The publishing industry is more than 400 years old. To put that timeframe into context, in the UK, when the first printing press was developed, in 1634, Charles I was king shortly before being overthrown. Much has happened since then, and there is much to be proud of in what this key industry has achieved over that time.
Over just the last decade, there has been an unmistakeable growth of other creative sectors, such as gaming, which is a mere 40 years old. While there is no doubt the gaming industry can learn from publishing’s history, it would be hard to argue that there isn’t presently more to learn for publishing from this dynamic, slick and rapidly growing sector. And furthermore, there are the not-quite-as-spritely but newer advertising and design industries, as well as the older-but-now-hugely-evolved sectors of arts and music that also have much to offer.
Going back to gaming, though, it quickly becomes clear how slick—if not ruthless—its ordering is. Publishing, by comparison, is over-complicated, with a winding and circling chain of authors, publishers, agents, sub-agents, distributors, retailers, wholesalers—the list goes on. It has been apparent for some time that as the book market has fallen out of its bubble and is competed with on all sides, it needs to become simpler and more efficient. Intermediaries in particular are having to increasingly justify their role.
Specifically in terms of ownership and copyright, fairly standard lines have emerged in gaming of who has the rights to what at what point in the fairly standard route from idea to retail. That this has been worked out over the last 40 years, in the majority of the public’s lifetime, rather than having been built upon and added to over practically half a millennium.
Lessons from other might industries include what Getty and many others have done in the design sector, creating digital portals for the licensing of images. In music, we’ve seen the growth of licensing through subscription services, as well as a successful direct-to-consumer drive through live events. And art has also widened its revenue streams: a gallery hanging may still be the dream for many artists, but the use of artwork in advertisements or on TV can also provide strong returns.
When we look at what these other sectors are doing, the key lesson starts to shine through: most of the above examples demonstrate a move away from product and toward content. We are not referring to games, CDs, DVDs and pictures; we are talking about licensing, subscriptions, permissions and re-use.
What the younger or more evolved creative sectors see, and what publishing is starting to understand, is that the dryly-titled-but-absolutely-essential intellectual property is the key to recognizing and achieving true value. The book, game, CD, download file, picture, etc. is only one item in the web of invaluable intellectual properly spun around the created content.
When I founded IPR License, a licensing marketplace for book and journal content, how other creative sectors operated was of immediate interest to me. We have spoken to most of the other key industries, and I think there is potential for a fully-across creative sector licensing marketplace—an exciting thought for the hopefully not-too-distant future.
But before that can be achieved, the publishing industry needs to look outside of itself, not with fear or perceived threat, but with genuine interest as to how other creative sectors have launched or evolved. The common refrain is that we are never too old to learn. And in publishing’s case, the oldest grandee of all now has the biggest opportunity to learn from others.
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