Territorial Rights and Open Markets

Present complications, future prospects

Since the 1970s, American and UK publishers have arm-wrestled over the rights to sell books in Europe. The creation of the EU created urgency on the UK side to “close” Europe because of the fear that often lower-priced US editions would come in to the UK market through a back door if American editions were legal on the Continent. The advent of digital books has only complicated the problem because it makes it enticing for publishers anywhere to distribute everywhere and US publishers see opportunities in the highly English-literate countries of Europe.

In some ways, digital books make resolving the open market question even more important. Readers — our industry’s customers — don’t understand territorial rights and media coverage on the internet is borderless. As soon as someone hears or reads about a book that interests them, they expect to be able to buy that digital file wherever they are or wherever they live. When they can’t, they blame the publishers.

Without the constraints imposed by the costs of printing and digital distribution, it would seem that competing editions in open markets would be differentiated mostly by price, which would create a “race to the bottom”. That wouldn’t be good for publishers, but it would also be very threatening to authors. So agents might have good reasons to want to close more markets in the digital age.


Philip Jones
Deputy Editor of The Bookseller and Co-Founder of FutureBook


Richard Charkin
Executive Director, Bloomsbury Publishing

Richard Charkin is Executive Director of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. He is responsible for Bloomsbury’s adult publishing activities in UK, USA, Australia and Germany (through Berlin Verlag). He is also a non-executive director of the Institute of Physics Publishing. He is Chairman of the International Advisory Board of Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals in Doha. He is a member of the Institute of English Studies Advisory Board; Chairman of the Centre for Manuscript Studies at the University of London; a member of the UK’s Literary Heritage Group; a Trustee and former Chairman of Common Purpose International; Council member and former President of the Publishers Association; UK representative to the Federation of European Publishers and the International Publishers association; and Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts London. He was formerly Chair of the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art Gallery; Chair of the Society of Bookmen; Chairman of xrefer.com; a director of the Centre for Creative Business at the London Business School; Adviser to World Health Organisation, Copenhagen; and non-executive director of Melbourne University Publishing.

David Miller
Director, Rogers, Coleridge and White Ltd.

David Miller has worked at the literary agency Rogers, Coleridge & White since 1990. He has served on the committee of the Association of Author’s Agents and was awarded the Orion Publishing Group Literary Agent of the Year Award. His clients include Nicola Barker, John Burnside, Nigel Farndale, Victoria Hislop and Kate Summerdscale has been an advisor to the Literature Department of the British Council as well as the Creative Writing course at Edinburgh Napier University and is the author of a short novel, TODAY, published earlier this year.

Toby Mundy
CEO, Atlantic Books