Curtis Brown agent Cathryn Summerhayes is to join the morning keynotes at The Bookseller’s AudioBook Conference, held as part of FutureBook Live (30th November).
Summerhayes will ask whether traditional publishers are playing fair when it comes to their acquisition of audiobook rights. It follows her intervention at last year’s FutureBook where, speaking from the floor, she accused corporate publishers of “beating up” agents into accepting their “rights grab”.
A number of the bigger publishers now expect to buy audiobook rights alongside print and e-book rights, but agents can be resistant with authors potentially able to earn more if rights are split. In her address to the conference last year, fellow Curtis Brown agent Alice Lutyens said authors needed to be able to choose where their audio rights land: “After all, they make a choice about the print publisher they go with. Why would the same not apply to their audiobook rights?”
Summerhayes’ intervention could be timely; she will be speaking alongside Miles Stevens‑Hoare, general manager of audiobook specialist W F Howes, which alongside other competitors such as Audible, and Bolinda is in the market for audiobook rights. However, when approached to make their case about audiobook rights, and outline why they insist upon them, a number of the corporate publishers declined to put a speaker forward. One said the conversation was over.
Stevens‑Hoare told The Bookseller: "As print publishers have adopted the position of no audio rights, no deal, agents have sought to do the right thing by their authors and ensure the rights get exploited. Specialist audio publishers have continued to extoll the virtues of expertise and ability to fully exploit sales opportunities across the consumer and library channels. Whilst the demand for content continues, the rights wrangle is set to continue."
Summerhayes will ask whether there is in some cases “an unnecessary rights grab” from the bigger publishers, and question whether “agents [should] force print publishers to listen to new models to better serve their authors?” In some markets, such as Germany, publishers have noted a rise in audiobook income coming out of streaming services such as Deezer, Spotify, and Apple Music, but most UK publishers have so far declined to entertain such deals.
Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, said: “The audiobook sector is growing in sales, importance, and complexity, and there is a very necessary discussion to be had over who controls the rights, and what business models are adopted in order to continue to grow the listening market.” Alonside the keynotes, there is a specific panel on subscription and streaming models, featuring, among others, Germany's Marc Sieper, head of audio, at Bastei Lübbe. Audiobook distributors Zebralution and BookWire are both sponsors of the conference this year.
Other speakers announced this week include bestselling author Sophie Hannah, Joffe Books founder Jasper Joffe, subscriptions specialist John Philips, and Ali Albazaz, founder and chief executive of reader-powered publisher Inkitt,