Transcript: Rights On The Money

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Interview with Randy Petway, Publishing Technology

For podcast release Monday, April 6, 2015

KENNEALLY: In a book world, the shoeboxes are legendary. They are where so many authors’ contracts and other legal instruments often ended up, an ad hoc filing system that worked reliably well, at least in the days before digital. Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book.

Rights and permissions staff have struggled with cast-off cartons because they had little choice. Other areas of a publishing house, from editorial to publicity, were devoted to new products, and they got all the attention and resources. In 2015, though, opportunities to monetize rights and permissions are mushrooming, and they no longer can be managed out of a shoebox.

At the London Book Fair later this month, Randy Petway, executive vice president with Publishing Technology, will speak on “Rights on the Money: Are You Fully Monetizing Your IP?” He joins me now from his New York City office, with a call to action for publishers around the world. And Randy, welcome to Beyond the Book.

PETWAY: Hi, Chris. Thanks for having me.

KENNEALLY: Well, it’s nice to have a chance to speak with you. We caught a piece that you wrote for Publishing Perspectives and wanted to learn more about it as a kind of preview for your talk at the London Book Fair. You work there, as we said, as executive vice president with Publishing Technology, which was formed in 2007, following the merger of Ingenta, VISTA and Publishers Communications Group. Randy Petway leads strategic development for the company’s enterprise and digital publishing solutions. And what’s interesting about this piece here is a point that we often make ourselves at Copyright Clearance Center, that as publishers are looking in all sorts of directions for new sources of revenue, rights are a terrific place to start, but there’s an investment that needs to be made.

PETWAY: Yeah, certainly. I think that my assessment, as well, is that rights are a great place to start. There are plenty of revenue opportunities for publishers that historically have been overlooked or deemphasized, and there are also risks that need to be addressed. But there is an investment level that does need to be made. As you alluded to in the introduction, the idea of being able to manage your rights environment through Post-It notes and paper files and Excel spreadsheets is becoming more and more challenging. So this is an area where we think there’s tremendous opportunity, but at the same time risk that needs to be acknowledged an action that needs to be taken.

KENNEALLY: All right, well, let’s talk about some of those risks, because there’s an interesting case out of the UK, just late last year, following the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to the French author, Patrick Modiano.

PETWAY: Sure. So you had a scenario there, and it’s happened other places as well, where the notoriety that was brought to the book in question as a result of the Nobel Prize being awarded led to a discovery that the publisher, in fact, didn’t have the rights necessary to publish the title. Now, again, that, to some, might seem like a unique case, and certainly, because of the attention of the Nobel Prize, it’s something that got quite a bit of attention and publicity, but it happens quite frequently. Sometimes it happens and it’s resolved between the publisher and the content provider, whether it be the author or whoever the rights holder is at the time. And sometimes it goes all the way forward to litigation of some sort.

There’s more and more attention on these things, and I’m happy to speak to why that is, if you’d like, but there’s more and more attention. And it becomes very, very important to publishers that you have a full understanding of what your rights inventory is. What do you own, what don’t you own, what have you exploited, what haven’t you exploited, and under what terms can you exploit the rights?

KENNEALLY: Right. And I think, Randy Petway, the point about the story from the UK with this publisher that thought they had the e-book rights, turned out they didn’t, there was nothing nefarious going on necessarily. It was simply an assumption that they had made. But the contract, which is the basis of all of this, simply didn’t spell it out, I would imagine. And so that’s really an important point to emphasize in all of this, that, as you say, publishers need to know which rights they have. They need to know what they own and what they don’t own.

PETWAY: Yeah, absolutely. And again, to your point, there was nothing nefarious about that. And I’d be willing to say that, more often than not, there’s no nefarious intent on behalf of the publisher or in any media space on behalf of the people who are publishing content or delivering content. It’s often just a question of the ambiguity behind certain contracts, whether or not the contract is easily accessible and can be taken into account, is there some business practice that has been in place for a substantial amount of time and people just assumed, therefore, that business can be conducted in a certain way. So you get all of these things based on assumptions and ambiguities and information that’s not available, but it can lead to situations such as that quite often.

KENNEALLY: Right. And what is causing this to be more important, we see that, is the search for new sources of revenue. But it’s also true that the opportunities, the distribution channels have grown so much that this has created an extremely complex world and one where the wording in the contract really matters, for example, with the rise of subscription models.

