It has been reported that the James Bond 007 novels are about to be published as e-books for the first time – but not by the current publisher (Penguin), but by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, the part of the Ian Fleming estate that has administered rights to the books since Fleming died in August 1964.
The e-books will be available through Amazon and other e-book retailers from Thursday 4 November 2010.
This illustrates the potential for maximising the return on exploiting digital rights and traditional print rights separately. The Fleming estate will no doubt expect to make more money by selling e-books directly then by licensing e-book rights to the current print version publisher.
Penguin has indicated that it will not renew its current deal with Ian Fleming Publications unless digital rights are included, but it’s difficult to see Ian Fleming Publications going back on their current position.
Naturally, one would expect publishers to want to acquire all rights that they possibly can, particularly as sales of e-books are already increasing rapidly and are expected to exceed those of the corresponding printed versions in the near future. Some literary agents consider there is an advantage in keeping the digital rights and the print rights with the same publisher – that may be true in some instances, but Ian Fleming Publications point out that in the case of the James Bond novels, they are not really dependent on the print publisher’s marketing machinery to create awareness of the novels in e-book form.
Digital rights to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books are currently being negotiated. One can hardly begin to guess the value of these rights – it would hardly be surprising if people who have bought the books in print will want to have them as e-books too. For one thing, they will weigh much less!
The publishing rights for books form part of the copyright, which can be divided up in so many different ways. The printed form publication rights alone can be divided into hardback and paperback, and then subdivided further (e.g. large print versions, educational versions, and so on). They can and are also divided up by means of language and territory – so at any one time there may be many different parties exploiting a particular work in different formats, in different languages, in different parts of the world. There is no reason – from a legal point of view – why the digital rights have to go with the printed form rights, although book publishers have been routinely acquiring digital rights for many years, even if it’s only very recently that they have actually been exploiting these rights. It’s often with the older, classic backlist works, where the publisher did not acquire digital rights, that there is an opportunity for digital rights to be exploited by a different publisher from the printed form rights.
It will be interesting to see whether this will set a trend for separate exploitation of digital and printed form rights.