UK Book Publishers Cross Swords with US over Europe

15 June 2006

UK publishers have launched a broadside against their US counterparts over rights to sell English-language books in continental Europe.

The dispute, which has simmered for many years, came to the boil because, British publishers claim, open borders between European Union countries have led to American editions sold in Europe also appearing in British bookstores and on UK websites, in direct competition with British editions.

UK publishers are pushing to secure exclusivity in European sales, a move vigorously resisted by publishers from across the pond who have been joined by a group of five European booksellers and distributors. Together they are sending an open letter to publishers both in the UK and the US opposing the latest British maneuvre.

The letter cites the importance of consumer choice, the threat of increased internet sales and concerns that without competition British publishers will simply raise prices. The booksellers "urge all publishers involved to strongly reject any effort to restrict competition in the market"

However, Stephen Page, ceo/publisher of Faber & Faber and president of the UK Publishers' Association, is anxious to clarify the issue. He says: "It's not a land grab for Europe as a territory. It's about defending the UK as a territory for British publishers."

But he is unable to produce specific figures as to the number of American editions on sale in Britain, adding: "It's not the scale of what is happening, it's our anxiety of what could happen."

American publishers have a different view.

Carolyn Reidy, president of adult publishing at Simon & Schuster in New York, argues thant an open European market "is the way it has worked for years, and there has to be a big perceived benefit to change it".

She adds that the ability to produce European editions also allows publishers to sell English-language versions in small export markets in Asia and Latin America, helping to increase an author's global exposure.

This transatlantic war of words is set to continue.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff