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…and with that neat turn of phrase, Brian Tart, publisher of Dutton of Penguin Group USA, has expressed why subsidiary media rights are no longer subsidiary. They are the whole box and dice.

From Rachel Deahl @ Publishers Weekly:

Dutton has laid out big money for what it’s dubbing a “digi-novel” by the creator of the C.S.I.television franchise. The Penguin imprint paid millions for a multimedia three-book series from Anthony Zuiker that, at its centerpiece, features a mystery novel which will send readers to a Web site with companion footage relating to the plot…Zuiker’s story…will, as Dutton noted, “move from books to film to the web with ease.” Read the whole article…

It’s an exciting project from its description. More importantly, this is an early example of more and more digital “publications” that publishers will be doing in future, which begs the question – how do you sell the rights to it? This is not a traditional deal where a publisher licences print rights and also subsidiary media rights, including film and digital. Most publishers have fairly standard contracts, but this project is entirely bespoke. It requires an entirely different way of conceiving of the project and the intellectual property involved.

I think this is largely positive. Publishers need to loosen up their contracts and start thinking about different ways of licensing content. I’ll admit the morass of copyright legislation makes it difficult to slice and dice copyright however we want, but there is still scope for more flexible approaches to publishing contracts. For example, with a project like Dutton’s (or for that matter Scholastic’s 39 Clues or HarperCollins’ The Amanda Project) there may be a mix of licences needed, including Creative Commons licences to cover the web 2.0 components and user generated content.

All this may be obvious, but I recently had a conversation with an Australian publishing professional who works in contracts and insisted that digital = e-books. What about alternative reality games, web 2.0 and mobile content, I asked? “That’s what game rights and film rights etc are for,” she replied.  My point is that these things don’t sit in neat little boxes anymore. They haven’t for some time and we’re only just catching up.

Aside from sorting out who licences what, another question I have is, how do authors get paid? 10% of a book’s cover price is a neat equation. It provides a simple economic basis for calculating advances and also judging the success of a title. Not so with mixed media projects like this one. I think we’re going to see more revenue models proliferating now, including profit sharing between authors and publishers.

Lastly, and slightly off-topic, with more projects like this popping up I wonder what the difference is now between publishers and other media companies? Not a whole lot, it seems.

One of the fun things I did while at Melbourne Writers Festival was create an audio postcard for the new ABC Pool, described on the site thus:

Pool is a social media project developed by ABC Radio National. It’s a place to share your creative work with the Pool community and ABC producers – upload music, photos, videos, documentaries, interviews, animations and more. It’s a collaborative space where audiences become makers.

The shared content is provided using Creative Commons licences and there are already a lot of ripples and splashes happening in this here digital billabong.

The lovely Sarah L’Estrange, producer of The Book Show on Radio National, vox-popped me for her new Pool page Letter Vox. On the page right now you can hear me babbling on about that strange breed, science fiction writers. Go on, have a listen. If nothing else it proves that I talk too fast. I welcome mashups, especially ones that make me sound less like Woody Allen on ritalin. Let me know if you do any remixes and I’ll link to them from here and my Pool page, which has no content yet.

In light of my last post, this seems like proof positive that in moist loamy conditions, creators and publishers can live a happy coexistence like different species of mushrooms. (Note to self: don’t put too many metaphors in one blog post)

So yesterday I attended a meeting in Melbourne of various industry types to discuss the need for/benefits of an Australian industry-led taskforce for digital publishing. It was interesting.

First up, it’s worth noting the breakdown of attendees. The meeting was jointly hosted by the federal government arts agency Australia Council for the Arts (Ozco) and Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), which for our international readers, is the Australian collecting organisation for copyright licence fees. Prior to this meeting they had jointly funded research into Australian publishers’ attitudes and perceived information needs in relation to digital publishing. (Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find this report published online yet, I hope it will be at least included in Ozco’s new online research hub which is being released soon) Of the 17 people who were there, Ozco and CAL were more than 30% of the group.

The next biggest group was publishers, with four publishers plus the head of the Australian Publishers Association. The spread of publishers was really good. There was one large trade publisher, Macmillan, plus three independents – Spinifex, MUP and Sleepers, with Zoe from Sleepers also representing the Small Press Underground Collective (SPUNC). From retail, there was an independent bookseller, a representative of the Australian Campus Booksellers Association and the CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association. Bringing up the rear were authors with just myself and a representative of the Australian Society of Authors. I was not initially invited to this meeting, but requested to be included when I read about it in Weekly Book Newsletter. I found this distribution particularly odd after the Director of the Literature Board of the Australia Council had declared that she sees this as the writing industry not the publishing or book industry, and that everything stems from the writing. One would perhaps have expected to see more writers in the room. Notable absences were libraries and at least one representative of the Australian Literary Agents Association. I’m unsure if that’s because they weren’t invited or were unable to attend.

Okay, so now you’ve met the players in our little drama, here’s how it unfolded. Ross McCall from CAL outlined the background to the meeting, and an Ozco representative gave a summary of the ‘desktop research’ they’d done into the digital publishing scene so far. We then broke into groups to discuss the opportunities, threats and questions of setting up an industry-led taskforce to support and drive knowledge transfer, new digital publishing initiatives and collective efforts to fund innovation.

