1. Understand the way content is bought and read since the rise of digital publishing

Consumer behaviour over the past 20 years has changed dramatically. Until recently, when buying books, subscribing to journals, and reading print editions, there was only one way to go about doing so, which was entirely set by the supply chain that existed in our industry. Now, the format, delivery, and the competition has changed.

Today, consumers buy and rent other forms of media, such as music and movies, in a number of different ways. Since music and movies are both forms of digital content too, consumers start to bring their experiences and expectations of consuming those types of media to the book and the printed content world, so new business models, such as all-you-can-eat subscription services, pay as you go and value-adding benefits, emerge.  Plus, digital publishing allows for publishers to publish content to readers around the world, not just in their market.

While these new models help attract and appeal to the consumer for this digital age, publishers must be thoughtful of the rights needed in order to take advantage of these opportunities, particularly for backlist titles where digital, subscription, or other territory rights were not included in the original licensing agreement.  So, too, must publishers think to the future of virtual reality and digital storyworlds and what rights need to be pre-arranged should new opportunities in those platforms become available.

A better understanding of what readers want and applying that to current and future content is a way for publishers to be competitive in this digital marketplace.

2. Reclaim, Reuse, Recycle, Reuse to take advantage of new opportunities

While other media industries mine their content catalogues for future revenue, publishers have not traditionally done so quite as aggressively. In the past, rights sales were mostly in print to foreign publishers, audio and book club deals and those sales represented a very small portion of a company’s overall revenue which went directly to the bottom line and, thus, not factored into the profit and loss statement (P&L). Now, with the proliferation of rights opportunities —types, channels, translation, format, fragmentation– publishers are leaving money on the table by not taking advantage of these prospects.

There are many financial possibilities that come with monetising existing content for which the publisher already owns the rights rather than paying an additional advance to acquire new content.  For this new digital audience, all backlist is frontlist if they have not seen it before. And, with that, it becomes increasingly important that publishers have a full understanding of their rights inventory in order to take advantage of these opportunities.

Begin to think of your content catalogue as a series of fragments that can be repurposed: reclaim, reuse, recycle!

3. It’s Time for a New System

Because publishing has traditionally been a business focused on the acquiring and developing of new products, little investment has been made in creating or adopting systems that will help to facilitate and nurture the rights management process and thus allow publishers to take advantage of new opportunities with their backlist titles.

Additionally, the rights department in many publishing houses often lacks visibility even to the rest of the company, even though it’s a critical area of the business and a highly lucrative generator of revenue when you get it right. So a centralised way of making information and the opportunities available across the business is critical when looking to grow a rights programme.

Even today, the management of rights is still heavily reliant on institutional knowledge, Excel spreadsheets and paper files, which in itself poses significant challenges for sharing that information outside of the rights team (often where decisions on that all-important investment lies). With the proliferation of rights opportunities available and a similar number of pitfalls that a publisher can fall into simply by not knowing what rights in what territories they might have, a more sophisticated system of rights management can help safely expand publisher opportunities.

Whether you’re an author, a publisher, or an agent, it is not unusual for written contracts to be lost or misinterpreted. The more traditional systems for retaining information are no longer efficient or appropriate for keeping track of all rights controlled within the business, leaving the door wide open for potential rights conflicts and mismanagement.

4. Let Consumers Drive Decisions

For the first time, through social media and online communities, publishers have a unique opportunity to hear directly from consumers en masse. The ability to get immediate feedback on what topics or types of books are being well-received in the marketplace coupled with the internal sales data, can help publishers take advantage of opportunities with both current and previously published titles.

If publishers have a more automated system in place to identify what content they have, that process can become turnkey and begin a steady flow of income that hasn’t previously existed.

5. Know what you’ve got: Conduct a Rights audit

Much like “metadata” before it, a “rights portfolio audit” tends to make a publishing executive’s eyes glaze over, but for a publisher to ignore both the risk and the opportunities that better management of their rights provides, they do so at their own risk.

Digital publishing has opened up new business models and new markets. So, with each, there are a number of questions that publishers must ask themselves:

  • what do I own,
  • what don’t I own,
  • what have I exploited,
  • what haven’t I exploited,
  • under what terms can I exploit the rights?

A rights portfolio audit clarifies a publisher’s assets, identifying what they have rights to, while also exploring the contexts in which they have those rights, and how they can take advantage of them.

By Randy Petway, Chief Revenue Officer, Ingenta

This article was originally published in the Publishing Perspectives Rights and Licensing Edition, June 2016

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