Here It Comes

8 June 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

[F]or years, I’ve been wondering why big traditional publishing companies aren’t licensing their backlist. There’s a million ways to make money off copyright licenses, and the most obvious is to keep books in print. Yet so many big traditional publishing companies don’t keep their books in print.

Or, worse, in my opinion, those companies don’t publish ebook versions of their catalog. All of their backlist in their catalogs. Realize that this isn’t thousands of titles for them. In the case of some of the larger companies, the title list has to be closer to a million.

But the companies have no idea which books they still can license, whether or not the old contracts have clauses in them that allow ebooks, or even who handles the estate of those old books. I had just read a Daphne Du Maurier novel, My Cousin Rachel,  which had recently been made into a movie, and it took me a lot of scrolling to find that book. I want to read more of her work, but I’m going slowly in ordering it or buying it.

. . . .

We’ve hit the point in the ebook revolution—the online revolution really—where we expect everything (and I do mean everything) to be at our fingertips.

So back to Led Zeppelin. The band is fifty years old this year. And yeah, jeez, that hurts. Because I remember when they were the epitome of cool (and being young and not being understood by the old fogies). Anyway, the folks at Warner Music Group which apparently owns or licensed most of Zeppelin’s catalog, were planning some kind of celebration of the band.

Instead of issuing a retrospective album, they set up a website with a logo name generator. You plug in your name, and it comes up in the Zeppelin iconic font. That’s not the coolest thing about the website, though. The coolest thing is the playlist generator, which allows users to compile their own playlist of Zeppelin songs or covers of Led Zeppelin songs, and then share those playlists on social media.

Think about that for a moment: the website, if set up properly, will help Warner Music Group know what songs from the Led Zeppelin catalog (and related catalogs, like Jack White’s, are the most beloved). That information can be used in marketing later.

This little landing page, with its logo generator and its playlist generator, will then direct users to the Zeppelin website, where you’ll find all the fiftieth anniversary goodies, including the ubiquitous best-of collection and an authorized book about the band.

. . . .

According to Rolling Stone:

The [logo] site received more than 200,000 unique visitors in its first 10 days, with users making 230,000 logos and 20,000 custom playlists. The “biggest uplift” was from White’s playlist, branded as “Led Zeppelin x Jack White,” which drew thousands of users each day — which translates to hundreds of thousands of streams, which translates to a steady stream of cash to Warner and Led Zeppelin without the band lifting a finger.

Hundreds of thousands of streams, “without the band lifting a finger.” Passive income, based on one idea. Yes, streaming services don’t pay a large amount for streams, but they pay. And even a small amount of money adds up when it is multiplied by hundreds of thousands. Not counting the visibility, discoverability, and all those other “abilities” that come from the social media shares, and the links between the various playlist generators. They all play into the streaming services algorithms, which results in even more recognition, and more plays.

Once upon a time (maybe as recently as three years ago) working with what we call the backlist and what the recording industry calls “catalog marketing” was the unlit basement of the industry. No one wanted that job. It wasn’t glamorous, and it barely earned its way.

But that’s changing, and changing rapidly. Apparently, consumers no longer care about the latest and greatest thing. They want what’s new to them. More than that, they want something that they like.

This is where sync marketing comes in. A lot of younger consumers buy music because they heard it on their favorite TV show or in an important scene in a blockbuster movie. From the Rolling Stone article:

Tiffany’s 1987 cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” has seen 42 percent of its all-time Shazams come after it appeared in Netflix’s 2019 series The Umbrella Academy, and several tracks from the 1940s to 1970s climbed up the company’s global charts after floating into people’s ears from the background of Avengers: Endgame.

. . . .

I’ve noted for years now that traditional publishers have become reluctant to let go of a license once they receive it. In other words, books don’t go out of print anymore, no matter how badly the publisher is mismanaging the book. (In the past, if the book wasn’t in stores, the writer could get her rights back. Not anymore.)

