Sunday, August 11, 2013

Retaining Author Relationships In A Transparent World

Technology and communications are changing not only our culture but also our relationships with others. It is not just about how and what we communicate but also about the transparency and openness of the communication. Where once we could not see, we now can and this can start to question and even undermine the trust and inter-dependency in relationships we once took for granted.  

We can all now see our financial transactions and business is now viewable in real time 24x7. Even our location, what we are doing, what we like and dislike can be tracked and visible to many. There is often no hiding place unless you are switched off. As recently witnesses in the news, even governments are exposed and they need to maintain their trusted relationships within an increasingly hostile environment.

When we look at the book business and it value and supply chains, this increased openness and transparency is opening up both new opportunities and also starting to question relationships and process we once took as given.  Increasingly, we are all questioning the value that others add and are now looking to technology and information to support these. These changes are changing relationships and what we expect from them and potentially exposing that thorny issue of trust.

We can no longer deny the rise in self-publishing. What was once seen as the slush pie and vanity publishing is fast becoming respectable and a vibrant publishing market in its own right. As this door widens it could impact on the traditional publishing chain and question what rights are traded, the terms and even the commercial relationships themselves. The process between rights and royalties may have been to many authors something that just happened, but as the likes of Amazon’s KDP and Kobo’s publishing and other services start to show live sales being accrued along with earnings, what once was a mystery to many authors is starting to become transparent. This shift is significant as it starts to force new rules on all and merely sticking to the old ways may in fact end up driving more to the new ones.

We have long argued that physical and digital rights should be separated. We accept that the two go hand in hand and that they are different to other rights such as Film and subsidiary rights. However, the terms under which they are licenced should be separated. Right reversals have a defined physical trigger in most contracts and this works today. However in a digital content world this can easily become perpetual licence as the inventory never goes out of print. If the two are joined under the same revert clause then the physical work can be locked in perpetuity irrespective of its performance. Term time licencing of digital would make sense, but these leads us to consider the information needed by the author on which to base their relationship and trust. We now have to accept a greater transparency, openness, availability of detailed information and timeliness of payments.

Of course some may say the wheel isn’t broken so it doesn’t need fixing, others may say they have a contract and that is that, but it is not about today but tomorrow and maybe it’s time for a change and one that reinforces the relationships and trust and negates the need to go for a more transparent and open deal.

What we can’t deny is that the world around us is changing and with it our approach to what we expect out of those we do business with and there is no reason to believe that should be any different for authors. 

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