Authors and book rights – some more truths

Authors and book rights – some more truths

In my last blog I listed a number of truths and untruths about self-publishing vs traditional publishing, so I thought I would continue in this vein to tackle some other subjects on which I believe that authors require greater clarity. 

And one that immediately sprang to mind was the issue of book rights and the licensing of book rights. 

Historically this is not an area in which authors have been required to have any great understanding of – it was generally handled by the publisher and/or agency – but with more authors self-publishing, a better understanding of this fundamental revenue stream is now vital.

However, in a recent IPR License author survey it was evident that this understanding was sadly lacking after it produced some concerning results.

Here we go…

Untrue – Authors are fully aware that they own the world rights to their work. The IPR License survey suggests that this is only the case for just over half of authors (53%).

True – Authors need to improve their knowledge of rights licensing. This is a given. It can often be viewed as a complex area but there are now more than enough resources readily available to authors to help in this educational process.

Untrue – Small numbers of self-published and indie authors are missing out on licensing opportunities. This is not true – with more types of license and more routes for licensing than ever before I would say that the vast majority of authors are missing out on a huge potential revenue stream.

True – Revenue from licensing can dwarf those from original sales – there are many examples of authors selling less successfully in their own country but making large amounts from success in different markets, such as the US, France, Australia, India etc. etc. These could be referred to as the David Hasselhoffs of the book world (big in Germany, in case you didn’t know). 

Untrue – Authors need a traditional publishing deal to take advantage of rights deals in different territories. Savvy self-published and indie authors can market themselves in as many different territories as they want. Showcasing work in the right way can enable titles to be picked up by a variety of rights professionals all over the world. And don’t just think print and e-book – film, TV, audio, large print, apps could also be viable options. 

True – Digital copyright infringement is becoming more of a problem. A better understanding of rights is not only about making money – it is also vital for authors to adequately protect the rights to their work.

Untrue – It’s only large publishing houses that have access to selling rights around the world. Many small publishers have built their business around their success in licensing rights, both buying and selling. Sales of international and subsidiary rights continue to make up a large proportion of a book's income for publishing houses large and small.

 True – Authors do not have a good enough understanding of the different rights that can be derived from the intellectual property they hold in their work and that can be licensed. The IPR License survey disturbingly found that 38% of respondents believed they could license their ‘right of passage’ (sic) and 28% thought they could license their ‘human rights’…

Untrue – The availability of digital distribution on a global scale will diminish the international rights market. There is a huge difference between your book being available among millions of others to buyers in another country with no support for it and having a company pay to license, produce, sell and promote it.

True – Advances in technology and communication channels have made the international rights market easier than ever. The advent of online global platforms, right down to social media, the internet and email has made it easier than ever to engage with potential licensers all over the world.

For many authors the licensing of book rights is a mystical world, often misunderstood and more usually ignored. However, it’s vital that authors not only know their rights but also make full use of them – after all, making money from being an author can be tough enough without neglecting arguably the largest available stream of them all.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this and always welcome comments, whether agreeing or disagreeing, so feel to let me know on Twitter at @tom_chalmers