The discussion was robust and I think there was a healthy level of honesty in the room, but that left me feeling a little depressed also because some of the ‘honesty’ delivered aloud was an observation of the lack of trust and openness in the Australian publishing industry.  Everyone agreed that digital is huge and most publishers seem to be tackling it on their own terms, which I felt kind of missed the point of us all being in a room together. The booksellers seemed a bit down about the prospects for their part of the supply chain. And I sense I made a thorough nuisance of myself by being bolshie on behalf of authors. One of the best points was made when it was noted there is little if any collaboration or discussion between publishing industry organisations and other digital media companies, such as games developers, telcos and mobile content publishers.

Overall, I think we got to a positive endpoint, which was an agreement that there is scope for more cooperation at a national industry level and that the next step is to have a “blue sky” discussion about what’s possible and desirable, before narrowing down to what we’re committed to achieving. There’s a ways to go, but for a first meeting I’m optimistic we could eventually achieve something relevant and meaningful.

Do I have any concerns? Yes. I am a little worried about an entrenched culture of “everyone in their foxholes” undermining the process and I was guilty of this too. I boldly claimed that publishers aren’t talking to authors about what they’re doing with digital, and was roundly disabused of this notion by the publishers in the room. Yet my scepticism remains because, while publishers may be having these discussions on an individual basis with authors, especially when it comes time to negotiate rights and contracts, I don’t believe there is a general awareness among Australian writers about the digital innovations publishers are planning.

That could be a problem for publishers long term in a number of ways. First, it makes it harder for authors to get excited about assigning their digital rights, because they don’t have information about the creative ways publishers may want to commercialise them. I think publishers will have to compete for authors’ digital rights in future, and I would think you’d have a competitive advantage by demonstrating what you know and what you can do, the way Penguin UK has been doing for examaple. Second, it means they could be missing the writers who are producing the most innovative content which will help them succeed, who are very likely not to be book authors. Finally, I think writers are capable of innovating and commercialising on their own and have a lot to offer publishers if there’s a collaborative and sincere way of working together for the profitability of both.

But of course, these are the questions that a taskforce can address. Perhaps it can’t pose definitive answers but it can certainly prod, educate, nurture and moderate. Bring on the next step!

An article over at SNL Interactive explores the delicate business of dealing with Amazon. Sarah Barry interviews Michael Cairns of PersonaNonData and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company about the ways publishers have responded to the growing market power of Amazon, and the online retailer’s willingness to use it.

Despite the strained relationship between Amazon and the publishing community, neither Cairns nor Shatzkin believe publishers will decide to stop dealing with Amazon altogether.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a love-hate relationship; it’s more of need and fear relationship,” Shatzkin said. “They need Amazon because it’s probably every publisher’s first or second largest client. But they fear Amazon because it’s every publisher’s first or second biggest client.”

Link [Thanks Jose, via Read 2.0!]

On the Jellicoe Road

Most writers I know would like nothing more than the financial independence to give up work and write full-time. I’ve never felt this way. I love my job passionately and even if I had the opportunity to give it up to write, I think I’d prefer to keep working, however hard it may be to keep a balance. There are joys I get from my job that writing could never provide. I’ve always admired authors who (at least in my imagination) are successful enough with book sales to write full-time but instead choose to keep working. I imagine they too love their jobs and do it for passion and fulfilment, just as they write for the same reasons. After all, it’s very hard to make such a deliberate choice. It means never quite having enough time for anything, and it means producing books at a slower rate.

But then I read books like On the Jellicoe Road by Mellina Marchetta and my position is instantly reversed. Why, oh why, can’t she give up her pesky time-consuming job as a teacher to concentrate on delivering to me more novels as fine as this? Why must I wait so long between each of her books? I will surely die before having the pleasure of the next one. It cannot be borne! How could she consider spending her time on anything else when she is so very very good at writing?


Yes, I’ve been away from the blog a long while. Work travel, flu, two seasons of Veronica Mars, Ekka, fiction deadline. In that order. Mea culpa.

To make up for my non-posting, here is a selection of links for your reading pleasure. I’m off to MWF later this week so I endeavour to give you better blog than I have lately. Or, you know, any blog.

Short Fiction in the Age of the EBook – The Digitalist
Gary Gibson muses on a possible digital renaissance for short stories. As a short fiction writer and reader this gives me warm fuzzies.

10 Reasons Not to Write Off Reading From a Screen – The Digitalist
Also at The Digitalist, Michael Bhaskar writes in defence of screen reading. Yes! It is absolutely about multiplicity of channels. After all, video really didn’t kill the radio star.

Personanondata Bookstore
Because I read his RSS feed instead of visiting the site, I had no idea PersonaNonData had such a marvellous list of recommendations for books and reports about the publishing industry, all handily arranged in an Amazon store. I think my credit card is cringing.

An Open Letter to Random House
Publishers take note: this is why DRM makes customers unhappy.

The Kindle Kronikles – Print is Dead
Despite the hype, and various guesstimates about sales figures, I am not a Kindle believer. I think this is cul-de-sac technology and any consumer uptake or design/tech improvements achieved by eReaders are destined to be folded back into mobile phones. Nevertheless, this multi-part post series by Jeff Gomez, author of Print is Dead, is a good read and an interesting primer.

Audible Launches IndieFirst – Brave New World
Martyn Daniels is my favourite commentator on publishing futures. This post has some interesting analysis on the launch of an independent publisher initiative by Audible (the Amazon-owned audiobook retailer)

Contact Kate Eltham

kate.eltham {at}

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