PETWAY: Absolutely. When you look at the – well, one thing that’s going on is the suppression of price, the introduction of new business models. I always like to emphasize that, subscriptions being a perfect example, consumers of your content today, their expectations are being set very much based on what they see elsewhere in the marketplace. It used to be that when you were buying books or subscribing to journals, your expectations on how you would be able to purchase that, how you would be able to pay for it was completely set by the supply chain that existed in our industry. But now, people will go out and they buy their music or they rent their music in a certain way, they buy and rent their movies in a certain way. And then they start to bring some of those expectations to the book and the printed content world, so things like subscription models emerge.

And then the question becomes, is there adequate coverage, in terms of rights contracts, to address whether or not you have the rights to publish even in a subscription model or, excuse me, sell in a subscription model? And then following on from that, what should the compensation be back to the original creator of the content? So you get these emerging business models. Subscriptions today, it’ll be something else tomorrow. And then you have to look, OK, do we know enough about the contract to assess whether or not we have the rights? And if we do, under what terms should we be compensating each one of the parties involved? So it becomes very complex very quickly.

The other thing that I think is happening is that for content creators of all sorts, whether it be the photographer who provided images to go into a particular published work or the author, their revenue or income, I should say, is being squeezed by lower prices, which is just something that has come about in our industries, and therefore they are far more protective and want to make sure that they’re being fairly compensated. So they tend to scrutinize things or are starting to scrutinize things in a way that they perhaps didn’t in the past.

KENNEALLY: Indeed. And all of this is shining new light, a strong light, into that formerly dark corner of the publishing house, the rights department. Are publishers noticing that perhaps what they find there isn’t what they wish was there?

PETWAY: Yeah, I think that’s certainly the case. I think they’re discovering things that, as you say, they wish wasn’t there. I think that in some cases, even, they’re continuing business as usual, but with a certain level of unease, that if they really looked a little bit deeper, there might be some problems. So I think that’s certainly going on. And as I said, in a lot of cases, I think it’s just the absence of information or the information not being easily available in terms of really taking an assessment of what is my rights portfolio for the catalog of titles that I have.

KENNEALLY: Right. And so when it comes to first steps, Randy Petway, what are the things you suggest publishers do right out of the gate?

PETWAY: Well, I think that right out of the gate you need to revisit exactly how are you tracking your rights. And again, I’ll use that terminology again, your rights inventory. How are you assessing what you’ve acquired from the authors or illustrators or whoever you’re obtaining content from? How have you exploited that internally? And how have you exploited that in terms of licensing that content to third parties?

And it requires just a fundamental shift. This wasn’t necessarily an area where publishers invested a significant amount of money in terms of systems. A lot of these things were managed through the paper contracts that lived in a file cabinet. A lot of it was managed through things like Excel spreadsheets and Access databases. And all of those were fine at a point in time, but now because of the increasing revenue channels, because of the increasing granularity of the product that you’re selling, new ways of bundling it, etc., etc., etc., the possibilities are endless. And the idea that you can manage that through what are very manual and paper-centric processes go away.

So I think one of the first things you need to do as a publisher is to take stock of exactly how are you assessing your rights inventory, how are you doing that today, what are the gaps in the way you’re doing it today, and then invest the time and knowledge and capital in order to improve that, to make it more efficient for yourself, in order to make it more effective in terms of exploiting opportunities, and make it more safe in terms of protection.

KENNEALLY: And does this get expensive, Randy?

PETWAY: Well, the cost will obviously vary depending on the size of your organization, the number of products and contracts that you have internally, how proactively and aggressively you license content to third parties. So those are kind of the levers or metrics that will shift the cost in either direction. How much workflow do you want incorporated into the solution that you have? Do you want a lot of automated things in terms of checks, balances and approvals? So the cost can vary significantly. But I do still think that there’s an opportunity for publishers to weigh the opportunities, weigh the risks. And once you do that, I think it becomes much easier to find a solution that makes sense from a return on investment.

KENNEALLY: Well, we’ve been speaking today with Randy Petway, executive vice president with Publishing Technology. And on Thursday, the 16th of April, at the London Book Fair at 1300 hours as they say there, or 1:00 pm in the Theater @ Tech, Randy Petway will speak on “Rights on the Money: Are You Fully Monetizing Your IP?” So if you’re attending the London Book Fair, you should make that part of your schedule. And Randy Petway, thanks so much for joining us today on Beyond the Book.

PETWAY: And thank you very much for having me.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines and blogs, as well as images, movies and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at our Website, beyondthebook.com. Our engineer and co-producer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.