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.
Founded in 1898, Agenzia Letteraria Internazionale was the first Literary Agency established in Italy and is now a family owned business. The Agency works on an exclusive basis in Italy for several foreign Literary Agencies and Publishers and acts as exclusive agent in Italy and abroad for dozens of renowned Italian writers. Agenzia Letteraria Internazionale promotes, among others, worldwide rights for Andrea Camilleri’s works published in Italy by Sellerio Editore.
Q. Can you give a brief summary of the publishing industry in your territory presently?
SF: The publishing industry in Italy is going through dramatic changes. This is due to the economic crisis – the result of political inadequacies past and present. The consequences of which have meant a decrease in cash flow on the book market. In 2012, there was a loss of around 7% in turnover for businesses, with a further loss of 4% in 2013. This affects the entire productive chain of the industry so publishers, but also printers and book stores, are in distress.
The reaction of publishers has been two-fold: on one hand, cover prices have been dramatically dropped, and the number of titles have increased. The result is a mass of short-lived, low-cost books, and the attempt to always replicate an earlier success.
On the other hand many publishers, especially small and medium sized companies, have relaunched their backlist and have searched for forgotten or neglected masterpieces to republish. This is a strategy that certainly costs less in terms of rights acquisition and yet has the potential to produce long-sellers.
The e-book market has doubled in the past three years, but is still rather limited when compared to the United States or other European countries. The market share is estimated to be around 2% by now.
Q. What changes in the publishing industry can you predict for the next 5 years?
SF: Our market is dominated by five big publishing groups, Mondadori, RCS, Mauri Spagnol, Feltrinelli and Giunti, that were formed mainly during the 80s and 90s through a series of mergers and acquisitions that in turn went through a process of reorganisation and technological innovation that put them ahead of any competitors in the industry. In the next few years, I think that there will probably be further moves to regroup; attempts to acquire medium and small publishers and to create new alliances in order to gain strength on the market.
I can also imagine that the bigger publishing groups will try to expand their activities to other areas of business that are not traditionally tied to books or publishing i.e. toys, games, kitchenware, food. With the expansion of the digital market, I think we are going to witness a new era of creativity and a flourishing of innovative enterprises that will change the way people read, buy books and perceive reading as such. We’ll probably see some very interesting editorial projects that will be increasingly tailored to meet the demands and interests of readers.
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?
SF: It has become harder to sell rights and harder to do so at a good price. Publishers are buying less, have restricted budgets and are understandably very careful in choosing their projects. As I said, there is a tendency to replicate successful projects rather than to try out something innovative and truly new. There is a never-ending search for the bestseller, a book that can really make a difference to the publisher’s finances. This means that a foreign agent has to work especially hard to place so-called mid-list titles, but might get lucky – without much effort – with rather conventional ones.
Q. What, in your experience, is the biggest challenge faced by a foreign rights agent in your territory in the next 5 years?
SF: I think the challenge of publishing in times of economic crisis is to keep looking at the bigger picture and try to work on long term strategies, while at the same time, adapting to the fast-paced market which is constantly in shift.
As foreign rights agents, we’ll need to stay constantly in touch with the demands of our book markets and become even more aware of the readers’ demands and not focus solely on the demands of our acquiring publishers. While in the past the knowledge of foreign languages and cultures might have been key in becoming a successful foreign rights agent, in the future, as a result of mass globalisation; cultural and otherwise, it will be of great importance to know the preferences and needs of our local readership.
Another challenge will be to recognize and exploit the new opportunities of business in the expanding digital market: all of our experience, open-mindedness, creativity and enthusiasm will be needed in what I think will be an extremely interesting evolution of the publishing industry.