The Effect of Staggered International Publishing on Libraries

Edward Jay Epstein explains in The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies that music and movie studios used to depend on a “system of windows to release their products to different markets”, effectively staggering their domestic and international releases to maximize their profits. However, due to the advent of the Internet, digital technologies, and piracy, this delayed system of releases to the international markets is no longer viable. There is, however, one intellectual property industry where the windows system is kicking lively: publishing.

Delayed foreign releases still seem the norm for many books, even those for which no translations is needed. As annoying as may be for readers, I’d like to explore what implications they have for libraries. The long and short of it is that I don’t know. I live in the US, and I read (almost exclusively) in English. The combination of these facts means that I experience very little delay traceable to staggered international releases since due to its market size, the US of A usually get first dibs on English-language publications.

So I’m hoping you — my foreign-based or former expatriate — readers can shed some light on the matter. Do libraries abroad have a difficult time satisfying their clients’ demand for the newest releases? After all, ostensibly “used” copies of books are sold into foreign markets before their official release dates all the time and are easy for individual readers to get their hands on. A library with a need for regularized operations and a wish to deal only with big wholesalers, however, cannot resort to these outfits and probably wait for the official release. Does this mean that readers don’t look to their libraries for the latest books? Does it mean that the libraries buy fewer copies of books when they are finally released as some potential readers would’ve gotten the books elsewhere? Is the piracy of books, even if not as prevalent as that for music or movies, having any effect on the system of windows in the publishing industry?

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