Pub Rants

UK–How Stubborn You Are

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STATUS: Have to run out the door in 15 minutes.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HARD TIMES by David Newman

Not to put too fine a point on it. The book selling market in the UK is between a rock and a hard place. Booksellers in trouble. Publishers selling half the books sold at high discount levels, etc. Consequently, UK publishers aren’t buying that much. As of late, it’s one of the hardest territories to sell into unless a title sold for a lot of moolah in the US.

We are struggling to land a licenses there.

In fact, it’s probably why a lot of UK booksellers are buying US stock wholesale and offering it for sale there (and this would maybe show on a royalty statement as an export sale). It would be hard to track down.

So when we sell North American rights only and then request that the US publisher pull down their edition from the UK market, we aren’t looking to screw UK readers. It’s simply that the author might not get legitimately paid for those copies. If it’s not in the grant of rights and not showing up on any royalty statement…

But authors who haven’t sold into the UK are getting creative. In fact, some authors are taking matters into their own hands and are making their titles available electronically through the different ebook venues in the UK.

So even though the physical version might be a hard to find, titles can still reach UK readers.

14 Responses

  1. mark williams international said:

    The UK market is a year or two behind the US in terms of the transition to digital. UK publishers are understandably uncertain what to do and when. No surprise they are playing it cautious.

    The two biggest book retailers by far are Waterstone’s and W.H. Smiths.

    Waterstone’s is the UK equivalent of B&N. It’s been through some bad times in recent years but is under new management and may just surprise us all, not least with a pending partnership deal of some sort with B&N.

    W.H. Smiths has more stores but is less book-focussed. Both stores are competing with the big name titles with supermarkets who sell at huge discounts.

    But both retailers have digital stores (W.H.Smiths via Kobo – Waterstone’s a standalone store) and both are expanding rapidly and competing well with Amazon.

    US authors who are selling in the UK via the convenience of Amazon would be well advised to look at the many other UK platforms available.

    Readers are buying more books than ever in the UK. If the publishers aren’t getting you to them then go them yourself.

  2. Steven J. Wangsness said:

    Interesting. I discovered through a Google alert that my novel, published as an ebook through Amazon and Smashwords, was featured on what seems to be a Swedish-language Apple iBook page. (Could be Danish or Norwegian. I’m no expert.) So strange things are happening out there in the publishing world and it’s hard to keep up with them.

  3. Anonymous said:

    as a writer and a reader based in the UK i mostly buy from amazon as i live in a rural area. given the choice i would go to a book shop and do this when i can.

    small indie bookshops are best as the large chains are crammed with ‘celeb’ books both fiction and bio.

    can i assure previous commenter that book buyers in the UK are alive and kicking.

  4. Jessie said:

    I’m also UK based, and I buy most of my books and all of my ebooks (and I read a lot of books) from Amazon UK. It’s convenient and cheap and has better selection (as the previous commenter wrote, chain stores are filled with lots of celebrity memoirs and the like). I very rarely shop at Waterstone’s or Smith’s or Foyles for books, unless it’s something I can’t get online for some reason. I do find it annoying that some US titles aren’t available here, so it’s interesting to learn part of the reason why that’s so.

  5. David Thorpe said:

    I always try to support my local bookshop. It’s tiny. I want to keep it alive. Often they will match Amazon’s price just to keep my custom. There are a lot of these little bookshops. And they can order anything you like, often over the phone or by email. Amazon is just too dominant.

  6. Sara OC said:

    As a UK editor, one thing I’ve found is that UK publishers are finding out about titles too late to publish simultaneously with the US, which means we lose Australia as an exclusive territory because of their copyright laws – and that’s a big part of making costs work for a title.

  7. Helen Keeble said:

    Interesting that you’re finding it tough to sell in the UK too! I’m British, currently living in the UK, and my first book is set in England with an all-British cast of characters, and where is it being published? The US. This still boggles me slightly. We’re currently shopping it round for a UK publisher as well, but no success so far…

  8. Patrick Samphire said:

    I do think bookselling is in trouble in the U.K., I think. Waterstones might be similar to B&N, but most Waterstones stores are smaller and have less range. WH Smith only stocks bestsellers, like the supermarkets. And there are relatively few independent stores around, and many of them are pretty poor.

    There are some good smaller chains, like Foyles, but only in a few places.

    And while ebooks are far behind the US, in general, I don’t see any of the other stores challenging Amazon. If only on price, they’re not close. The WH Smith ebook store, for example, is much more expensive (they seem to add the 20% sales tax on top of the price of the print edition (print books are exempt from the tax) and only then apply discounts). Maybe they’ll evolve that, but right now, they are not an appealing ebook retailer.

    I’m hoping it’ll get better, but…

  9. James said:

    The biggest problem with WHSmith is that it’s long been a jack of all trades. I don’t know any readers who go to WHSmith for books. That leaves UK readers with Waterstones and Amazon and, increasingly, that means Amazon. Because Amazon wins on price and convenience.

    Amazon wins, too, in the ereader market. Because we’re a few years behind the US, we’re getting our ereader news second-hand. So we’re hearing a lot about the Kindle and very little about any competitors. Pull out an ereader in the UK, and 90% of people will call it a Kindle.

    Given those two factors, it’s no wonder UK publishers are skittish. Amazon seems to be ruling the roost here in terms of book selling. It’s just a matter of time before they start making moves into UK publishing too. So there’s even less reason for a UK publisher to take a risk and to bank on ready-made success.

    Unfortunately, I fear that will turn out to have been a mistake.