Selling Books around the World

Written By Louis Gereaux

With the advent of the web, many bookstores whether online or not have sold books internationally, or have considered selling to the rest of the world as an option.  The web provides access to customers worldwide.  One advantage of carrying a line of English books is that there are several countries where the books may be in demand, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. This reciprocity of language and books is true between Canada and the United States, but Canada also has many French speakers and Native Americans. You might look through your inventory to discover that many of your used books were published overseas.  A clue would be the abbreviation Ltd. after the publisher’s name indicating the United Kingdom or GmBH for German publishers.

The top seven countries which publish books in order are Great Britain, the United States, China, the Russian Federation, Germany, Spain, and Iran.  After Iran, the number of titles per country is less than 50,000 per year.  This list may seem surprising, but the list covers several of the world’s most spoken languages, such as English, Chinese, Russian, German, Spanish, and Arabic. Most of the books published in each country are written in their own language for their native speakers. Otherwise, many books published in non-English countries are translations, and usually the translation language is into English, but of course, books are translated from the native language into the many languages of this world.

Beyond mere language consider cultural themes of books.  Culture becomes complicated by the presence of multi-cultural people within many nations.  Sure there are nations known for their diversity, but many countries around the world have people of different cultures living within their nation’s borders.  The combinations of cultures may surprise you, and your requests for books may not make sense within a specific cultural context. For instance, consider author J.R.R. Tolkien was actually born in South Africa, but grew up in England, then later wrote about the Dark Ages in his famous Lord of the Rings series like a native of Europe.

Consider Joseph Conrad, who was a great artist with his words in books written in English but he grew up in Poland speaking no English.  What about American author Edith Wharton who loved to travel in France and wrote novels about life there?  She was one of the famous American ex-pats who lived in Paris during the 1920’s, and wrote some of her best works in France. Are her works written in France and other ex-pat books truly American creations since they were written overseas but by American born authors?

Shipping considerations for overseas mail are pretty straightforward.  If you mail with the Post Office, you’ll need to fill out a Customs Declaration slip.  The Customs Declaration has twp sides: one half is kept at the post office for 30 days, and the other is a sticker that goes on the package to be sent with the order you plan to ship. Overseas packages do not count as Media Mail items. They must be sent first class internationally mail which is rather pricy even for cross border U.S.A. and Canada exchanges.

The Customs Declaration has your name and address, and the receiver’s name and address on one side.  You side and date that portion – it is kept at the post office.  The sticker side requires your signature as well.  You must write a short description of the product enclosed such as 1 used book and give it a value.  Above is a series of boxes which categorize the item: gift, commercial sample, documents, and other.  Since a book seems to fit none of these categories, I always check the Other category.

A.P.O. addresses are military bases around the world.  An A.P.O. address may be an overseas address but it is not considered in the same category as other foreign mail, because the government disperses packages through its own military package system and the books will not travel through a foreign postal office to reach their destination at an American base overseas.

Additionally, consider purchasing delivery confirmation and insurance on your package since it is going such a long way and will travel through several post offices.


— Information on number of books published per country was obtained from Wikipedia and is compiled by UNESCO.

[editor’s note:  we would love to about your experiences with international sales, please feel free to comment below]

3 thoughts on “Selling Books around the World”

    • Thanks for picking up on the error Segovius – Iran certainly does publish/read/speak Farsi, as a matter of fact my little three year old was learning his first few Farsi words this past weekend during Nowruz.

  1. I made an assumption which I should not have done in corresponding languages with countries. Hopefully, the other languages listed correspond to the other countries, but again I may have made additional errors. The former Soviet Union Republics have many different languages too, not just Russian. China has several languages and Mandarin Chinese is only one of those languages, although the most prevalent language.

    That is great there are so many books published in Farsi every year. More languages mean more interesting books published. This information is something all booksellers should become more aware of and definitely is a consideration for those who want to pursue international sales of books.

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