Startups in Publishing – IPR License
What’s the “publishing industry”, really? It’s a mixture of a lot of companies, big and small, that all revolve around authors, books and readers. The big ones have been shaken by the digital disruption and are only now realizing the truth of “adapt or die”. And because they’re big, this will now obviously take time, as Hugh Howey recently pointed out (quite accurately).
That’s where the smaller cogs in the wheel come in–and I’m going to say “we”, as Reedsy is a part of the machine, and I’m a part of Reedsy. Since the digital disruption, the landscape of publishing has become a fabulous playing ground for many startups. So many, in fact, that I hear this question a lot when presenting Reedsy: “Do you really think we need yet another self-publishing/digital publishing company?”
My answer is usually a version of: “Are you satisfied by the current state of this industry? Do you think independent publishing has now been made a simple process? Do you think we’ve all finally, fully embraced the digital disruption?” I dare you to say yes.
Here at Reedsy, we’re big fans of all the little ships that enter the vast ocean of book publishing with the certainty that they will make a difference. We believe they will be the ones fashioning the future of the industry and turning it into something coherent and adapted to these modern, digital times.
To celebrate them, we have decided to create a serial on startups that we will be publishing every Monday on this blog. These are all startups actually providing fantastic value to authors, and which we believe will play an important role in the future of publishing. For this reason, they are all startups that Reedsy is or will be partnering with in the near future.
Today, we start with IPR License, the first and only online platform on which to acquire subsidiary book rights and permissions on a global scale. It was founded by Tom Chalmers back in 2012 and has greatly grown since. Read our interview with Tom below.
RF: Why did you start IPR? What’s the founder’s story?
Tom Chalmers: I founded my first publishing company in 2005, Legend Press, and with only a borrowed computer and no experience or contacts I licensed the second novel into seven editions and four languages. Five further companies were started between then and 2012, when the idea of licensing potential that had stayed with me since 2005 came to the fore. That led to my seventh company, IPR LIcense, the global rights licensing platform.
RF: That’s great! I actually was at Frankfurt Book Fair, and felt it was more mess than “Messe”… So I can understand the need for an online platform for trading rights, but how quick do you think big publishers can be to switch from a meeting-at-book-fairs model to an online one? Is your ambition to replace big international fairs or to complement them?
TC: It’s not a case of switching from face-to-face meetings–publishing will always be a subjective and personable industry–but complementing them. Book fairs are now hubs of business and not the only place to do business, which does mean a smaller but more focused footfall.
Technology not only means business can be completed 24 hours a day seven days a week, all year round, but at the book fair as well. We see a time shortly where meetings can be held and interested parties can then complete the deals immediately rather than waiting for the two-weeks-later follow-up.
RF: What rights are most acquired by publishers on IPR License (digital, print, foreign, Film/TV, etc.)?
TC: It is hard say as we have over 13 million titles on the platform, not only books but journals, manuscripts and screenplays too. The obvious focus is on print and in particular translations where there is huge potential, but we also see lots of for instance audio, large print and production materials deals being completed as well. The book is a single entity of intellectual property, one of many that can potentially be licensed.
RF: How active are you in the negotiations and contracting that follow after a publisher has singled out a book whose rights they are interested in?
TC: As much as the member would like us to be. In general we are a technology solution to allow the seller and buyer to directly complete deals. But we also have a team to help facilitate the transactions, so if a seller says they want a bit of help in the negotiation or contract and so on, we will provide that for them.
RF: I think that’s great. It’s important to keep this individual approach to every single client even if you have a scalable model. Now over to the revenue stream; what’s your business model?
TC: We charge a flat annual fee of £99 for authors and a fee for publishers dependent on company turnover. We then take 15% commission from deals completed via the platform.
When you join IPR License, you don’t only have access to market-leading technology but account management, licensing and marketing support. We usually say the annual fee is the equivalent to the fee from a single deal completed, a lot less for authors, so the risk is not unreasonable.
RF: Now here’s something I’ve always been curious about: Some say indie authors start out self-publishing specifically in the hope of getting discovered by a traditional publisher. But on the other hand, you get the numerous stories of traditionally published authors switching to self-publishing as soon as their contracts end (or even sooner). From what you’ve seen at IPR, which wave is bigger: indie to trad or trad to indie? Or do you see a hybrid model becoming the norm?
TC: We’ve seen a self-published author, Mary Wood, received a seven-book deal from Pan Macmillan and we have many authors who have reverted the rights from publishers and are looking to license them directly. We’re not really focused on or interested in the trend, which I imagine is changeable anyway; we’re solely focused on helping the rights owner, whether an author, publisher or agent, license their valuable IP to third parties around the world.
RF: What would be your top advice to self-publishing authors looking to sell their print or foreign rights? In other words, what do publishers look for on IPR License?
TC: Get the basics rights: how the book is listed, what categories to use, what content to use to support the potential purchase of the rights, ensuring the correct sales and rights information is listed and so on. Also, making sure the key books are listed as key books as they are then prioritised in the search engine.
RF: How should indie authors be using IPR? Should they be listing a particular kind of title? Or is the benefit of an open directory like IPR that even niche works can find an audience, and so all works ought to be listed?
TC: We try to be as open as possible and we see licensing deals being completed for works completely across the spectrum. As well as getting the basics rights, as per above, I would also say to take a back step and think honestly about where the work may appeal and to tailor the listing details accordingly. A lot of authors say “perfect for film” or “should be big in the US” etc., but the most successful ones have a basic understanding of the markets and a realistic view of where the work will appeal.
RF: You launched Rights Magazine last year to coincide with the five biggest international book fairs in 2014. What’s its content and who is it distributed to? Why a magazine?
TC: It contains editorial, company news, publisher and author profiles and highlighted titles, etc. We have a market-leading technology platform but we also want to provide as much visibility and marketing for our members as possible and the magazine has been a very successful way of achieving that. It is distributed in different ways at each book fair and is part of a wider promotional plan at each event.
RF: From founder to founder, how do you see IPR License and Reedsy working together? What value would Reedsy add to IPR License (and its authors)?
TC: I think two ambitious start-ups looking to be at the forefront of the market should have natural synergies, whether that means providing joint services, education or other forms of partnership, so I look forward to a long period of working together and discovering what can be offered to each other’s customers to improve their experience.
RF: Easy one to finish: How do you envision IPR License in 5 years? Do you have any major milestones you plan to hit on the way?
TC: Our plan is to be the industry standard tool for finding and transacting rights business. We are confident that will happen over the next 12 months, so saying where we’ll be in five years would sound far too grand.
RF: Thank you for your time, Tom!
Post edited by our lovely editor Becca!