The Digital Rights Issue: One Solution

There’s A Problem
I’ve written before about
how small markets, both English language ones like Ireland and other territories with major markets in similar languages, face challenges when it comes to ebooks:

So we have large publishers seeing sales internationally that they can EASILY service at little marginal cost. Acquiring the right to sell to those markets is a sensible strategy that hedges against future global digital sales while delivering real if small sales now.

But the impact on smaller markets is large
Take for example Ireland (I could as easily choose the English language markets in Spain, Slovenia or San Marino), where ebook sales are lower than 1% right now. From that perspective any Irish publisher approached to do a deal for a title they have published in Ireland would be fools to let that deal flounder over digital rights.

And yet, at what point would a publisher be crazy TO do a deal that required them to cede global digital rights; 5%, 10%, 20%, 25%, 50%? What’s more, if a publisher agrees the principle now at sub-1%, how can they hope to grab back that principle at 5%, 10% or 75%?

But What To DO About It?
I’ve been pondering one solution to that problem for a while and I thought I’d roll it out. It isn’t fancy, it’s hardly innovative, but it SHOULD become standard practice for small market publishers ASAP.

And it is simply:

Set a time period for reverting digital rights at 3, 5 or 7 years. Make sure this is independent of print rights, or at least make sure that a publisher can hold print rights even while digital rights revert. If you like, allow for a renegotiation of key points at these break years rather than a reversion, but ensure that YOU have the right to revert nonetheless.

This doesn’t sound like much, but it is a prudent and sensible precaution for the small market publisher.

Here’s Why?
Consider the following, your market for digital books isn’t huge now, but it is growing, perhaps faster than you realise (see my next post for why that’s the case). By ceding global rights a foreign publisher will take advantage of a global ebook-market selling ebooks to the new digital readers emerging in your market that hurts, in all likelihood, your local ebook retailer (if any exist), your own relationship with potential customers and your own understanding of the market.

The ebook market has changed quickly in the last three years and it will change even more in the next three. Setting the first reversion or renegotiation point at three years is therefore VERY reasonable. What’s more the front-list nature of the print book will almost certainly have passed at that stage.

After five years the market will surely be even more radically different and while it might be TOO long a period before rights revert, it would at least allow the small market to develop a real digital market. Seven years is the longest one should agree a deal of this nature. Seven years opens the possibility that your small market has changed SO much you own efforts at that point will be futile, however, if you use the seven years well, you SHOULD see a benefit of reverting.

One Final Thought
Whatever you decide when ceding global rights, make sure you are doing it as part of a strategy and not simply under pressure to do a deal. Short-termism now will almost certainly lead to your undoing as a publisher. NOW is the time for thinking, vision and long-term planning. Your survival is at risk.

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  1. Pingback: Opinion | The Differential Rates Of Change Problem | Irish Publishing News

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