Impatience Meets Illegal Imports

The New York Times reports that some US booksellers have been importing the UK edition of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and selling them here, often at a high markup. (Apparently these readers haven’t discovered Book Depository.) Sarah Weinman comments, finding Knopf’s strategy to dole out the books with some time between them makes good business sense; the gap in publication between the US and UK editions is partly exacerbated by the UK publisher speeding up the release. (Why US publishers were so far behind the pack in picking these up … well, that’s another mystery.)

She also follows up on a story in Publisher’s Lunch (a subscription e-mail service for daily publishing news; you can subscribe to a light lunch for free) in which a Knopf spokesman points out that bulk imports are a violation of copyright law.  While I know about territorial rights, this seems odd. Booksellers can’t import a book that isn’t available for sale in this country until the company that holds the rights gets around to publishing it? Readers who increasingly communicate across global boundaries are likely to find the publishing concept of territorial rights increasingly archaic and frustrating – not to mention that withholding books until a delayed paperback version can start selling in large numbers will seem impossibly reader-unfriendly in a world where we’re used to enjoying our entertainment when we like, not when a media corporation decides to offer it. But then, the customer isn’t always right, at least to go by publisher behavior which seems to have “but this is how we’ve always done it” as a motto.

I ordered the UK edition for our library and a faculty member promptly checked it out. I put a hold on it and learned, when it was returned, that we were getting multiple interlibrary loan requests daily for it. We’re seldom so popular. Rather than read it now (with five review books queued up for this month) I have released it into the wild and expect it will be taking lots of trips around Minnesota satisfying impatient readers. So there.

Meanwhile, Nordic Bookblog reviews What is Mine by Anne Holt and mentions something a bit frustrating: “I liked her previous series featuring Hanne Wilhelmsen even better. However, for some or other reason that series has not yet been translated into English.” Maybe because some American publishers think we’re only interested in books about FBI profilers? Haven’t we already read enough of those?? I admit, that’s why I haven’t read any of this series yet. It sounds a bit too … American. I wonder how many writers outside the US have FBI profilers as heroes? I can think of at least two.


8 thoughts on “Impatience Meets Illegal Imports

  1. Happily I have discovered Book Depository so the whole territorial copyright doesn’t bother me any longer but yes it is archaic and the sooner publishers realise this the better. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that US readers are less likely to purchase from overseas suppliers like Book Depository than others – we in the rest of the world are used to having to seek out ways to find the stuff we want which, often, has come from America. Whereas Americans have tended to have what they want at their fingertips – my US relatives were amazed when I said I used a site other than amazon to buy all my books – it just hadn’t occurred to them to look elsewhere.

    On the Anne Holt issue that book is actually quite good and doesn’t really focus much on the FBI profiler aspect of things (which I agree is over done and then some by now).

  2. It’s a similar story about the Millennium films. It seems the English speaking world may get the Swedish ‘low budget’ films, but a year after everyone else. Why? At first it seemed we were waiting for the Hollywood version, but that’d take years.

    I was in Sweden last weekend and bought the second film on DVD and saw the third in the cinema. You can read about it on

  3. I suspect, too, that booksellers are frustrated when they have customers ask about books they can’t provide, yet are not likely to point them toward a competitor and would rather satisfy their regular customers themselves.

    A couple of US publishers have just announced they will delay e-book releases for several months after hardcover releases because they want a premium-priced version out first. Great: people will wait two weeks and buy it used. I respect the fact that publishing costs are far more about labor than about printing, but until publishers start thinking about the readers’ perspective and trying to satisfy them they won’t have a working business model for the 21st century. People are not willing to accept artificially created barriers anymore and have alternatives.

  4. PS: Bookwitch, I’m envious! But here’s another artificial barrier that is pretty easily overcome – though perhaps not legally. Wouldn’t it be wise to offer people a legal means to watch/read? People are willing to pay for the privilege but they’re frustrated when what they want is only available on the black market. What a lot of lost opportunities!

  5. Anne Holt’s series on Hanne Wilhelmsen is vivid and well crafted, with terrific characters. I’ve read some in German and others in Swedish. I speculate that the U.S. publishers are seeking to create a following with Holt’s novels about FBI profiler Inger Johanne Vik before trying to market her stories about the tough but vulnerable lesbian police officer Hanne. Maybe they decided that afficionados of the thriller aren’t ready for Hanne and her colorful police crew?

    Lisa Marklund’s intrepid reporter Annika Bengtzon appears to be in a similar limbo. I found the first novel in a remainder bin in Texas years ago and have followed her first in German and then in Swedish. Again, perhaps the publishers think that Annika’s messy private life would put off U.S. readers. The series details her escape from a murderous boyfriend, a romance with married bureaucrat Thomas that causes his divorce, her life as a young married mother eventually with two children, the loss of the narcissistic husband to another woman, other catastrophes and, currently, her on-again off-again flirtation with Thomas, that same -ex. The Swedes have embraced the thrillers and the emotional anguish and ambiguity accompanying them.

    • Yes, a lot of people miss Marklund’s series (though I have to admit I was a little less interested in Annika’s life than in the mystery). Oddly enough, she’s writing something co-branded with James Patterson. I can only think “brand” when talking about Patterson, since writing comes second. I seem to recall that would be a Swedish language book, though, with Patterson’s name on it, not a book for the English market.

      Shame if it’s the case that Anne Holt’s other series is too touchy. I thought women writers here had broken that barrier a couple of decades ago, but when you reread the feminist women mystery writers from the 80s and 90s, they wore their feminism and willingness to engage with GLBT issues much more openly on their sleeve. Now it’s risky? Sigh.

  6. Well, the shipping isn’t really free, it’s built into the price, compared to the rock-bottom discount prices on, but I think Book Depository does come out cheaper in the end.

    (Why US publishers were so far behind the pack in picking these up … well, that’s another mystery.)

    Comment: Back in 2006 I tried to interest every editor I know in New York, but nobody seemed to want to take a chance on a dead author with “only” 3 books…

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