Why are the titles of books changed according to where they are published?

What's in a name..... seriously?

I just finished writing a review of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman and it really got me wondering.... why are the titles of books changed according to where they are published?

As far as I am aware, Philip Pullman entitled the first book of his His Dark Materials trilogy The Northern Lights. Yet in North America is was published as The Golden Compass.

JK Rowling entitled her book Harry Potter of the Philosophers Stone (the philosopher referring to alchemist Nicholas Flamel). In America, it was published as Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone.

Markus Zusak entitled his book The Messenger (great book by the way). In America, it was published as I am the Messenger.

Why the differing titles? My first thought is that there might be some sort of cultural argument about the title of the book, but I really can't see how this can be the case. There just isn't a sufficient enough cultural different between the UK and the USA, or Australia and USA for this to be the case.

I suppose you could say that titles were chosen by the publishers that they thought the people in that particular country could identify more with.... but really - The Messenger vs I am the Messenger? Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone vs Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? Do they really think American's need a little bit of clarification in the title about who exectly the messenger is? Do they really think that American's can't figure out that an alchemist could also be considered a philospher? How is The Northern Lights just not going to work in America, but it can elsewhere in the world?

This isn't just directed at Americans or the American publishing indistry - I am sure there are example of changing titles elsewhere throughout the world. These are just the examples that came to mind first.

I hope that there is a good reason for changing the titles - because I for one tend to think that the integrity of the author's work should be maintained all around the world. If they called their book The Northern Lights, or the Philosopher's Stone or The Messenger, I think that there better be a really good excuse for changing it.

It's very likely that everyone but me knows the answer to this but can you please enlighten me? Why are the titles of books changed according to where they are published?


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