The Girl with the Global Importation Scandal

The NY Times has uncovered an unconventional, if not totally unheard of, buying habit among US booksellers who want to sell the latest Stieg Larsson and don’t want to wait 6 more months for the American edition to come: buy it from and jack up the price to cover costs.

Canadian players are of course no stranger to this kind of DIY distribution, particularly in times of dollar to dollar parity with the US. But the big questions raised by this ‘scandal’ aren’t ethical, at least in my mind. Rather, the ease of this kind of cross-border shopping underlines the major shift in global commerce that we’re seeing in our lifetime. It’s no longer the case that rights parcels can depend on this thorniness of border crossing and tariff punishments which were once solid protection.

This is almost (but not quite) as much the case with print books as it is with eBooks. Publishing schedules, pricing decisions and maybe even design choices will soon be influenced not only on the territory legally allocated to the publisher of the book, but also by the decisions of all other English-language publishers of that book in all other regions of the world.

Does this mean we’ll start seeing more and more purchasing of world rights? Or is there a hybrid model for small presses to start to co-publish titles with small presses in other countries, making brand, price and publication dates consistent across all territories? Collaboration of this nature could increase the diversity of titles both in and out of the Canadian market by creating ersatz multi-nationals made up strictly of small presses bundling together their strengths to sell single titles globally, working together rather than separately.

Environmental pressures are likely to limit global commerce to a certain extent but with digital books on the rise (?), the opportunity may still remain for co-publishing rather than out and out rights selling. As consumers’ access to titles from pretty much anywhere increases, why not match that shift by increasing the power between book producers by acting as one rather than splitting off as many?