Someone in that megaconglomerate knows that these rights are worth money. They’re worth a lot as assets on a balance sheet, but in the music industry, anyway, they’re also being turned into active revenue streams.

When this starts happening to books—and it will—writers are going to have to be vigilant about their contracts. They’re going to have to see if the contract’s vague 1997 language covers things like streaming rights or omnibus rights or any one of a dozen other ways to license that print book into something new.

What will probably happen is that publishing companies will do what they always do—figure it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. They’ll also not want to make payments, so writers are going to have to start auditing their publishers (which no traditionally published writer will do for fear of being blacklisted—because that’s what agents tell them to do. Sigh.

. . . .

So…be warned. Changes are coming, traditionally published writers. Within five years or so, expect a department of back catalog management in your publisher’s offices (if that department doesn’t already exist now). Expect to have every inch of your contract exploited by that department—and maybe some rights you didn’t license as well.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says that many authors have so much emotional energy (and more than a bit of insecurity) tied up with their publisher that they desperately want to believe that publisher will always be honest and considerate of their welfare. Unfortunately, such is not always (or even frequently) the case.

Contracts, Copyright/Intellectual Property, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business of Writing

20 Comments to “Here It Comes”

  1. The desire to believe the best out of their agents and publishers does seem strong. I was complaining on a panel about rights grabs by publishers for things they are unlikely to be able to use due to their own efforts, like movie/TV rights. A well known author in the audience asked if that included their publisher, which they named (a Big 5 division). When I said yes, they claimed that publisher never asked for those rights.

    Immediately after that, another panelist published by same publisher as well known author said, he’d had to give up those rights and his agent said there was no give. Then an audience member said they had the same publisher and had also been forced to turnover those rights.

    Was well known author’s agent able to get rid of those grabs? Maybe, that author isn’t a giant one, but does pretty well. I had to wonder though if the author had given up those rights and didn’t even realize they had done so. They were already defensive about the benefits of agents “like theirs” and similar publishers.

    • It may have to do with WHEN that author started with a publishing house. The ‘all rights’ grab is a relatively new phenomenon.

      • Could be, but I’m not aware of any books by that author being published prior to 2009.

        • Kris Rusch mentions that publishers have very different contracts for some of their authors – possibly the ones who would otherwise walk, and have proven their economic value?

          If you have the right credentials, you don’t get the ‘standard’ contract.

          And get better tables at restaurants?

          Or it’s also possible that author hasn’t been paying attention to the contracts – since most think there’s nothing that can be done except to sign them.

          Kris also mentioned that the rights grabs for everything is the publishers suddenly getting wise to other possibilities in those books than just producing the text.

          • What I know is this author’s agent is one of the better ones by reputation in that genre, and the author has leverage that others do not (top level awards, frequent publishing, good sized and loyal fan bases).

            Their contracts may be different. They didn’t come across as particularly business savvy though based on several comments on different topics, so they might be relying on their agent more than close attention to the contracts. I can’t tell.

  2. We’ve hit the point in the ebook revolution—the online revolution really—where we expect everything (and I do mean everything) to be at our fingertips.

    We have also hit the point where we learn our expectations don’t track the real world.

  3. Terrence OBrien

    We’ve hit the point in the ebook revolution—the online revolution really—where we expect everything (and I do mean everything) to be at our fingertips.

    We have also hit the point where we learn our expectations don’t track the real world.

    • Felix J. Torres

      But the world tracks those expectations. 😀

      Actually, in a variety of content industries, those expectations are increasingly coming true. In commercial music, comics, and video the major players are exploiting their full catalog in one way or another and the second and third tier players are following suit.

      One of the primary drivers, amusingly enough, is piracy; in all three industries the players that of they don’t make their content readily available, others will be happy to do it; if they don’t exploit their content, those others will.

      The music industry was the first to realize this during the Napster file-sharing craze. HBO and BBC both made similar discoveries about GAME OF THRONES and DOCTOR WHO. The BBC responded by making its shows available globally day-and-date. HBO responded by launching HBO NOW. Both saw increased revenue and reduced piracy. Video piracy remains but the bulk is by non-customers, real or potential.

