about this new work and surprised I’d not heard of it yet.

I later check Amazon to discover it is out in February, six months from now. Well that review is a bit premature, yes? Remembering 1843 is an English magazine, I check Amazon UK to find Homo Deus available September 8. I make a halfhearted attempt to pre-order the Kindle version to find it unsurprisingly restricted (to UK addresses, presumably). A few message boards describe techniques to circumvent the controls with a fake address or some such but the risk and effort necessary aren’t for me.

So books, at least in some cases, are subject to the same regional restrictions that hamper movie and TV distribution. Yes, the publisher needs time to rescind the letter “u” from all instances of “colour” for our American sensibilities but I, for one, would be willing to take my chances.

Are publishing rights partitioned between publishers by country or language or do global rights typically go to a single publisher/distributor? Even if it is the same publisher, the windowing of releases likely helps with coordination of marketing and book tour efforts. Surely “best sellers” sell even better because of the additional exposure garnered by being on the “best seller” list. Like movies, book releases aim to make a big splash with high weekly sales that register on the New York Times Bestsellers list. The same level of sales spread out over a few weeks would ultimately have less impact if they don’t land the author on the list. In other words, the publisher would prefer we all buy at the same time.

Another reason publishers might release Homo Deus in the UK first is to gauge popularity in order to calibrate the level of the marketing spend in the US. However, I imagine some books experience discordant popularity between countries. In Ken Follet’s introduction to Pillars of the Earth, he describes the book’s resurgent popularity in Germany compared to his previous spy novels which often featured German villains, understandably limiting popularity.

There are some signs the regional walls are being slowly dismantled. On the film and TV side, Netflix seeks to secure global distribution rights for content they license or produce. Amazon would surely love to have the same ability to sell kindle books unimpeded worldwide. The more material restriction of the future will not be geographical but “exclusive” content tethered to one (and only one) of the vertically integrated global super-distributors.

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