In this series of articles, we profile our corresponding agents and their local markets in order to better understand the changes and challenges in foreign rights sales and the publishing industry in general.
Lex Copyright Office is a literary agency, started in 1990. They handle Hungarian language rights and exclusively represent companies such as Random House US, St. Martin’s Press, Jill Grinberg Literary Management, Taryn Fagerness Agency, to name but a few, in Hungary.
Q. Can you give a brief summary of the publishing industry in your territory presently (most popular genre, trends in publishing, digital vs. print, self-publishing etc.)?
NU: Our market more or less follows the trends of the big and influential international markets. So, these days our bestseller lists (even if there’s lack of a central and separate bestseller lists that show all the collected sales from every distributor/book store) are comprised of YA, erotica, books by/about famous people/celebrities.
As our market is quite small (our population is approx 10 million), it has some specialities. For example, if there’s a book on a special subject available in bookstores, it’s uncommon that there’ll be another one for sale at the same time.
Our market is more or less ruled by three big distributors and bookstore chains. They also run their own publishing houses and labels, plus they battle with each other in the background, so these days being independent publisher in Hungary is full of challenges.
Our digital market has just started (or will soon – hard to tell). You can buy many kinds of e-readers here, but you can’t buy Hungarian materials for the devices so easily. It seems that Hungarian readers don’t mind buying e-books at 50% of the price of printed copies – yet the majority of e-book stores and retailers sell them at about 70-85% of print copy price. Social DRM works surprisingly well (that’s when you can buy e-books for 50% of printed book price), but many of the publishers can’t afford to do that, even if their incomes from e-book sales are low.
While an average publisher is happy when they can sell about 1,500 to 2,000 copies of an average printed book; for example, a novel that is not a bestseller but perhaps a good one in its genre, there are still only a few titles that have sold more than a 100 copies in e-book format. Yes, piracy is a big problem, but the core of the problem is partly the high prices (70-85% of printed copy) – at least from the readers’ point of view. From the publishers’ point of view, e-books are the necessary evil: you have to do it, but you won’t see the return on what you have to put into an e-edition.
There’s also some self-publishing, but from what I read, it seems that self-publishing is in need of some kind of editorial work.
Q. What motivated you to work in publishing?
NU: The love of books. The endless and sometimes irrational love of books 🙂
Q. Can you describe what kind of demand or interest there is for foreign titles in your territory?
NU: Because of our market’s size, publishers keep their eyes mostly on the US and UK market. Since the end of the socialist era, learning English (as opposed to any other language) has been the simplest approach and our publishers prefer buying rights for books written in English. One can find plenty of good English translators, but it’s hard to find good (and cheap…) translators for basically any other language.
The majority of our publishers follow what happens on Amazon, some of them read Publishers’ Weekly and The Bookseller, even Goodreads, yet there’s no guarantee that a US/UK bestseller will be bestseller over here too (apart from the likes of J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown). Our market is quite risky these days, so publishers may need to be clairvoyant and predict. As we mostly can’t serve this way, they welcome any kind of press reviews, sales figures, anything that shows a book’s potential that bit more.
Q. What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in relation to the acquisition of foreign rights in your territory in the past 5 years?
NU: Most of the changes reflect changes in our market in general. I think Hungarian publishers are much more cautious these days than 5 years ago. Some of the biggest distributors are slow to pay publishers which has always been a problem, but the accumulated amounts of unpaid monies are much harder to control and to deal with than were 5 years ago.
Q. What helps a foreign rights agent/agency thrive (or remain constant!) in the current publishing climate?
NU: I’ve found that the most of our publishers appreciate when an agent does everything to keep them well informed, when an agent takes account of their point of view and their circumstances too. That’s my point of view, but I know that not everyone agrees. I think the fact that we’re still here, sometimes thriving, sometimes surviving, is proof that it can work.