The Wonderful World of Foreign Rights

The guest blogger this week is Sam Curtis and her mission, which she chose to accept for thirteen years, was Foreign Rights.

Over to you Sam

Foreign Rights

WHAT IS IT?

Foreign rights is a specialised field of publishing, whereby the translation rights for a specific title or project are sold in another language.

I was lucky enough to work in the F.R side of the children’s industry for thirteen years; first for a small novelty book packager, then on to Bath where I headed up the department for a medium-sized mass-market publisher, another stint with a non-fiction publisher, and then finally I ran my own agency for a couple of years.

HOW DO YOU GET INTO IT?

The usual route is by starting out at junior level as an assistant, ideally with a second language.  I was extremely lucky.  After a degree in Modern Languages, I took a risk and applied for a job I wasn’t at all qualified for!  Nobody else from London was prepared to move from The City to The West Country… and the rest is History.  I started out at managerial level, looking after my own list of countries, whilst answering the phones and packing parcels for a company of 6.

HOW IS A FOREIGN RIGHTS SALE MADE?

The front (and backlist) are presented to customers at the three main book fairs; Frankfurt (largest fair in the world), Bologna (largest children’s fair in the world) and London.  A customer will request to be sent samples of the book(s) for further consideration, along with prices and schedules.  The sale can happen in one of two ways:

1)       Co-edition

2)      CD/royalty

Co-edition is the most usual route when selling board, novelty, pop up books etc.  In the ideal world, several F.R editions  will ‘piggyback’ onto the US/UK print run, keeping costs down and achieving one nice, uniform printing.  But nowadays, the likes of France, Germany and Poland are in a position to print alone, satisfying their own particular delivery requirements.

Once a contract has been signed, the customer (usually they are also the editor!) will be sent a disc.  This contains high resolution images for the cover and title page; so the font can be changed, their logo, barcode and imprint details added.  The inside files are in low resolution, so only the translated text of the customer can be input onto the disc.  The customer then sends their translated files back to the F.R team.  They are given a cursory glance by the production department, before winging their way to the printer in China.  Hopefully every country’s material has been sent in on time so the schedule will be adhered to…  The printer will produce ozalids (or blueprints as they are called nowadays).  A set goes to the customer, and a set to the F.R team.  There will almost always be corrections to be made!  Even with a one sentence per page board book.  Editors are notoriously overworked.  The process is repeated again until everybody is happy.  Then an advance copy will be sent.  Checks will be made and the OKTP (okay to print) will be given.  A pre-production sample will also be sent just prior to shipment.  This is the very last opportunity to check for mistakes!  The F.R team would also add their PPS to the ever-growing archive – something which should be kept religiously as a source of reference for future reprints.  Are the cover and binding the same?  Is the paper quality up to scratch?

Most customers will buy on a CIF (Carriage Insurance and Freight) basis, meaning the F.R department will arrange the shipping from Hong Kong to their port of entry for them.  This is fairly common for Europe.  Other customers, such as those in the Far East, will pay a slightly lower price and work on an FOB (Free On Board) basis.  This means they arrange their own shipping, to say Tokyo or Manila.

For a CD/royalty sale, a percentage per copy is paid 100% in advance (on the retail price of the initial print run).  The high resolution disc (containing four colour files for both covers AND insides) is sent to the customer.  In this situation they have a little more flexibility with regards to the format, meaning they can change it to better suit their market; they could also change the font and cover design to allow it to ‘travel’ in their particular country.  This kind of sale happens mostly in South Korea, China, Brazil and Eastern Europe with non-fiction, but also compilations of stories – a Bedtime Story Collection for example.  It was largely trust based.  A royalty statement should be sent once a year, and hopefully there is no piracy going on!

BOOK FAIRS/SALES TRIPS

A Foreign Rights Manager (in the heyday) could expect to be on a plane every 6 weeks, either to a book fair or for a sales trip.  In addition to the 3 big fairs, there is a lesser book fair somewhere in the world, each and every week; Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Tokyo, Taipei and Guadalajara to name but a few.  In days gone by, attendance at the fairs with the company stand would be critical to sell.  In the age of the internet and aftermath of the global recession however, it’s becoming much more common for buyers to spend less time out of the office – some even shunning both Bologna and Frankfurt, making all of their acquisitions for their children and adult lists in London in one fell swoop.

 

ILLUSTRATION STYLES

The hardest thing of all is finding one common style that suits all pre-school, mass-market novelty books!  Germany is one of the trickiest markets, with an extremely refined style that is very difficult to emulate.  We found that our backlist was extremely popular in Eastern Europe (and some Southern European countries).  But if you wanted to sell into Scandinavia, sophistication was critical.

PHENOMENONS

Every now and again, a ground-breaking idea would come along that EVERYONE wished they had thought of first.  More often than not, it would see itself reincarnated in the guise of various rip-offs by other companies (no names mentioned).  As the years went on, and the competition and cost prices increased, coming up with a novel novelty grew harder and harder.

PROUD MOMENTS

–          Selling our carnation of photographic First Word Books into 24 languages (including Icelandic!)

–          Making the first ever sale (so I was told) of Papiamento language text books into the schools of Aruba.  Prior to that, all books were in Dutch.

–          My record-breaking, eye-brow raising 25,000 copy ‘New Suit for Santa’ deal with a Finnish book club.

–          My Arabic edition Farm Pop Up made it onto the official top 10 list in Israel… for several weeks in a row.

Okay, I’ll stop blowing my trumpet now.

BIGGEST COCK-UPS

I once approved a shipment of well-overdue Argentinian/Venezuelan edition books to Hamburg instead of Buenos Aires!

I’ve committed the ultimate faux-pas by foolishly going against the advice I gave to my employees:  Never, ever berate a customer in an internal email.  You never know when you’re going to send it to the customer instead by mistake…  The Swedish client, who I fortunately never did meet, took it extremely well under the circumstances.  But I do believe it was THE ONLY set of non-text board books he bought from us.  We never did get to the bottom of why he wanted to purchase blank books…

A certain set of company directors decided to go against the advice of myself and my former boss.  Instead they thought it would be wise to put all eggs in one basket, selling everything to one giant client in Belgium, working with them on a Bill of Exchange basis, too, and authorising them to collect their goods from Antwerp before they’d even sent shipping documents that we could have used as ransom!  The client eventually went bust for the third or fourth time in a row, owing our company just shy of a million Euros.  Ouch.

I could go on.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF FOREIGN RIGHTS?

The era of the ‘good old days’ is sadly long gone.  No longer can a prepared contract be taken to a book fair meeting ready for the client to sign on the dotted line!  And in the words of my former F.R director:  ‘It is now 10 times harder to get a sale.  You even have to beg and plead sometimes.’  Chinese print prices rose sharply for the novelty book market, and along with the global recession, this resorted in many of the big companies sadly swallowing up the little independent fish.  I don’t think anybody would venture into F.R for the jet-set lifestyle anymore, either.  The travel budgets must be a shell of their former selves.

But I do believe the demand for F.R for older children’s books (as well as the adult market) will continue after this blip.  The world has an insatiable hunger for books, in whichever medium we are choosing to read them.

The Ebook and self-publishing have also created their own tides of change.  I don’t think there will ever be an on-screen substitute for a good, old, interactive novelty book… there just might be a lot less of them!
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