You know that feeling when you see a new innovation that is so blindingly simple (and important) a concept that you kick yourself for not thinking of it. Well, I had that feeling when I came across a new global book rights trading platform aimed at independent publishers.
I had to know more so I tracked down one of the founders, Lisa Buchan who agreed to what turned out to be a fascinating interview.
How did Sparkabook come about?
Mike (my Sparkabook co-founder) and I had this idea about how we could support independent publishing. After talking with a few publishers, we decided we had to start with a global community for rights trading. This is a core requirement to make small and medium sized publishers more sustainable in the short term, because they are often missing out on the very profitable rights revenue that big publishers are so good at exploiting. It is also a great basis for a community where people can build long term partnerships.
I went to Frankfurt Book Fair in 2010 and talked with hundreds of publishers and agents about the concept. The overwhelming response was positive, with people seeing such a service as a good thing. There were some exceptions (Stieg Larsson’s agent was a little frosty to start with, but she finally conceded that there might come a day when the world was not beating a path to her door!).
In April this year, we launched version 1.0 of our online rights trading service at London Book Fair, and we rapidly gained our first listings. In late July, we delivered version 2.0, which included all of the services we had promised in Frankfurt, including the ability for sellers to easily track what stage a sale had reached and to manage follow-ups. For the first time, we started promoting the community listings to buyers as well as sellers.
How many countries are represented within the publisher base?
At the moment, we have members from around 30 countries, spread across North and South America, Asia, Europe, Australasia and Africa.
Is there the most opportunity for English language publishers, like from the UK and USA?
Most of the buyers in our community are interested in acquiring English language rights for translation into their local language. Some of our agent members believe UK & USA publishers are missing out on sales by selling through distributors in Asia instead of selling license rights to an Asian publisher with strong local connections who would print and distribute locally.
We do have publishers on the community who specialise in translating foreign languages into English, but so far, only for children’s books. A few of our agents cover TV/Film rights, and so far, they have only shown interest in rights that are available in English.
Which are the most exciting markets?
So far, the most buyer interest is coming from China. Some nights, over half of our traffic comes from China, however, their level of buying activity is not reflecting their level of viewing traffic, and we think this is because we don’t yet have a translated version of our site – so this is a priority over the next few months.
What are the strongest genres?
At the moment, the numbers by category look similar to global figures for rights trading – high interest in children’s and non-fiction, with good interest in high quality (award winning or unique) contemporary fiction. We have slightly higher interest in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre – I put this down to SF&F publishers being early adopters of new technology, including a new service like Sparkabook.
Are you seeing license deals being done for ebooks?
It is a little too early to tell how e-books will be treated in contracts between members. Because we only started promoting the community to buyers in late July, most of the sales transactions are still in early stages.
How are you recruiting new publishers?
Many of our early members are people I have met at bookfairs. More recently, visitors to the site have come from a variety of social media sources. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google all seem to have different shares of the publishing community depending on country.
Being talked about on social media helps a lot – when a thread starts running somewhere with a discussion about Sparkabook, we can double our traffic for the few days it is active. Sometimes it is in a language we don’t cover, and the first thing we notice is a spike in traffic and new members from the same country. We have some community members who have become Sparkabook evangelists, and I have not yet had to step into a discussion, our supporters have answered first.
Where to from here?
Our long term vision is to support publishers as they get ready for the new digital marketplace. Many publishers don’t have the technical skills in-house to help them during the transitions ahead, and we love the idea that the community will be able to tell us what they need. It is an affordable model for publishers, because they can share the cost of developing community capabilities that can help them to succeed in a digital future.
Many thanks Lisa for the interview. As a last word we've tried the platform out and it's excellent - a few tweaks needed for sure but judging by the responsiveness we've seen on feedback Lisa's team are all about listening to the customer.