How does selling rights differ from sales?
Why do companies need to sell rights if they have the technology and global reach to do it themselves?
Just some of the questions addressed by Diane Spivey, Rights & Contracts Director at Little, Brown Book Group, who guided us through the changes in this key part of the business in a thought-provoking Masterclass. From the rights to publish in all formats and editions to allowing Mrs Beeton’s name to appear on bread, we learnt about the many levels of rights sublicensing – or the ‘cascade’ of territorial, translation, condensed, and serial, through to audio, radio, TV, film and merchandising – and the challenges in these areas.
In today’s fast moving environment, Diane spoke of both the advantages and disadvantages of selling rights. The effective management of what can be sold, where and how, is instrumental in maximizing the potential revenue from intellectual property. When a publisher sells rights they ‘give away’ the benefits of having ‘their name on the box’ in the marketplace. Some control is lost: the revenue share is smaller, the customer distanced from the company. But the sale of rights carries relatively little cost other than the time and travel of those involved. There is no investment required in the skills and infrastructure to produce formats, or operate in an untried market. Diane explained how the rights function is a sound way to ‘dip your toes in the water’, enabling the publisher to experiment and learn. Whilst strong relationships are built between those in the business, rights sales are reversible – and if the company does wish to ‘do it themselves’ in the future the opportunity is there.
So, far from rights being dead, one might think about it as an integral part of the strategy to adapt. A way to answer the current questions about the core business of publishing in the future; a way of reaching wider markets through foreign language rights, and new markets through different media and formats. Having invested in digital content management and warehousing, publishers are in a better position to manage how best to reach those parts.
Diane gave us a fascinating insight into the whole scene, including recent history. Some things I noted that echoed discussions in our recent seminars:
- How will ebook sales impact on print sales? Will it follow the model of paperback sales halting the hardback; will eformat revenue come from rights or sales? Now it is so rare for publishers to license paperback rights – a good example of business being taken back in house.
- Owning full copyright is essential for academic/educational/STM publishers to allow effective repurposing and sales to the international community.
- The demise of the book club era which added 50,000 copies to a print run has impacted rights revue – has it also left a gap in the recommendation/filtering chain in a channel which brought product to non-traditional readers/purchasers?
- Given digital developments, will publishers ‘do it themselves’ as the market matures rather than license to specialist large print format suppliers? And how will digital downloads offer new opportunities for unabridged audio book sales?
- With the print newspapers undergoing major change, will serial rights – with their requirement for ‘show me the headline’ – be harder to sell than ever, or will they migrate to another format?