Design considerations when Publishing to a Global Market [VIEWPOINT]

A couple of months I wrote an article for the Futurebook blog in recognition of the site’s world-wide reach, and I thought it was time to share some of these thoughts with the BookMachine crowd and also re-visit some of the scenarios, which have now been published.

Working at a design agency that primarily works with educational publishers has given me an understanding of many requirements and considerations that need to be met for producing material (both print & digital) for many different markets. However, publishing for a global market is different to market specific publishing. The premise is that technology has made content (books, ebooks, websites, resources etc) accessible to a wider range of audiences across the world. This poses new challenges for publishers who need to meet the demands and requirements of a global market.

Traditionally content would be written and produced for a particular market, country or language. There are even markets within markets that need to be considered. Agencies exist to make sure that the material produced meets the requirements to be sold and used within said specific territory.

We have come across series that have originally been published in Europe and have been re-versioned for different countries which often means a complete review of content, not only the language and vocabulary used but also the theme of the content, which all makes for huge production costs. Trends change and as the boundaries of culture merge certain elements have become less of an issue and don’t factor as much in design considerations, such as avoiding certain colours.

However, there are still many political, religious and cultural elements that do factor and need to be taken into account.

What publishers are facing now is that digital editions of materials enable anyone anywhere in the world to access content, making the adherence to all cultural, political and religious sensitivities difficult.


Cultural, religious and political considerations

One of the biggest considerations we have come across is the use of images. Non-Western countries and particularly Islamic countries are very strict about the images you can use. For example you can’t use an image where men and women appear together, unless it is specifically referring to a Western scenario (eg an image of a family). And images of women can’t show exposed skin, apart from hands and faces. We often find ourselves photo-shopping sleeves onto images for a publication that is being re-versioned for an Asian market. There are also customs that you need to be aware of that either cause offense or are religiously unacceptable.

Something else that is important to get right from the beginning with images that are being used for Global markets is the licensing and rights management. Even if you aren’t planning to publish a product globally straight away it is much easier to get World Rights and All Editions (including all electronic formats) of images from the beginning than having to start again mid-way through a project re-versioning. That way when you are initially sourcing images you can keep tighter control of the licensing and purchasing budget and don’t run the risk of having to abandon what becomes an expensive image when you try to get World Rights for it at a later stage.

There are also political issues that can have implications on material being published. For instance some countries don’t accept the same viewpoint about their country that the rest of the world does. In a recent encounter with a foreign printer a publisher had to change a map that had been used, as it didn’t meet their recognition of boundaries, even though the book wasn’t being sold in that country.


Other considerations aside from images and illustrations

As a design agency when we are asked to create pages that reflect the market the book is being sold to, we research country specific trends which can give a real indication of how something should look and feel. Even though a lot of these styles have merged over the years and are becoming less important there are still matters of local culture and styles that we look at and consider. This becomes much harder to do if you are publishing globally and makes a decision on the overall look of a series range important to get right from the beginning.

Editorial also needs to apply market sensitivities from the beginning as these will impact on the look and feel of the page layouts and which images and illustrations are used and commissioned.

Equally if you are planning on converting the copy into another language, it is important to get the editorial right before any conversion takes place. Correcting copy in multiple languages becomes much harder, more time-consuming and more expensive.

We also need to make sure that every page has been laid out in a way that will compensate for every languages word length. For instance Polish words tend be much longer than the same ones in English.



Most of the publishers we are working with have recognised that there are huge differences between publishing for just one territory to producing something that can be accepted globally. And there are different schools of thought as to which is the best way to go about this.

One way is to craft the content from the outset to be suitable for publication into the strictest market, without the need to have localised versions. One of our clients Macmillan Education have just done this through a re-versioning of The Business – a global English business course – which is aiming to reach a truly global market through one stand-alone series. The titles have a subject matter that refers to objects and historical figures and not religion, and they tend to have very few images of people. Where there are images, they adhere to the strictest country’s acceptance levels.

This does seem to be the way that some publishers are choosing to approach this and in the long run it will certainly save them money from having to re-edit content, pay for new suitable photographic licenses and prevent hours of time photo-shopping more clothes onto people in photographs. However, is there a danger that by publishing for a truly global market, the breadth and depth of content will be diluted somewhat by having to meet every requirement set out by every market?

And by appeasing the hardest markets in order to sell to the maximum number of people are you in danger of diluting and losing the chance to nurture and explore the exciting nuances of different countries, cultures and religions? Is there also a danger that publishers will lose sales, as the cultural elements many teachers enjoy using, as discussion points, will be lost?

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  1. Fascinating topic, Sophie. Thanks for the discussion. The idea of crafting “content from the outset to be suitable for publication into the strictest market” has been around for a long time for educational publishers in the U.S. because of differences in the requirements of state boards of education. Texas very often represented the “strictest market” in the U.S. (The fact that getting listed by Texas was very often a make or break situation for publishers was important, too.) I remember about 30 years ago trying to figure out how to present evolution and the Scopes monkey trial in an American history textbook so as not to offend the Texas BoE. We found that the competition didn’t mention it, so our book ended up not mentioning it either.
    So this is a problem for international publishers. If you write the book to the strictest customer, you are denying the rights of other customers to know the full story. And if you don’t, you are losing the opportunity to sell to the strictest customer. That’s a delicate balancing act.

    1. Thanks for your comment Robert – indeed it is a very tricky balancing act. And as you say meeting just one or all demands can often be a watering down of the content or a huge cost for Publishers. Thanks for sharing your experiences and particularly those from across the pond.

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