It’s a blessing to publish books in English. Publish a book in English and you have access to a global audience of some 500 million native speakers, and another billion or so who speak English in addition to their mother tongue.

As a result, the U.K. is among the largest exporters of books—physical, digital, and rights—in the world, with exports valued at £4.1 billion in 2022, according to the latest publishing statistics available from the Publishers Association. The U.S. export market, by comparison, comes in at less than $2 billion annually, according to the Association of American Publishers. But if the world’s largest concentration of English speakers is to be found in the U.S. (330 million people, served by some 10,800 bookshops), why is the U.K.’s largest single export market Australia (25 million people, 1,500 bookshops)?

It is not that we don’t cast covetous eyes across the ocean toward your market, which seems almost miraculously large and prosperous compared to ours. We marvel at U.S. advances and print runs, dividing by five to put the figures into a context we can comprehend. Wiser heads point to the vast distances to distribute across, the hugely expensive author tours, the returns.

While selling our books to the rest of the world, or at least the British Commonwealth, was relatively straightforward for us, selling rights to North America used to be much more of a challenge. We could beg North American editors to buy the rights (and remember they’d already paid a premium for world English rights to anything remotely commercially viable), and they would be only too happy to tell us why our book from over here wouldn’t work over there. Assuming a U.K. publisher had picked up the extra rights for a steal, it could engage a distributor like Trafalgar Square to tackle the new U.S. frontier. But typically such arrangements were hands-off: low risk, low reward. Perfectly good business, but an unlikely route to the bestseller lists, and to get there, a U.K. publisher would still had to navigate the literary world’s secondary and tertiary custodians—the reviewers, critics, and bookstore owners—at a remove of 3,500 miles.

But the fact remains that if we can sell books into Australia (9,400 miles away, nine people per square mile), surely we can do it in the U.S. (3,500 miles away, 94 people per square mile). All these problems—rights acquisition, distribution, gatekeepers, audience acquisition—have been solved for well over a decade. Online book retail has given us three friction-free, risk-free book distribution mediums: e-book, digital audio, POD. It has given us instant access to readers hungry for new content, and lots of it; there’s no more voracious audience on the planet than Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited readers. Social media has fostered a new breed of literary critic—a vibrant, self-motivated, international scene of Goodreaders, NetGalleyists, and BookTokers. At the most prosaic level of internet functionality, a U.K. publisher can jump onto the PW review portal, fill in a form submitting a title for review, and win a star. A small U.K.-based indie start-up can now substitute U.S. reps, publicists, and hard-won personal relationships on the ground with digital marketers across the ocean. We can gamble that the right metadata or promotion or influencer will trigger an algorithmic cascade, unleashing a tsunami of sales.

Of course, success isn’t free. Digital marketing seems to be broadly five times more expensive to run in the U.S. than it is in the U.K.. But there is an efficiency: work done for the U.K. market can be easily refactored for the U.S. The base assets exist and can be tweaked; the advertising platforms are familiar; the influencers are international. U.K. publishers are now hiring digital marketers specifically to look after the North American market and targeting North America for 50% of their global sales.

Head of Zeus is no longer a digital startup. We’ve dipped a virtual toe into the U.S digital book market. Now, as part of the Bloomsbury group we will have access to an energetic in-house U.S.-based sales, marketing, and publicity team who are winning us the physical attention we crave from Barnes & Noble and the 10,000 indies across the country, and I now wonder, is it good business sense to acquire any rights other than world English?

Nicolas Cheetham is the managing director of Head of Zeus.

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