Waiting for the Plane Tickets: Rights Pros on Digital Events

From Publishing Perspectives:

Almost every time you look into your inbox, another invitation has arrived to a publishing industry event online, right? And as you may have noticed, the specialized rights sessions appear to be gaining on many of the other types of programs vying for your attention.

As the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic wears on, more and more niche rights events are being produced, and they’re drawing increasing levels of participation among agents, scouts, editors, and even rights-savvy authors.

Today, for example, Finland’s Oulu Writers Association has opened its two-day event for rights professionals, focused on northern Finnish writers and their works. We were alerted to this one by Urtė Liepuoniūtė at the Helsinki Literary Agency the program, Black Hole: Books Meet Rights, offers one-on-one business meetings Saturday (February 20).

What we’ll do today is hear from some industry players about how these programs work for them—and how they compare to the physical book fair, rights center, and trade show experiences made impossible for a year now by the pandemic. And we’ll look at several other events coming up this spring.

LeeAnn Bortolussi at Giunti Editore

Giunti Editore international rights manager LeeAnn Bortolussi in Milan says that in her experience, smaller events online seem to be working better than the larger ones.

“They’re more personal,” she tells us, “and I’ve actually met new people this way.”

These digital events, Bortolussi says, “can never replace physical events, but I’m thinking that in the future if one is busy and a long trip to a far-away event is not possible, then a virtual trip can be an excellent way to participate.”

When asked what the key difference is for her between a physical in-person event and a digital one, she says, “We’re all saying that online is not good for meeting new people and making new contacts and that the serendipity of a physical fair can be lost; on the other hand, we’ve had some great, long and in-depth meetings via video chat that would not have been possible during a chaotic fair.”

And her verdict? Bortolussi sees a place for both kinds of events once the physical fairs are re-engaged. “We’ll find a perfect balance and blend of both methods as they both have positive qualities.”

Michele Young at Macmillan Children’s Books

In London, Pan Macmillan Children’s Books rights director Michele Young tells us that her team “responded quickly to the changing circumstances brought on by the coronavirus.” Her comments are quite indicative of what we hear from many, and Young parses the pros and cons succinctly.

“We immediately embarked on the virtual Bologna book fair in March 2020,” she says, “followed in the year by virtual sales trips to assorted markets undertaken by different members of the team, and then the virtual Frankfurt 2020—by which time our meetings had more than doubled compared to the virtual Bologna across every time zone. We’re now preparing for a virtual Bologna 2021, and virtual fairs have now become business as usual for us.

“We’ve worked closely with the publishers to develop new-style digital sales materials, including video content to showcase our preschool and novelty offering.

“We’ve also expanded into celebratory online events with our international partners,” Young says, “We marked our bestselling picture book The Gruffalo reaching 105 translations.

“We were joined by 115 guests who participated enthusiastically in online chat. Some of these guests would most likely not have been able to join in on a physical celebration, so this virtual moment gave us the opportunity to reach more customers and to stay in touch.

“Our online meetings are less hectic than the 30-minute-or-less rushed meetings at a physical book fair,” she points out, “and we can have more in-depth conversations. But physical fairs allow for chance meetings in exhibition halls or at social events after the fair with new or old customers—or an opportune sighting of a book on a stand which a customer falls in love with.

“Digital fairs can never replicate this,” Young says. “While we’ve adapted and embraced this new virtual way of working, we know that our business thrives on our close relationships and that there will always be a place for face-to-face contact.

“And we look forward to that returning.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that human beings as a group are very adaptable. He also notes that methods of doing business that were efficient fifty years ago may not be terribly efficient by today’s standards.

In past lives, PG enjoyed getting on a plane at someone else’s expense and flying to an entertaining location where he ate and drank and slept at someone else’s expense. The experience was very nice and he typically had a good time, particularly if the destination had collected a lot of lawyers in one place. (Having attended quite a few gatherings peopled by individuals in various occupational/professional groups, PG will assure one and all that lawyers have the most fun and are the most fun.)

That said, from the standpoint of operating a well-run business enterprise (which automatically eliminates all traditional publishers), if you can get a job done with a series of phone calls or video conferences while sitting somewhere that is a reasonable commuting distance from your home, more of the money generated from your efforts will fall to the bottom line, either yours or your employers’.

If it’s your bottom line, you can use some of the money to travel to a location entirely of your choosing at the time of your choosing with the person/people of your choosing and spend your time there doing or not doing whatever you like.

PG recommends Florence or Venice, but not everyone will agree with him, which is one of the delights of being a member of humanity.

8 thoughts on “Waiting for the Plane Tickets: Rights Pros on Digital Events”

  1. I’ve noticed a new trend. After a Zoom call, participants start picking up the phone and calling each other to actually get things done.

  2. Online conferences make far more sense than hopping a plane and going in person. Which means trad pub won’t go for it.

    I’d love to go to Venice! Or Florence, or the mountains of Japan… Hmm. I have a very long list! 🙂

    • Paid junkets are considered a perk in some operations.
      And an annoying interruption of “the real work” in others.
      It depends on corporate culture mostly, so no, the Manhattan Mafia isn’t giving up four martini lunches, junkets, and back channeling easily, if at all.

      Thing is telephone and PC-based conferencing systems and software have been around for literally decades. Ditto for WFH. (That’s why MS TEAMS and SLACK were mature systems when the crisis hit.)
      Current adopters are actually laggards which is why expectations are the changes are here to stay.

      In France, Sweden, and Seattle they are turning empty office buildings into low cost housing and homeless shelters. (In Seattle, Amazon turned one of its now empty buildings into a homeless shelter.) Proposals for this have been floated since 2012. Of course, landlord revenue isn’t going to match up. And in California, even the highest concentration of homeless in the nation isn’t enough to fill the newly emptied buildings.

      The ripples are going far and wide.
      Who knows, maybe the BPHs *will* consider leaving Manhattan…
      …for Brooklyn. 😀

      • I’m waiting for the ripples to say, “Why are we paying this guy? What does he do?”

        More fun will be the future performance of in-person organizations vs virtual. Efficiencies? Inefficiencies? Where are they, and how are they distributed?

        What the hell? Prediction: In-person firms will win, but will be equipped with really good tech. It will be a bit like the transition to universal cell phones.

        • Well, if you’re in tbe auto repair business, working from home may or not do you much good, but if you’re, say, a software developer in California you’re likely going to be more productive and happier without a three hour daily commute. Even with tracking software built in to “look over your shoulder” as you work.
          There really aren’t many Wallys out there; most folks earn their salary honestly.

          Considering the cost of office space in the high cost of living cities, competing effectively in many businesses is becoming a choice of moving out of state…


          …or increasing the number of WFH hours and downsizing the office space paid for.
          Both solutions work but the latter is faster and easier to implement.

          Or they can do nothing and see how that works out.
          The manhattan mafia will probably do nothing except, maybe, increase tbe number of unpaid internships. After all, publishing is “special”.

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