Need to stop fixating on the book

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

pointing-2This blog is not to say that I have gone off the idea of books, the very object that pushed, or pulled, me into publishing in the first place. In fact, with the market segmenting into mass and boutique with little in between, there will be an increased demand for beautiful books and publishers would be wise to raise their production standards.

What I wanted to say was prompted by Digital Book Word 2014 (DBW14) in New York. With more sessions than at a fixed fee psychiatrist, there were few areas of the book industry that weren’t covered. However, from a glance around the audience, those from the larger companies generally worked in sales or in something digital first and possibly sales second. Where were the rights people, the contracts people, those looking for new business outside of selling digital and print copies of their publisher’s books?

Intellectual Property (IP) – it’s a very dry word. We come into publishing for lunches and launches, not something you might lock in a safety deposit box. But in an industry of few sellable traditional business assets, that is the publisher’s most valuable, it is what they own (and this is as relevant for authors going their own route with their work through self-publishing).

That printed book, as hard work to produce and as satisfying as an end product as it may be, is one creation from the IP. The epub file another. The mobi file another. The audiobook another. I won’t go on, but each one is just a small star in the universe of what that IP covers. And like a universe its spread is so vast it is hard to even conceptualise where it begins and ends.

Therefore, in an industry where we are trying to wind a path out of squeezed revenues, away from much documented struggles, why are the majority still wishing upon a star? Maybe a couple of stars?

The international market, with the advance of technology and lowering of some cultural obstacles, is more open than ever and the written word is produced in more forms that ever before. Publishers own this incredibly valuable property, or should do, and while I set out on this article refusing at any point to write the cliché ‘the world is your oyster’, the point is very clear.

At DBW14, I heard several mentions on stage of companies looking to sell more ebooks into new countries. Great, but that sounds like hard work and why restrict yourself to that one product from your IP? Why not look at other options, including licensing, and start producing revenue immediately?

If that sounds like fancy talk, but when I began my first publishing company, Legend Press, I realised the need for immediate cash (my credit card had a limit) and so contacted publishers around the world to sell the rights to the company’s second novel. It sold into four different languages and seven editions – that without really having a clue, or in fact a desk. That was also before the evolved technology we have available today.

Maybe the rights people weren’t at DBW14 because there is so much focus on their work at the traditional book fairs – Frankfurt, London, BEA etc. etc. These are all key events, but the message that needs to reach all departments is that everything has changed. Publishing is not what is has been.

When that last sentence is said, it is too often said in a negative way, party hats discarded into a tired old bin. But it’s an inspiring sentence – there is more opportunity than ever before and a chance to reshape this industry into the next chapter of its great history.

In conclusion I will use a horrible business acronym – recognise, plan, monetise. Recognise exactly what it is you own (less obvious that it sounds), plan for exactly how to use each identified star in that universe, and then monetise them.  This doesn’t necessarily mean plan and then implement in 2016. It potentially means money in the bank today. And never mind IP, those words sound good.

Happy to hear your comments as always! @Tom_Chalmers

DBW Europe, Expert Publishing Blog
Tom Chalmers

About Tom Chalmers

Tom Chalmers is the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he has founded. He started his first company in 2005 when aged 25, Legend Press, a book publisher focused predominantly on mainstream literary and commercial fiction. Chalmers subsequently acquired Paperbooks Publishing, and later launched Legend Business, a business book publisher, followed by successful self-publishing and writer workshops companies, New Generation Publishing and Write-Connections, respectively. He also founded IPR License in 2012, a global rights licensing platform, which he sold in 2016. He has been shortlisted for UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year, UK Young Publisher of the Year, UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur of the Year, and longlisted for the Enterprising Young Brit Awards. He also speaks regularly on publishing and business and is an Enterprise Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.

4 thoughts on “Need to stop fixating on the book

  1. Pingback: Faber Factory Need to stop fixating on the book | @Tom_Chalmers - Faber Factory

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  3. Birgitte

    Tom, I’m missing what should really be the meat of this story… a little more fleshing out of the books-as-IP concept. You mention licensing, but there’s more beneath that word than meets the reader’s eye here, and that’s just one luminous path out of the publishing status quo. What other options do publishers have?

  4. Tom Chalmers

    Thanks Birgitte – to break down licensing would be a whole series of new blogs, or one far too long blog. As you suggest, there are various layers in terms of types of licensing, the list becomes endless (hence the opportunity) and things publishers should be looking to do – both in being more aware of the IP value in what they are acquiring and building networks, either directly or through a rights licensing platform.

    I will go into more specific detail in some future blogs, though the main point of this was to stress the opportunity and firstly and vitally to expand the way the ‘book product’ is viewed.




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