      Both Marvel and DC have similar stories on the comics side.

      On the TV side, Hulu and the networks’ free, ad-supported apps show a similar trend.

      Even the gaming industry is getting into the act via remakes and backwards compatibility. Atari, Intellivision, Coleco, Sega,and Nintendo have all successfully released nostalgia gadgets as well as digital versions of various vintage games that mine old IP going back to the original Pong.

      There is money to be found feeding the old Qwest expectation:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAxtxPAUcwQ

      You just have to “try”.

      • Terrence OBrien

        Sure things are increasing. But increasing is a long way from having everything (and she does mean everything) at our fingertips.

        • Felix J. Torres

          And we are talking expectations.
          People’s expectations are based on what they experience.

          What they experience today is all Marvel Comics ever, available online. What they experience today is music streaming services with millions upon millions of songs on demand. What they experience is Disney announcing they will put everything own on Hulu on the new Disney plus streaming service. What they experience is a MLB subscription service that lets them watch and and all games in the season or going into the (recent) past. What they experience is every episode of a recent series being available online and many older series going back to GILLIGAN’S ISLAND and THE RIFLEMAN. And all the major movie and TV studios are planning to follow Disney’s example. They have to do it or be left behind as roadkill.

          No, it’s not everything. Not yet.
          Nothing is ever 100%.
          But there is already so much available in all the major content categories, not just one or two, that the expectations builds and starts to drive behavior.

          And that is what KKR is talking about: an environment where “new” doesn’t mean “new to everybody” but rather “new to *me*”, where trolling a new releases section in a bookstore, whether physical or online, is not the only way readers get new-to-them material.

          In the SF world this has always been this way: the culture of the genre has always included what came before as an essential part of every reader’s education about the field. A “true sf fan” has read the perennials: Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Blish, Anderson, Brackett, Hamilton, Bester, et al. And every decade new names get added to the “must try” list, Zelazny, MacCaffrey, Bujold, Weber…

          Other genres may not be quite that steeped in their legacies but they have their own lists of musts: Christie, Heyer, Cartland, Bloch, MacLean, Fleming…

          KKR writes in all those genres including SF. She knows every book of hers has to find its readers among the forest of known good legacies. It’s hard and getting harder by the day.

          Book selling is not just about the new releases table in the front of a B&M bookstore and hasn’t been for a generation. Those that only address the old way, focusing only on the release window without adjusting will continue to see their numbers dwindle until they are forced to sell their catalog or their entire business to the randy Penguin.

          https://www.thepassivevoice.com/penguin-random-house-buys-fw-medias-books-at-auction/

          She’s warning tradpub authors to take stock in *their catalogs* and make sure they are properly monetized and to take appropriate steps if not. Which might mean new publisher, new agent, lawsuits, going hybrid…

          Doing something other than sitting passively bemoaning their fate.

          Publishers will do whatever they want: authors can either settle for whatever scraps fall their way or try to take control of their own career. She urges the latter. Has been doing it for years, now. And the need grows ever larger.

          • What they experience is Disney announcing they will put everything own on Hulu on the new Disney plus streaming service. What they experience is a MLB subscription service that lets them watch any and all games in the season or going into the (recent) past. What they experience is every episode of a recent series being available online and many older series going back to GILLIGAN’S ISLAND and THE RIFLEMAN

            So true.

            In my quest to develop a new mystery series that was open-ended rather than one big story arc, I discovered a gem of a book titled “Writing the Pilot.” Now, while it’s about TV series, that was what I was looking for because I knew that television had long ago figured out how to make a show like Law and Order last for decades while I’d gotten caught up in the ideas of character arcs and growth and continuing subplots that necessarily have an end point.

            Anyway, I’d already discovered Perry Mason (a favorite from my youth) on Amazon Prime and had started watching that. The book referenced Boston Legal, which I’d maybe seen 3-4 episodes of previously, and yes, that was on Amazon Prime, too. It also referenced The Practice as the predecessor. On Amazon Prime? Check.

