07 March 2012

Thinking out loud: publication dates

The Economist podcasts often include discussion, reviews or interviews related to new books. Often the episode ends with something like "[Title] is published in the UK by [Publisher], and will be available in America from [Publisher] on [Future Date]." The future date is often several months later. (Sometimes the US date is first.) Here's one example, discussing Edward Lucas' The New Cold War.

Why publish a book several months apart in two English-speaking markets? What benefit does this serve? I'm having a hard time imagining they can capture some price discrimination this way. Wouldn't it be better to launch them at the same time to maximize the marketing? Or is so much of the marketing for this sort of book dependent on the speaking tour that you have one tour in America to coincide with that publishing date, and another in Britain for that publication date?

Is the coordination between two different publishers too costly to make simultaneous releases, at least within the Anglosphere, worthwhile?

Can anyone fill me in on why this is done? Does the publisher in the first market make it a condition of their contract that they have exclusive worldwide rights for a period of X months? Does this benefit them that much, compared to alternatives?

I know a lot of the driver behind piracy of movies and games is based on differing international release dates. People in Country X torrent a movie because it was released a month ago in Country Y, whereas if it was out in both countries the same week there is less demand. Valve found that releasing their titles the same day in the US and Russia made piracy a non-issue for them.

I believe the publishing industry is getting increasingly nervous that piracy will have the same disruptive effect on them that it has on Music and Movies. Perhaps simultaneous releases of books will make economic sense if/when the costs of potential piracy outweigh the transaction costs?

PS Has anyone else found that the feeds for the Economists' podcast have been screwy the last couple of weeks?

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