A few of my friends in New York and Seattle have become obsessed with Stieg Larsson’s posthumous thrillers The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. It’s a true global publishing phenomena, with airport-bookstore ubiquity and completed film adaptations. The third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is already out in the UK. In the US? Not until May 2010.
I have a couple friends who work in publishing – both well-versed in subsidiary rights, staggered releases, and “piracy” – who aren’t going to wait for the US release. They’ll just import from Amazon.co.uk. There are even workarounds for getting the ebook (something about faking a British address). Why? Because they love the books. While some in the industry might raise the red flag of piracy, all I see are readers desperate enough for a book that they’ll do whatever they can to buy it. Online, territoriality doesn’t mean a thing.
In light of all the hubbub over ebooks and the global marketplace at Frankfurt this year, this kind of global bookselling will become increasingly common. There are probably a host of reasons Knopf can’t publish the US version until mid-2010. But I bet all of them revolve around 20th century concerns. (Or, you know, more money for the agent and the author’s estate.) Tough shit. Scholastic learned the value of global day-and-date releases with Harry Potter. It’s time adult trade did the same, at least with English-language countries.
I’m well aware that what I’m proposing would be enormously disruptive. I’m also aware that the readers will dictate this transformation either way.