Publishing Word of the Day: Subsidiary Rights

5 Jan

Subsidiary Rights

Additional rights to publish the book in other forms. Examples are book club rights, foreign rights and serial rights.

(From The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book, 15th Edition.)

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This week we had something exciting happen for the very first time: we received a check for licensing the foreign rights of one of our books to a publisher in India. It’s an interesting case study in how publishers may produce secondary revenue streams on books they’ve already published.

One of the first two books we published in August 2005 was a biomedical equipment troubleshooting textbook. Given that this is a relatively specialized area—like much of what we publish—I spent (and continue to spend) a fair amount of time and energy trying to figure out how to maximize sales and, therefore, revenue. After all, once you go to the time and effort to publish a book you owe it to yourself—and even more so to your authors—to try and make as much money as possible for everyone concerned.

After the biomed book came out I was doing one of my periodic rereads of Thomas Woll’s Publishing for Profit: Successful Bottom-Line Management for Book Publishers to see what new information I could glean from it. (That is, my background is in teaching college English from which I moved directly into book publishing so I learned about the business in the order in which we produced our first books: acquisitions, editorial development, layout and design, printing production, sales, and, finally, marketing. As I moved through each of these stages with our early books I would go back and reread my publishing books to see what new I could learn in those specific areas that I was venturing into for the first time.) Anyway, as I read through his book for the third—I think—time, I came across the section about selling/licensing subsidiary rights and this time around the figurative light bulb went off above my head.

In the case of the biomed book, selling the subsidiary rights consisted of trying to find a foreign publisher who would pay for the right to print and sell the book in their area of the world. The big dilemma was, of course, how to go about doing this. After doing some research we hired an agent, Bob Erdmann, to represent the book—along with a couple of others—at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Bob Erdmann is a long-time insider in the publishing industry, a past president of PMA (Publishers Marketing Association), and the driving force behind Columbine Communications & Publications. Every October he represents a whole slate of books in Germany at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest book convention in the world and the primary place where foreign rights are sold. We paid him a small fee for each of our three titles he represented. Then, if he made a deal for the foreign rights—after we, of course, approved it—he would receive an additional percentage on that sale as well.

To be honest, we really didn’t know what to expect. (After all, that’s the way most things are the first time you try them!) Would it be feast or famine? Or, perhaps, something in between? Who knew? But, the books were done and we were willing to try it once to see what would happen.

Thankfully, it is a story with a happy ending. Out of the three books he represented one was of interest to a publisher in India. Bob subsequently negotiated a deal where we would receive an initial lump sum plus a percentage of the sales over the next couple of years. (It’s not exactly, in the words of Dire Straits, “money for nothing” but it’s close enough!) Even more happily, the initial check for the money up front arrived at the office this week.

We learned a couple of important lessons from this. First of all, if you publish books for which there really is a market you can make money by having them presented to those markets that you ordinarily couldn’t reach on your own. Second, while nobody—usually!—will become rich off of subsidiary rights sales, in the final analysis developing these secondary revenue streams can mean the difference between breaking even (or even losing money) vs. making a profit.


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2 Responses to “Publishing Word of the Day: Subsidiary Rights”

  1. Greg Wadel January 6, 2007 at 7:57 pm #

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  2. tstcpublishing January 8, 2007 at 1:10 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words . . . this is a relatively new blog but we’re doing our best to make it a productive resource for anyone interested in the nuts & bolts aspects of (textbook) publishing as we’re doing it.

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