We have a global network of reps in overseas territories who promote our books in areas that we are not often able to travel to ourselves. In this post we hear from Andrew White from The White Partnership who represents us in Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan.
I have always liked travelling. My first 6 years after university were spent in tourism, as a “tour escort” on bus tours around Europe. But 1991 was a bad year for tourism, the first Gulf War broke out and there was very little work. So I got a job as a “freelance publishing agent’s representative”. I didn’t know what the job entailed when I applied, but it promised 20 weeks per year of European travel. In 1997 I became international sales manager for Edward Arnold, the medical/academic division of Hodder Headline. The majority of my time was spent visiting customers in India and in Asian countries. (I was excited to get the job and have the prospect of visiting new places!)
In 2003 I quit and went freelance myself, setting up The White Partnership, an agency for UK and US publishers, selling to the same customers in Indian and Asian markets I had got to know in the previous 6 years. Twelve years later, and I am still doing it, still enjoying it, and hopefully will continue to do so for many more years.
My earliest portfolio of clients contained only a few medical or STM (Scientific, Technical and Medical) publishers. But over the years I have taken on a wider range of publishers, trade lists, fiction, business books, schools and children’s books. As an agent I cannot limit myself to only one discipline. There are not enough independent publishers left to have the luxury of being a subject specialist. After all, if I am visiting a large bookstore chain like Kinokuniya or National Bookstore, then I may as well try to sell as many products as possible. If I don’t sell anything I don’t get paid.
Most freelance agents follow a set travel cycle, whether they are covering Europe, Africa, the Middle East or Indian/Asian markets. My own schedule normally requires at least 5 big trips a year: Jan or Feb: Delhi/Colombo, March: Hong Kong/Manila/Taipei, (April: London Book Fair), June or July: Delhi/Colombo again, August or September: Seoul/Tokyo, (October: Frankfurt Book Fair), November: Singapore/Kuala Lumpur/Bangkok. I now also add on Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City. So in total I visit around 10 Asian cities a year, plus Delhi and Colombo. In the past I have visited other Indian cities, especially Mumbai, but Delhi is the publishing and importing hub. I also sell to accounts in Pakistan, but haven’t visited for a number of years now. I used to do so when it was safer. Now I see the booksellers in person at the bookfairs in Delhi, London and Frankfurt and maintain a constant relationship with them via email, text or phone, which is still their preferred medium.
In effect, I am the middle man between the publisher and the customer. It’s my job to present new titles that will be sellable in that particular country, and at a price low enough to be affordable for the customer, but high enough for the publisher to make the sale worthwhile. With the exception of Japan, all the countries I sell to require a big discount off the RRP, because the freight costs to import books thousands of miles are high, and the end customer’s purchasing power in India and Asia is much lower than that of a customer in the Western world. In many countries the end price of an academic text book has to be low enough to persuade a customer to actually buy it and not simply photocopy his friend’s book.
The publishers I work for are all SMEs, without their own office in territory. I have to present new titles, explain why they should be bought (important subject/famous author/great reviews/local interest etc), explain where the books will be distributed and invoiced from, (an importer will always want to do business with established suppliers, it is extra work to import books from a new distributor), agree the terms, and then wait for the official PO (purchase order) to be sent. Gone are the days when I can leave a meeting with orders in my hand. In the 21st century it is all done electronically.
For academic publishers their books are most likely to be bought by an institution, not an individual. The books don’t spend time on sale on a shelf in a bookstore. The librarians, lecturers and heads of department want newly published titles. Once the publication date of a book is more than 2 years old, then it is no longer attractive. Therefore up-to-date information flow into the market is essential, whether through hard copy catalogues or through excel listings.
The White Partnership has enjoyed success thanks to a number of factors. Most important is that I visit my accounts regularly, and therefore keep my publishers fresh in the minds of the importers. Secondly, I provide good new title information, ensuring that catalogues are received and looked at by both bookshops and institutional buyers. Thirdly, and also very importantly, I provide a good service to customers, processing orders, helping out with delivery and invoice issues and assisting with their title queries. If I were to ignore an enquiry from a customer, then he would no longer bother to order books from my publishers. And he would be right to do so…….the customer always is! Lastly, the terms of sale have to be acceptable. Even my best customers whom I’ve known for 20 years or so won’t buy unless they get enough discount to cover their overheads and still make a margin.
I enjoy my work, of course. It’s always a buzz seeing the sights and sniffing the smells of exotic cities! Books are a product, just like baked beans or washing machines, so I have to make sure I sell enough of them to make a living, but the publishing industry is by its nature an interesting “intellectual” business, so there is always something new to be involved with and to sell.
For more information about Andrew’s work please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.