            I ran into one glitch when the pilot for The Rockford Files was revered as maybe the best pilot ever written. Now, while I’d caught the odd episode here and there, I never was a major fan of the show and couldn’t remember whether I’d seen the pilot or not. Unfortunately, a search of Prime, Netflix, and Hulu (all of which I already subscribe to) showed it wasn’t available there. It wasn’t even available for streaming on Amazon on a pay basis. But I could buy a box set of all seasons of the show for under $30, which I did. Delivered to my door in two days.

            Compare this to trying to find books in an old series, which, if you’re lucky, you might find a print copy for resale at a not-too-outrageous price that will get to you in a week or two.

            • Felix J. Torres

              Rockford files was an excellent series.
              It is owned by NBCUniversal.
              A good buy at that price.

              Should be one of the keystones (along with, yes, LAW AND ORDER) of the NBCUNIVERSAL Streaming service headed our way:

              https://variety.com/2019/tv/news/nbcuniversal-streaming-service-details-1203108034/

              “NBCU’s streaming plans will be somewhat different from those brandished by many of its competitors. The offering will be free to NBCU pay-cable subscribers in the U.S. and will be supported by advertising. Plans call for the streaming service to be made available to subscribers of both Comcast, NBCU’s parent company, and Sky, the European satellite broadcaster that Comcast acquired control of last year. In all, NBCU will make the service available to 52 million subscribers. The streaming offering is expected to feature original content and programming from outside partners as well as material from the company’s archives. An ad-free version will also be available for a fee, and non-pay-TV customers can purchase a subscription separately.

              “We’re going to unite the whole company behind it,” NBCU CEO Steve Burke tells Variety. “We took the person who is behind the [division with the] most operating cash flow in the company and gave her this job. This is a sign internally and externally that we’re serious. Deadly serious.”

              NBCU intends to use its coming broadcast of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo “to put a lot of afterburners on this service,” says Burke, who believes “consumers are going to get used to having multiple services, and they’ll pick three or four services and bundle themselves.” NBCU wants to achieve scale quickly, he adds: “We want to build a platform that has lots and lots of people using it, so we can start to make money with advertising.”

              More at the source.

              The emerging model is the World Wide Web as a research tool: you hear of something, have a question, are unsure of something; you look online. Instant gratification. Then you can go deeper at leisure.

              • The emerging model is the World Wide Web as a research tool: you hear of something, have a question, are unsure of something; you look online. Instant gratification. Then you can go deeper at leisure.

                Which is marvelous. I needed to learn how astrolabes worked, and I found a helpful high school kid on YouTube who’d made her own astrolabe. Her video showed how to use one, which is wonderful because I do not do diagrams.

                I wanted to know about fonts used on a couple of book covers. The ID tool on MyFonts supplied the answer to one book, and a human supplied the answer to the other book, in less time than it took for me to make a sandwich.

                I wanted to know about Persian honorifics or diminutives, and a Persian-American blogger had an anecdote about them. She also wrote about refreshments served to guests, and how to distinguish a Zoroastrian house from a Muslim house if you’re in Iran (the doors are a clue).

                I get impatient now with writers who won’t take 10 seconds to Google something: Your mages can drive to Stonehenge, no need to hike. And they can’t do their ceremony inside the stones unless they first deal with the tourists, and the barriers set up to keep tourists from touching the stones. Ten seconds of Googling would avoid such errors; no trips to the library or flights to England are necessary. It’s marvelous.

            • Compare this to trying to find books in an old series, which, if you’re lucky, you might find a print copy for resale at a not-too-outrageous price that will get to you in a week or two.

              That used to frustrate me in those how-to-write-Genre-X books, where they’d recommend reading a particular book or author as an example of a technique, but the book was out of print. And the author hard to find, or only findable in some used bookstore in a town far from where I lived, so I couldn’t just have my parents drive me there on a lark (back in my youth). Now I can find these authors in e-book form, at the click of a button.

