Building Your Global Publishing Business

Building Your Global Publishing Business: Keith Yatsuhashi of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Global Publishing Team on how publishers can successfully tap international revenue streams in book sales, translation and rights
Originally Published in Book Business Extra
By Britt Brouse
Feb 27, 2009

International sales are an excellent way for U.S. publishers to bolster their bottom lines. Yet, the process can be complicated and present challenges to companies large and small. What began as an ad-hoc working group in the U.S. Department of Commerce to assist publishers in accessing and working successfully with international markets has been transformed into the Global Publishing Team—experts across the United States and around the world dedicated to helping U.S. publishers thrive in international markets.

The Global Publishing Team assists publishers with market research, travel, copyright protection, partner matching, payment and shipping disputes—basically any of the headaches that can arise in an international publishing deal. Keith Yatsuhashi, deputy publishing team leader of the Global Publishing Team, will be presenting a session, “Global Opportunities: What Publishers Should Know About Selling Overseas,” at the upcoming Publishing Business Conference & Expo in New York City, March 23-25. In this session, he will share market research and case studies, and outline necessary steps for those publishers interested in gaining or strengthening their foothold in international markets. Here, Yatsuhashi discusses some key points from his presentation with Book Business Extra.

Book Business Extra: Is now a good time for publishers to expand their business overseas?
Keith Yatsuhashi: The publishing industry has been experiencing flat sales for so long, and obviously the economic downturn isn’t helping things, so [many] publishers have looked overseas as a way to help relieve slow sales at home. In the case of selling rights … it’s really an effective way for [publishers] to increase their sales and increase the visibility of their books overseas. … With selling books [overseas], there’s that shipping cost involved and that is a real concern, especially for the smaller publishers that we work with, but the opportunities are still there, and there is a demand for U.S. content in a lot of markets overseas.

One of the things that makes [international book sales] so attractive is that the content is unique. … Unlike other industries, like computers, software or automotive, you’re not going to find a competitor who has that same specific content anywhere else and you’re not facing a direct competitor from China. If you can find a niche, then you are in a much better position to realize international sales.

Extra: What advantages do publishers gain from working with the Global Publishing Team?
Yatsuhashi: I like to tell companies that [we’re] your overseas advocate. That’s really our mission: to help U.S. businesses. The core of our mission is to assist in matchmaking and increasing company sales. … For larger companies, and even smaller companies that are well-equipped to go international … there are always unforeseen circumstances: The shipment gets stuck in customs, there’s a problem with payment. With anything like that, a company should really consider us and realize that they have a friend in the embassy or the consulate [who] they can go [to] if something happens.

Extra: What is the initial process you go through with publishers?
Yatsuhashi: I think publishers come to exporting in two ways: Either it’s a real targeted approach where they say, “We think this content will do really well in these countries.” The other way, which I think happens more with the smaller publishers, is more reactionary. They’ll come to us and say, “I’ve been approached by publishers in this country and this market, and I don’t know the best way to go about this.” So it always starts for us with what the publisher’s capacity is, what their goals are, and whether they’re seeking to fulfill an order here or there, or they’re really looking to have a presence in a country where it would make sense to partner with a local publisher. We also get a sense of what the commitment is from their higher management, if exporting is a priority for them.

Then we connect with our specialist overseas. … We have a specialist in almost all of the embassies and consulates around the world, and we have a team [of] about 40 strong right now, of specialists who focus on the publishing industry. The value we bring to publishers when they’re in that exploratory phase is helping them determine which markets make the most sense for them and how publishing is structured in a certain market. So we rely heavily on the expertise of our specialists in a country, who know what’s going to do well in a market. It requires a qualitative response; you really need someone in the market to be able to speak to that.

Can you highlight some of the market research and best practices you will share with attendees at the conference session?
Yatsuhashi: We have about 40 market-research reports that we’ve come out with in the last two years in what we call our Publishing Market Resource Guide, a booklet that compiles all of our market-research reports for publishers. … All the market research is specifically focused on the U.S. publisher and how U.S. content does in that [particular] market. It also details some of the challenges [of] exporting … and things that the publisher needs to know, like in this market the English language is not widely spoken and the title needs to be translated, and also who some of the big players are. Some of the market research is a little bit broad, but it’s a first step for a lot of publishers … . We also offer customized market studies based upon the needs of U.S. companies.

Extra: How has the focus of the Global Publishing Team shifted since the U.S. and global economies have faltered?
Yatsuhashi: With the [high] cost of trade shows, and also last year the U.S. dollar was so weak against the euro, many companies were saying it was too expensive to go to [international trade] shows. And we’ve found that the trade shows are huge for this industry, and if a company can’t get to these international shows or even the domestic ones, we’re trying to fill that niche with programs like catalog shows.

In the last couple of months, we offered two catalog shows at both the Doha [Book] Fair in early January and the Taipei Book Fair … in February. These opportunites were really low cost for publishers. It was free for a publisher to exhibit in our U.S. pavilion at Taipei, and it was $100 dollars for them to exhibit in Doha. We are focusing on publishers that wouldn’t ordinarily have the means to go out into these markets, and both of these markets have a really high demand for U.S. content. … We’ve already been able to [generate] a lot of sales from that, so it keeps in line with our focus on new-to-export companies, and helping them through the global downturn.

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