Publishers urged to follow Compass' lead

Publishers urged to follow Compass' lead

Pan Macmillan will be offering "enhanced rates" on the titles it publishes under its new digital-only imprint, with agents welcoming the initiative and urging publishers to pursue similar projects.

Macmillan Compass launched a week ago, and will focus on making out-of-print titles available. Fiction publisher Jeremy Trevathan and digital director Sara Lloyd are managing the imprint, approaching rights-holders in order to acquire digital rights. It follows similar projects including Bloomsbury Reader—launched in May in partnership with The Rights House—as well as agent Ed Victor's Bedford Square Books, which this week announced that its titles will be made available in the US through Open Road.

Trevathan said royalties on Macmillan Compass titles would differ to Pan Macmillan's standard digital terms: "It will be on enhanced rates, with a knowledge that those are done on a publishing partnership basis and not an acquisition basis."

He said the process of talking to agencies had begun, with the imprint looking to partner rather than acquire individual titles: "It's not a selective process on our part . . . We would be talking to an agency and saying ‘we can make all your authors available who are out of print'."

Trevathan said Pan Macmillan's decision to launch the imprint was triggered by agents such as Andrew Wylie and Victor asking publishers to do more digitally for backlist titles. He said: "One of the points of it is that book publishers are the best-placed people to do this. One of the things that publishers bring to the mix is experience of marketing online and e-commerce, which is not something agents are geared up for."

Agents largely welcomed the plans, with Curtis Brown c.e.o. Jonathan Lloyd saying the agency had a meeting planned with Macmillan Compass. He said: "If this can be done with a traditional publisher with a non-traditional royalty, so much the better." Lloyd added other publishers were approaching the agency to acquire backlist digital rights, and said: "There will be a considerable degree of action over the coming months . . . I'm surprised not all publishers have approached us."

Simon Trewin, head of United Agents books department, also praised the project, claiming it made more sense for publishers, rather than agents, to create digital imprints: "The electronic imprints set up by the likes of Macmillan and Bloomsbury look exactly like what all publishers should be doing."

Trewin added that UA had been having many conversations with publishers about backlist e-publishing rights, and said: "We are already getting to a slightly mature market with lots of doors for us to knock on." However, he said agents still had to be careful over deals, "making sure we are not tied down to a deal that in six months looks like a joke". He also advised caution over signing away a swathe of digital rights: "Our job is to evaluate case by case, to work out what's right for our authors."

Agent Ed Victor said Macmillan's announcement would not alter his plans. He said: "All I care about is that they market the books . . . They [publishers] are all doing it anyway, but they [Macmillan] are just putting a name on it." However, he said it was unlikely the enhanced rates offered would lead to an improvement in e-book royalty rates overall: "I think they will hold on to that as long as possible."