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Free trade agreements

From the bible to Chairman Mao’s quotations: How trade agreements can promote global book publishing

Published 23 August 2018

The popularity of American novels, textbooks, and scholarly works is driving efforts to translate and sell US-published books in countries around the world. Digital publishing offers access to many more consumers beyond our borders. The main challenge to global expansion is the need to promote modern copyright regimes in the countries where publishers seek to sell more books.

Global sales figures don’t seem book smart

Finding hard numbers on how big the global market is for books is a challenge, one that’s growing even more complicated by the steep rise in popularity of online sales for e-books. In its annual report, publishing industry consultancy Riidiger Wischenbart estimates the market value of books sold worldwide is around US$134.4 billion, larger than music, video games, or films but smaller than in-home video entertainment (which, they say, is almost double the size of the book market).

The International Publishers Association and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) piloted a global survey in 2017 to try to get their arms around the size of the industry including its main segments: retail, educational, and scholarly, academic and scientific books. The US industry reported the largest net revenue at US$23.9 billion, but that figure doesn’t even take into account self-published ebook sales, which might be as much as a third of the growing US ebook market.

In terms of volume, China reported 57.8 million titles published in 2016. The next highest volume reported was the UK with 149,443 titles (the US association didn’t report a figure). These self-reported numbers seem to put China on a totally different scale. Similarly, China reported 3.5 million people working in the Chinese publishing industry compared with 40,000 in South Korea and 2,255 in the UK. Interesting and strange at the same time. And while domestic sales account for the bulk of total revenue for most countries surveyed, foreign sales were surprisingly high for China’s publishers at around 25 percent of overall sales.

Can trade policy boost the publishing industry?

What does trade policy have to do with the long-term viability of the publishing industry?

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) cites the popularity of American novels, textbooks, and scholarly works as driving efforts to translate and sell US-published books in countries around the world. Digital publishing offers access to many more consumers beyond our borders.

The main challenge to global expansion is the need to promote modern copyright regimes in the countries where publishers seek to sell more books. AAP believes that trade agreements in the World Trade Organization and those negotiated bilaterally offer important minimum standards for copyright protections, including procedures to ensure intellectual property rights are enforced.

A tale of two sides to copyright protections

Having laws on the books, however, is often not enough. Sometimes the penalties for copyright violations are insufficient to deter theft, or enforcement authorities do too little to enforce them, enabling commercial scale piracy of protected US works. Often times, developing countries putting in place new procedures simply don’t assign the right resources to implement their own laws or lack experience applying procedures and penalties for copyright infringement. Trade agreements provide an opportunity to engage other governments to improve their practices.

In the case of the US trade agreement with South Korea, the US publishing industry secured an opportunity to address very specific instances of widespread piracy such as was occurring at universities and is implementing programs to raise awareness and respect for copyright protections. The practice of unauthorized sharing and photocopying of textbooks, journals, and professional books on a commercial scale is a significant problem for US publishers expanding in Asia and other emerging markets, according to AAP.

AAP believes the approach taken in the US-Korea deal provides a good model for making similar improvements in other growing markets where consumers may be unaware of their obligations to protect copyrights, and where demand is high for US-published books. Even in well-established markets such as in the European Union (EU), the US publishing industry sees opportunity to safeguard access through trade agreements. In particular, the industry would like agreement that the EU’s 500 million consumers can take delivery of e-books over the Internet without facing additional tariffs.

best selling books

Most copies of all time? The Bible and Chairman Mao top the list

Top selling book lists are debatable because of the data problems tracking sales of contemporary works, let alone the inability to count the number of books published as early as, say 1455, when the first book — a Latin language Bible — came off the Gutenberg Printing Press. That said, there’s little disagreement that, with over 6 billion copied printed, the Bible can claim the title for the world’s best-selling book. Some 168,000 Bibles are sold or given away in the United States alone, every day. (Coming in second and third with over 800 million copies sold globally are Quotations from Chairman Mao and The Qur’an.)

From Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek, at least some portion of the Bible has been translated into over 3,300 languages. With greater access to the Bible in a native language than to any other book, movie, or technology, the Bible has provided a gateway to literacy around the world. And nothing will promote greater interest in a wide variety of published books globally or open more doors economically for people around the world than increased literacy.

That makes promoting market access for books through trade agreements a good outcome not just for the publishing industry, but for millions of new readers around the world.

© The Hinrich Foundation. See our website Terms and Conditions for our copyright and reprint policy. All statements of fact and the views, conclusions and recommendations expressed in this publication are the sole responsibility of the author(s).

Andrea Durkin is Principal of the trade advisory firm Sparkplug, LLC and the creator of Consensus Learning®, an innovative digital tool for teaching negotiation skills deployed in graduate classrooms, think tank simulations and government training.

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