Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Booksellers Feed Imports to Mystery’s Hungry Fans
By Motoko Rich
Published New York Times, December 7, 2009

At a time of price wars and pressure from electronic books, a group of independent bookstores has found at least one way to lure customers into paying premium prices for a hardcover title: import an eagerly awaited book from Britain several months before its release in the United States and then jack up the price.

Partners & Crime, a mystery bookstore in the West Village, is selling the British edition of the third volume in the Stieg Larsson series. Kizmin Reeves, the shop's co-owner, said she bought them, as anyone can, on

Coming on the heels of the breakout success of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” the first two volumes in the posthumously published thriller trilogy by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson, booksellers are now importing British editions of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” the third volume in the bestselling series six months before its publication here.

Charging as much as $45 for the book, which sells on Amazon in Britain for £8.99 (about $14.75), some booksellers have sold more than a hundred copies each.

The imports are attracting fans like Joan Morgenstern, a retired property manager in Houston who had already torn through the first two books in the series and was eager to read the third when she discovered that her favorite bookstore in Houston, Murder by the Book, imported several copies of the British hardcover version shortly after it was published in October.

Ms. Morgenstern, 64, paid $40 for her copy and read it over the Thanksgiving holiday. “I’ve never been extremely patient when it comes to stuff I can find and read,” she said.

In response to many similarly impatient Stieg Larsson fans, eager to read the latest action-packed adventures of angry punk hacker Lisbeth Salander and the haggard journalist Mikael Blomkvist, several independent bookstores across the country have been importing the British editions of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” published by MacLehose Press, an imprint of Quercus Publishing, and reselling them. The United States publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, will not release the book until the end of May.
Full story at NYT.

And this subsequent comment on the subject from Publishers Lunch:

Following the WSJ's story about impatient Americans ordering anticipated fiction that has been released in the UK but not yet published in the US, the NYT files a story about significant business in the US for the British edition from Quercus of Stieg Larsson's third book The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Knopf currently has that title scheduled for a May 25, 2010 release. While no precise numbers on import sales are reported, the UK version of Hornet's Nest "tied for No. 5 on the bestseller list of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association in October."

One issue not made explicit in the NYT story, however: bulk imports for resale by US retailers (portrayed as a savvy "way to lure customers into paying premium prices") are a violation of US copyright law. As Knopf spokesman Paul Bogaards tells us, "what was left out...was the legality of the practices in question. The importation of copies of the UK edition is in clear violation of Knopf's exclusive distribution rights under the US Copyright Act."

The NYT reports "Kizmin Reeves, co-owner of Partners & Crime, said she has sold close to 80 copies of the book. She bought them, as anyone can, on" But "anyone" is allowed to import only "one copy...for the private use of the importer" under US law. Another retailer, Murder by the Book in Houston, "has sold 150 copies, obtained through a British wholesaler." They claim that it's ok to violate the law in order to compete with online vendors: "It's not fair to not be able to offer the same books that people can get online." Bogaards observes, "you can always rationalize away the law, but it is there not just to protect authors and publishers but also booksellers." He adds, "any bookseller who claims confusion about copyright is either 1) being disinegnous, or 2) should reconsider the business that they are in."

Other retailers, like Powell's, say they are not importing the UK edition, though in the article it is positioned as "mainly to preserve their relationships with Knopf." Northshire Bookstore has sold eight copies, quietly up until yesterday--when store buyer Stan Hynds told a national newspaper, "I'm not shouting it from the mountaintop."

An increasingly porous international marketplace means that low-level importation has long been an issue. As the Times writes, "such importing happens occasionally but usually not in large numbers. Scholastic, the United States publisher of the Harry Potter books, had to ask distributors not to bring in British editions on the first three volumes of the series, when the books were published there first." Bogaards said he is "not at liberty to discuss what our actions will be going forward" in enforcing the publisher's rights.

Watch this space The Bookman suggests!

1 comment:

Keith Mockett said...

Talk about the proverbial can of worms. My first reaction was "why is the US publisher so far behind the rest of world in releasing this book?". Also, it highlights the publisher's focus on everyone but the customer when the publishers do this. It's annoying with music as well that even those publishers with international rights and offices in countries around the world still restrict availability based on territory. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

I bet that US publisher doesn't mind supplying Amazon USA with product that is shipped overseas into territories where the publisher is delaying release.

Hopefully this get all the worms out of the can and straightened out. Ouch - cliche mangling of the year award nominee?!