About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Great Divide

Can anyone explain why there seems to be such a big gap in the use of computer technology between US and UK businesses, even when they're owned by the same conglomerate?

In my business, this is most notable with regard to royalty statements. For many years now, most US publishers have been producing royalty statements that are quite detailed. Almost everyone gives you the important information: how many copies the publisher shipped, how many copies were returned by bookstores, and how many of the copies that are left "in the field" are being held as a reserve against possible future returns. In some instances, the publishers almost seem to have this gleeful "you want information, you've got information" approach, and manage to provide this information over three or five pages of stunningly incomprehensible statements. It's a dozen years or more with some publishers that this information has been provided. And somehow, the British publishers are still stuck in the dark ages, or giving a number of copies sold but without any information on how they got there. Since books are returnable, the percentage of copies that are returned is crucial in determining how successful a book is, and from the UK, I'm still waiting... Why can't the technology be transplanted?

Nielsen, the TV ratings people, also provide weekly book sales information in both the US and UK. Again, the information you can get in the US is much more detailed, much more helpful, and much more easily found than in the UK. Again, why can't this company use the same good technology on both sides of the Atlantic?

And the same again if you're planning to attend Book Expo America vs. London Book Fair. BEA just radiates this sense of technological achievement in registering and paying that seems to elude LBF, even though both are run by Reed Exhibitions.

This doesn't make sense. At JABberwocky Literary Agency, I confess the technology at one end of the office isn't the exact same as at the other end; his Mac ran 10.3, mine 8.6; then I ran 10.4 vs. 10.3, now his is 10.5 and I'm still 10.4. But shouldn't these big global conglomerates be a little better at spreading best IT practices than a little literary agency?


PeatB said...

Maybe the British pound is worth double the US dollar because they don't constantly take out loans to buy new computers.

Antony B said...

I have wondered if the industry is behind the times here in the UK. It is very very rare for a UK agent to accept email submissions for example ( I know it isn't the norm in the US, but it at least appears to be a fast-growing trend). Also, a number top agents still don't have any kind of web presence, making it harder to confirm the details printed in The Writer's Handbook.

Anonymous said...

I know this post is a little older, but I'm not at all surprised by it--hardly anything is really efficiently computerised here in the UK. Everything is done the way it has been for decades, despite shiny new iPhones and other gadgetry. It's like they have it all but haven't really been able to figure out how to make it work for them, and they're too shy to ask so they just sort of look at it and poke it with sticks.