Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Blurring of BookWorld Boundaries

How many agents and authors does it take to demonstrate that digital is different?

Jane Friedman’s Open Road clearly identified the opportunity and agents and authors are now latching onto the opportunity and Ian Fleming’s estate and Sonia Land’s recent Catherine Cookson's e-book deal show that the momentum is gaining ground.

Today we read in the Bookseller that one of the Uk’s most significant and respect agents, Ed Victor Literary Agency, has launched Bedford Square Books. Which will initially focus of putting back into the market reverted rights for authors whose books are out of print and forgotten by the trade. Bedford Square Books plans to release to some six titles this year and a further six at the beginging of next year. Interestingly they intend to also launch Bedford Square Stories, based on original or reverted short stories.

There are many great titles that are looked away in cupboards that could be brought back into the digital arena. Some may be simply flagged as ‘reprint under consideration’, others reverted and then there are the prized orphans. Everyone wants to see books being made available and digital can offer the opportunity to do this at a relatively low risk and cost. It looks like publishers who simply sit on rights that are out of print will be challenged to make them digital.

Of course we must be wary of those who simply revert to print on demand to circumvent reverting rights and to perpetually retain rights. Reversion clauses that were built for print and not for POD can’t just be assumed nor can volume rights be claimed and increasingly authors need to be vigilant to this.

The bookworld boundaries continue to become blurred as retailers go past buying into print run punts and packaging deals and become publishers and publishers push to go direct and be retailers. This blurring is good for all as the author has more opportunities and potentially greater control of the works, the publisher has think back, mid and front list and digital and the retailer sells ‘books’ not just front list.

The thorny issue remains that of the rights contract. We believe that the digital and print should be separate contracts and under separate terms, one based on inventory and sales the other on fixed short term and renewable terms. We also believe that the ‘non compete’ clause which is prevalent in rights contracts needs to be legally tested to see if it covers all potential media renditions or only specific format.

It is interesting to look back at the prosperous 18th century London booksellers such as Robert Dodsley, who were all large copyright owners. We quote from, The Life of Robert Dodsley, “… for the real money lay in ownership of copyrights, not in the retailing… booksellers were the entrepreneurs who purchased rights from authors, and, binding to others, merchandised and finished the product through advertisement and trade distribution.”

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