              Even better on the media front, I’m noticing an end to “regionalisms.” Shortly after Doris Day died, I remembered she’d been in a movie that I’ve always wanted to find on video. PBS aired it one night when I was a kid, and I enjoyed watching it with my mother and grandmother. But for years the studio only made the DVD available in England, where the movie takes place. It wasn’t worth it to try and buy a region-free DVD player just for that movie. Now, Amazon not only has “Midnight Lace” on DVD in America, but I can pre-order the Blu-Ray version, which comes out later this month.

              Same with music. Back in the Napster days my father had me download “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto. The song had been a hit for a minute over here, in the 60s or 70s. In the Napster era you couldn’t legally buy the song; it just wasn’t available outside of Japan. Now Amazon has different recordings of it on mp3. It was nice to make a legal purchase!

            • Elise,

              [start kibitz]

              These are the TV series I use as touchstones for my stuff. They all rely on a “voice-over” telling the story, and by showing what is in the character’s imagination.

              – Scrubs (TV series)
              – Dead Like Me
              – How I Met Your Mother
              – Hannibal(TV series)

              Plus, the movie:

              – Stranger than Fiction (2006 film)

              Also think of series like Banacek, or Columbo, which were part of a “Wheel series”.

              Wiki – Wheel series

              They would have three characters in one season. Two hours or 90 minutes, 8 episodes, for each character.

              BTW, Track down Stephen King’s Storm of the Century, both the DVD and the book. The book is the script for the miniseries, but it reads like a book. The introduction by King explains what he was trying to do, within the limits of ABC television(Not bad rules to follow.) If you have a manuscript page for each minute of the miniseries, at 256 minutes, it would be a 64k novel.

              – One manuscript page[*] per minute of screen time is the rule of thumb I start with.

              How I Met Your Mother is only 22 minutes, but it is massively compressed. If you take an episode and expand it to full size, it would take 52 manuscript pages just to capture what is on the screen.

              Also, look at True Blood. Each season was based on a book from her series. It rapidly started changing as they pulled characters from later books. Compare the books with the series to see what they thought the story should be.

              I suspect that’s why she only wrote three novels for Midnight, Texas, knowing that the three were enough to seed the TV series. The stories exist in the same world as True Blood.

              – Basically, you can have a prime world with many different stories going on.

              Too many people create a world, then walk away from it thinking the story was done. That’s like writing Gone With The Wind, and then never writing another Civil War story.

              Also, look at:

              – The Magicians (American TV series)

              The series is based on the novels. See the difference between the TV series and novels. Which story would you want to tell.

              The same with:

              – American Gods (TV series)

              Read the book, watch the series. They are two different animals. Which story would you want to tell.

              [*] Manuscript Preparation
              https://www.sfwa.org/2008/11/manuscript-preparation/

              [end kibitz] HA!

          • People’s expectations are based on what they experience.

            Rusch tells us people expect everything (and she does mean everything)to be at their figertips.

            • Felix J. Torres

              Because the world is evolving exactly that way in two arenas.

              The good one is, as I pointed out, in the information and content business, where everybody who isn’t sleeping is rushing to monetize everything they own. Making sure it is easily available is a competitive advantage over the IP owners who aren’t, instead trusting the “universe to take care of them”. Magically, apparently.

              The not so good one is the political arena where populist politicians are trampling each other in the rush to promise voters everything for free, regardless of the cost or consequences.

              • Terrence OBrien

                Because the world is evolving exactly that way in two arenas.

                And people continue to learn evolving is a long way from having everything (and she does mean everything) at our fingertips.

                • And YOU need to learn that if you are in business, habitually refusing to meet your customers’ expectations is a good way to go out of business.

                  It isn’t the people with the expectations who need to learn from this.

                • Sure. We can then say both the following are true:

                  1. People continue to learn evolving is a long way from having everything (and she does mean everything) at our fingertips.

                  2. If you are in business, habitually refusing to meet your customers’ expectations is a good way to go out of business.

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