digital rightsA Quick Look at Digital Rights

by Peter Taylor

[Author's Note: Only your contract will tell you what you have and for how long in the way of rights, both print and digital… what you read is just my understanding of the current situation with digital rights, and it is just a quick overview. I suggest you research this carefully yourself to stay up to date.]

Some people are keen to put their work straight into digital. That's fine, but I'm not sure how easy it is then to sell it as print.

Before digital started, the rights could be sold many times, a new deal for each country, and when it went out of print, to a new publisher in the same country. For some books and authors, foreign rights gave a good income - particularly US rights With digital, if you give a company exclusive rights, you can only sell them once. The book will never go out of print and will be available worldwide immediately, at least in all countries speaking the original language. With translation technology improving, human translation may not eventually be necessary for some publishers to produce multi language versions - though I'm sure humans will be needed for a fair while. When negotiating a contract I'd fight for unused rights to return after a period of time. If publishers want digital rights but don't use them inside 5 years, I'd like them to return to me.

(Remember: If a picture or illustrated book goes out of print, ask the publisher for the for the film, which they will no longer need. It will make it easier to sell versions/rights to other countries - they only have to change the text.)

Most people still want print books. On average, digital versions of a book only account for about 5-10 % of sales at present, but when a book is offered in both paper and digital on Amazon, sales there are 33% digital.

There are several methods for selling books digitally. Amazon and the like are called 'cloud models'. This may mean that the books they sell as digital are only able to be read on the machines that they market, eg Kindle. So when you sign a digital contract, it's important to know what coverage of the market it's likely to have, and if you can sell it to other cloud providers, eg Sony for their own reader. The big advantage of these cloud models is their selling power. They want to sell books and their power to advertise and deliver is much greater than your local bookstore which may only get one copy of your book in and squeeze it into an almost invisible place on the shelf, squashed between a large number of competitors. If you're lucky.

Authors now have the 'big boys' working on their behalf - Google, Sony, Amazon - a massive selling power, but what does the author get? And the Publisher? I believe publishers want to do the right thing by authors and gain a reasonable royalty. It is not cheap for publishers to produce digital books - there are still a good number of people-hours involved in the process. Then there are the e-publishers who sell direct to consumers.

  • How will consumers find them?
  • Will their products be able to be used on all devices?

The big publishers will have ready customers that they will entice to their sites. Random House and Harper Collins and others are working hard on digital marketing and supplying.

In the children's market, there is a new business in the UK called Nosy Crow. It is open to submissions and will market digital and print editions. Their founder is very driven, has been at the head of 3 major publishing houses, and if anyone will succeed from a small beginning, I believe it will be her. If you want to sell a book to be published both in print and as an e-book and print, I think you could do well to research this business and submit.

All I'm saying, really, is that not all digital rights are equal. As always, do your research or you may be limiting both a book's potential to sell and what you'll get out of it. There are now specialist agents/consultants who work on digital rights

There will also be a number of digital libraries, from which readers can download books that they will never own and which will “self-destruct” after the allocated reading period. Publishers will licence books to the libraries and be paid according to the total number of subscribers that library has. The publisher and the author will each get, for example, a few cents for each subscriber the library has. This means your income will not be depend on the number of downloads - you'll get as much (or little) as JK Rowling.

© Peter Taylor

Note from Marg: Amazon now has an option to ‘rent’ a textbook for differing lengths of time rather than buying it outright. For example, working from the Kindle app on my iPad, I clicked on a title in the list of books Amazon put on my ‘recommended for you’ list. But there was an addition to the buying options… as well as buying it outright, I saw that I could rent the book for varying lengths of time (from 1 month to 12 months).


The Busy Writer's One-Hour Plot

The Busy Writer's One-Hour Character

Book of Checklists

The Busy Writer's Self-Editing Toolbox

The Busy Writer's KickStart Program

Write a Book Fast