Foreign Rights

10 February 2009 in Future of Publishing Inanimate Alice The Mistress of Nothing

The Marsh Agency will sell the rights to publish ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ in translation, and word has it they are enthusiastic about the book, which is good news in these doomy downturn days.  Still, I won’t hold my breath (while, maybe just for a little while).

Translation rights should be an area of publishing where the old models hold firm for a bit longer than in the rest of publishing. British and American publishers already squabble over who has the right to sell the English language editions into which territories, but at least Swedish publishers don’t have to worry about Italian publishers muscling into their territory and vica versa.

Peter Carey wrote an angry piece in ‘The Guardian’ on Saturday; in ‘Australia’s Rights Wars’ he describes how native Australian publishers don’t stand a chance of promoting Australian talent in a globalised publishing market, reduced as they are to ‘distributors in a global chain’, as Australian literary culture is destroyed.  The same argument holds true for Canadian publishers; Canadian writers have produced a huge wealth of great books over the past thirty years, supported in many cases by government subsidies.  But now there are very few Canadian-owned mainstream publishers left; my own publisher, McArthur & Co, may be the last one standing.

With our project ‘Inanimate Alice’ we’ve undertaken an experiment in publishing translations as well as the original English language edition; commissioning and publishing these translations has been one of the most popular aspects of the project for both readers and educators. A print writer could, theoretically, commission and self-publish their own translations alongside their own books, provided they could find the right distribution model.  The problem with Alice is, as ever, also one of its greatest strengths - it’s available online for free.

Agent Carmen Balcells in Spain has struck a deal to publish e-books of her two Nobel Laureate writers, Marquez and Cela, direct to digital with Spanish digital publisher Leer-e. Two things are worth noting about this - the e-books retail for 5 Euros, cheap and cheerful, which is what many of us have argued must happen in this country for the e-book to take off and for the economics to make sense to readers; as well as this, the agent Balcells is returning to an 18th century model where agents were publishers, and there was no middleman. I think that more agents in the English speaking world are going to be flexing their muscles in this direction shortly.

A note on that 5 Euro e-book price - I wonder what the breakdown of payment is overall:  1 euro per copy to the agent, 1 euro per copy to the publisher/retailer, 3 euros per copy to the writer? I live in hope.


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