Export Jobbers and Foreign Market

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The Frankfurt Book Fair, conducted each fall, brings together hundreds of the world's book publishers for the purpose of selling foreign and translation rights to books. At Frankfurt, American publishers display their wares with the objective of selling rights to foreign publishers. They may also buy American or English-language rights to foreign books.

Similarly, each year at Bologna, Italy, a children's book fair is held. At a major American publishing house, there will be an individual or staff responsible for the sale of children's book rights; these people generally attend the Bologna fair.

To sell books in the foreign market, a publisher maintains an international sales force, or retains export jobbers. The export jobber has offices in key parts of the world, with a sales staff traveling to all the important book-buying countries. These salespeople call on bookstores, wholesalers, and libraries in their territories. The jobber is familiar with international trade customs and duties. Jobbers work for American publishers on a commission basis. While only about 5 percent of American adult trade hardbound and paperbacks are exported, from 10 to 20 percent of textbooks and professional books are sold in the foreign market.

Printers and Other Book Suppliers

Few, if any, publishers own their own printing plants. Large publishers often work on a contractual basis with their printers, thus guaranteeing firm prices and delivery schedules. In addition, American publishers use foreign printers as a source. Many art books, for example, are printed in Japan.

Publishers seldom purchase the individual elements needed for a book's manufacture, with the possible exception of paper. Large printers have their own binding facilities and are usually equipped with typesetting equipment. Other, smaller shops exist solely for the purpose of providing publishers and other customers with typesetting services.

We have now completed the full cycle illustrated on the chart, with all the supporting services of a book publisher's activities. In succeeding chapters we will take a closer look at other spokes in the publishing wheel.

Retail Booksellers

Clearly, there are many different outlets that sell books. The pre-dominant outlet for book sales, however, is the bookstore. There are about seventeen thousand bookstores in the United States, of which about ten thousand are general stores handling new books. Three book chains-Barnes & Noble (Barnes & Noble, B. Dalton, Bookstar, Doubleday, Scribner's), the Borders Group (Waldenbooks, Brentano's, Coles, Border's Book Shops), and Crown Books-dominate this market and account for one of every four books sold in this country.

Bookstores come in all sizes. About 70 percent of all bookstores are considered small business operations with a limited line of books. In contrast, the Barnes & Noble superstore on New York's upper West Side carries more than two hundred thousand titles. In the 1990s, the trend toward book "superstores" proliferated. A superstore is one with ten thousand or more square feet of space, and a stock of at least a hundred thousand titles. At the time of this writing, there are more than 400 superstores in operation, with many more in the planning stage.

Bookstores sometimes buy books directly from publishers, but more often from wholesalers and jobbers. The store's discount averages about 40 percent. In the past, bookstores could return all unsold books for credit. Economic need on the part of the publishers has limited this practice. In fact, some publishers do not now accept returns.

For guidance on what books to order, bookstores use a number of sources. Publishers' sales representatives who visit the stores may offer good information, as do publishers' catalogs. Attendance at the industry's annual American Booksellers Association (ABA) convention exposes the bookseller to the industry's total output of new books. Booksellers also rely on prepublication reviews from sources such as Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews. In the post publication period, booksellers consult the book review sections of The New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, and other major newspapers and magazines.

How a Publisher Handles Manuscripts

From a publisher's point of view, there are two categories of submissions: unsolicited and agented. With few exceptions, unsolicited manuscripts are not read and receive automatic rejection. Agented manuscripts are considered first for quality, and then on their conformity with the publisher's objectives.

Although a small number of publishers read every submitted outline and scan the sample chapter in their quest to discover new writing talent, most publishers regard this practice as too costly, hardly meriting the remote possibility of finding a masterpiece in the unsolicited muddle, or "slush," as it is typically termed.

When a submission passes the first level of acceptance, it then moves to a higher level of decision-makers, the managing and senior editors, with the final decision made by the editor-in-chief or publisher.

Before a publisher finally commits to publishing a book, other considerations come into play. Does the author seem to have the ability to deliver future works of similar quality? Is the author personable and articulate and capable of handling interviews, book signings, and publicity tours?

Once a book is accepted, the author works with an editor on fine- tuning the manuscript, stressing clarity, style, and organization. The whole procedure often takes years. Patience on the part of both the author and the editor is a necessity.
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