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Enlarge your territory through foreign rights Print Email
Written by Cindy Riggins   
Tuesday, 05 May 2015 03:53 PM America/New_York

RIRS-pie-chartHow publishers can increase the sales and ministry of their books by going global

The U.S. publishing market has seen substantial changes in the last few years. Publishers continue to seek new markets and the maximization of publishing assets for the greatest revenue and ministry impact. Selling others the right to use your proprietary product in other formats and/or languages through a licensing contract is one area that can contribute to a publishing company’s global success.

Because the rights business typically is a lower revenue channel than traditional sales, it is often understaffed with minimal resources. However, rights and licensing can provide decent returns if a company develops that area of its business. Selling rights can realize greater unit sales through other editions, which equals more lives reached with the book’s message, an author-relations benefit and revenue generated through royalties.

Rights/licensing can be another “long tail” of your publishing program. Let’s consider in particular the area of foreign translation rights to supplement your revenue.


Riggins International Rights Services  conducted a survey in January with the core inspirational licensees around the world. In the survey, 21.8% of respondents state their country’s economic situation is good and that they are optimistic about business. Similar to the U.S., difficult economic and political situations have impacted some countries and, therefore, negatively affect bookstores and publishers. Some markets also indicated that consumers are buying fewer Christian books, but there is still plenty of opportunity! The survey indicated that 49% still will acquire one to 10 titles for translation, and 29% will acquire more than 10 titles.

So, what type of books do they seek to acquire for translation? The chart on the following page will provide insight into the categories of books that licensees’ desire in the next few years. Christian Living, family and relationship-related topics, and general inspirational were the top categories.

Of the almost 3,000 active licenses in 42 languages in our company database, the top 10 foreign languages licensed in order of greatest market share are:

  1. Korean
  2. Chinese
  3. Portuguese
  4. Spanish
  5. German
  6. Indonesian
  7. Dutch
  8. Afrikaans
  9. Russian/Ukrainian
 10. French

While the top five languages licensed have stayed consistent the last few years, we have experienced growth in Eastern European language licenses, primarily due to our investment of developing relationships in this emerging market.

E-books also are on the rise in foreign language markets, but print still dominates. only lists nine other countries where the online retailer has proprietary sites, two of which are English-speaking. In 2012, Apple launched iBooks in 17 primarily Spanish-speaking countries.


Rights/licensing sales derive from a combination of marketing, relationship-building and contract management.

It is critical that you market to the target audience of publishers that license translations around the globe. This is primarily accomplished through book fair attendance, but e-marketing and other methods also will enhance licensing opportunities.

The two best shows to reach licensees are the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

CBA reports that 334 internationals from 55 countries attended ICRS last year. While the internationals who attend are comprised of bookstore buyers and publishers, rights managers are busy meeting with international Christian publishers who attend mainly to buy rights.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest in the world with the main purpose of licensing. Frankfurt officials reported that more than 140,000 trade visitors attended the 2014 fair. Although primarily a general market fair, Christian publishing is also well-represented. Many of the Christian publishers exhibit through the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s Christian Collective (International tab at

There are many other book fair opportunities, both Christian and general market. Also, there are times a group of rights managers will join together to visit a country, such as Brazil or Taiwan, and meet with publishers there. Additional venues where we have experienced the best results are:

  • Expolit (, the Hispanic equivalent of ICRS. Held each April or May in Miami, it is also attended by Spanish and Portuguese rights buyers.
  • The London Book Fair (london is another a general market show that Christian publishers attend in April each year. It is not as large as Frankfurt but is beneficial for some Christian publishers to exhibit. ECPA also offers a collective exhibit for this fair.
  • The MarketSquare shows that were created by the now-defunct ChristianTrade Association International are being reinstated. Previously held in several parts of the world, the events in Eastern Europe proved the most successful for rights sales. Therefore, CBA reinstated the event in Budapest, Hungary, held April 9-10 prior to the London Book Fair ( The show was well-attended, and all rights managers present reported good meetings resulted.
  • The Korea Christian Rights Fair is hosted by the Korea Christian Publishers Association each August. Contact Seung Jin Choi at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.

Be aware that traveling to and exhibiting at an international book fair is quite expensive. Beside the exhibit fees (roughly $500 to $4,000 for a booth), international travel is costly. Each company has to gauge how much they are willing to invest to see if their product content is viable for international licensing. For many, the investment delivers a return. Be realistic that rights have a long sales cycle, and it will take time to build your profile in the global market and develop relationships.

However, there are many secular cooperatives that will display your titles in their cooperative at $200-300 per title or services that will list your titles in an online database for a fee plus commission. Keep in mind though that these typically provide limited success because books are just displayed on a shelf without a knowledgeable representative to promote them. Some author literary agencies want to sell foreign rights, but typically they do not travel internationally or proactively promote titles for licensing. It’s often best to make the investment in sending staff from your company to key events or hiring a rights agent to properly market your titles to the target market of licensees.

Relationships are still very important in the licensing world! A key component of rights sales is to develop strong relationships with as many publishers across as many territories as possible. It is a continual process to also develop new contacts in emerging markets. Top rights managers should know a country’s economic and publishing landscape, the culture, licensing partners to avoid and those to embrace and much more.


Besides face-to-face meetings and personal relationships, you also must have staff or a rights agent who properly manages all the logistics and legalities of licensing agreements and compliance. It is a labor-intensive piece of your rights program. Recently Publishing Perspectives ( posted a helpful article online titled “To Automate or Not to Automate the Rights Business?” that reiterates this point.

After you generate interest from marketing, take these next steps:

Send the book or a PDF for the potential licensee to review. Like acquisitions editors at U.S. houses, the potential licensees will evaluate the material to see if it meets their publishing program’s needs, is culturally relevant and translatable, as well as other factors. This process can take months or even years for a work to be published at the proper time in a certain country.

Next, you need to negotiate the terms of the license. Each country’s economy and readership is different, so the royalty rates and expectations should not be the same for every deal. Each license should be negotiated based on the content, author, readership, market conditions where it will be sold and the licensee (missionary publisher vs. commercial publisher). Some language editions will sell 10,000 copies in a few months, while others may take two years to sell 1,000 copies. There are times the ministry benefit will outweigh the revenue and vice versa. Typically there is an advance payment (portion of the anticipated royalties) paid at the time the license is signed. In addition to the royalties, you also will need to set the amount of time you will allow for translation and publication of their edition, number of years the license will be valid and other conditions.

Then a license is issued that grants the legal use of the material with the agreed terms and certain parameters, as well as protections for both the original publisher and licensee. Coordinating the signatures and payment can be more complicated than it sounds when you are dealing with mail and banking around the world.

The contract management portion is basically project management of the rest of the process: tracking when the licensee publishes their edition (typically 12-18 months after the contract is issued), translation quality, payment of royalties and other compliance issues.

Selling rights enables a publisher to reach people around the globe with products either in their own language or in a book format that appeals to them. I believe it is also a stewardship issue for publishers to exploit the work entrusted to them for the broadest reach possible.

Greater unit sales are generated through other editions licensed. Authors are thrilled to see their books in other languages and know that their message has a global reach. Publishers and authors also realize additional revenue through royalties.

Selling rights is a key strategy to expand a company’s business and maximize the ministry of books. cr