Rights beyond book fairs
With the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs cancelled this year, IPG members explain the impact on their rights trading and how they have responded.
1. How easy or hard has it been to continue your rights and exports trading this year?
Export trading has been very hard this year. Normally strong markets such as India and South America have been particularly difficult, but everywhere is down for physical book sales, as expected. Rob Burleigh, Burleigh Dodds
Well, nothing has been easy this year, has it? However, given what’s going on out there we’re not unhappy with the way our export business has performed—amazingly, we’re even up in one or two markets over the same period last year. Of course in some markets where the virus has hit particularly hard—India, say, or Spain—no amount of marketing or liaison with our sales agents can maintain business. Michael Richards, Boydell & Brewer
It’s been difficult to keep up momentum as many offices have been closed, or have not been at full capacity. Contract negotiations have taken longer and foreign royalties have been delayed. For my part I was furloughed for three months, and then returned for part of my part-time hours, so I had to focus on the deals that were most likely to come to fruition. Gradually things are returning to a more normal state. Anette Fuhrmeister, The History Press
It’s not been easy, as the best way to sell children’s books—and baby books with moving parts in particular—is to show physical material. The first few weeks of lockdown have been particularly tricky, as not only were we working from home with no access to the office, but our customers were also working remotely so there was nowhere to send book samples. Michela Pea, Nosy Crow
2. Without meeting face to face, how have you managed to stay in touch with your trading partners and find new ones?
Regular email communication and newsletters—and as we continued our new book output, we’ve had plenty of material to talk about. The absence of book fairs and trading difficulties have pushed us to spend more time and money on direct marketing. Rob Burleigh
We have very good relationships with our sales agents and our key suppliers, and these have come into their own over the past months. We’ve tried to offer extra support for our sales people and provide the tools they need—special pricing, perhaps, or temporary discount increases—to help them sell our print product. We don’t have the resources to do a great deal direct with library suppliers and booksellers so having a good sales team—ours is freelance, of course, but very committed to our imprints—and good local distributors have been essential. That’s something one builds up over time. Michael Richards
I really missed meeting my customers, as they are a very nice bunch. Having good relationships is so important, and exchanging smiles and handshakes at book fairs can really cement these relationships. I think one of the things I have noticed is that emails have become a little more chatty and personal, as everyone is in the same boat. I have yet to hold any Zoom meetings with customers, but I will be inviting my customers to meet virtually if they wish. I am also thinking about ways to add more dynamic or personal elements to my regular updates. Anette Fuhrmeister
We have organised Zoom meetings, trying to allow for a longer time slot than any of our usual book fair meetings. This has allowed enough time to not only pitch the books and show material, but also to discuss the state of the book market in their country, as well as how they were coping personally. Michela Pea
3. Can you share a practical tip or two for anyone hoping to grow their international business without the help of Book Fairs?
We’ve put more resource into our direct business, website sales and special ebook and print offers, developed new digital products using existing content and increased our focus on sales to individuals and corporations. We also subscribed to LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find new end-user connections in our publishing topics. This has proved successful so far, and given us a wider audience to engage with. Rob Burleigh
Well, apart from having a good sales team for print, having a comprehensive ebook programme has helped maintain sales, especially in the US, when libraries were closed for print purchases from suppliers and loans to their ‘customers’. When library users switched from print to e we already had a lot of our titles available for purchase in that format. At the same time, our marketing team has come up with a string of innovative promotions to run on our website and social media platforms, some of them built around virtual academic conferences. Michael Richards
I would recommend doing lots of research and sending targeted emails. Know your books well, and get a good idea of what your rights partner might require. Part of a book fair conversation is understanding what your partner wants, and then thinking about what’s on your list and what might work for them. Find the right contact by researching publishers’ websites, and find out who acquires in your relevant subject area. Don’t just send a catalogue to a new contact, but show an interest in what they are publishing, perhaps mentioning where your books might fit. Anette Fuhrmeister
In all honestly, up until now we have focused mainly on maintaining relationships with existing contacts, rather than on finding new ones. In a time of crisis people tend to invest their money in businesses they know and trust. That said, I think that as the time passes and physical book fairs seem to be nowhere in the near future, it’s important to start coming up with ways of finding new opportunities despite the crisis. Rethink the way you promote your titles, starting with your catalogue. Make it richer and more interactive. The virus has impacted different foreign markets in different ways, and at different times. Find those markets that seem more responsive and focus on expanding your business opportunities with them. Michela Pea