Copyright may not be dead, but it is irrelevant, noted Cursor’s Richard Nash at a Wednesday morning panel entitled Rights, Royalties & Retailers: What Works. In his opening remarks, Nash spoke about publishing in the “age of abundance,” telling attendees that success in the digital age is no longer about securing lifetime monopolies associated with copyright, or controlling the content pipe, but about “your moxie.” Nash, who announced his upstart Cursor model in PW last year, showcased the centerpiece of his business: three-year deals. “That doesn’t mean after three years, you lose your author,” Nash noted. “You renegotiate.”
He referenced Tuesday’s CEO panel where panelists like Esther Newberg and Scott Turow engaged in “a pissing match” over who gets what slices of the pie. “You make a bigger pie,” Nash implored. Traditionally, publishers have only explored a small range of prices, he explained, from $6 to $35 roughly, but the digital age, they can now explore a full range of moneymaking opportunities. “For every writer there is a reader who will pay 10 grand to spend a weekend with the author,” he said, and “a reader who would pay a buck for a digital edition because a blogger says the book rocks.
He stressed there was still a role for agents in the age of abundance, because “publishers can still suck.” He said agents would serve important roles in auditing publisher service and identifying new opportunities.
Nash was joined on the panel by literary agent Scott Waxman, Ingram’s Andrew Weinstein, MetaComet’s David Marlin and moderator, consultant Laura Dawson. Waxman talked about his new e-book venture called Diversion, which he said was an attempt to explore digital options for writers for whom fewer houses were taking chances. He said he had 20 writers signed up and another 30 on tap, writers he characterized as “midlist, but worthy.”
Marlin told attendees that while the digital realm brought with it a degree of uncertainty, there was also greater opportunity. “There are so many ways to monetize content, more ways to consume it.” He spoke of the need to create a more transparent, and more easily navigated, rights realm, but said the real challenge for authors is negotiating the “signal-to-noise ratio,” in other words, helping users find quality, and offering visibility to authors and publishers.
During the Q&A came the inevitable question: piracy. For all the promise of digital, what about the ease with which content can be pirated? Nash suggested that the key to defeating piracy was to create ways to profit off un-piratable content: “You can’t pirate a Malcolm Gladwell speech, you can’t pirate a leather-bound book, and you can’t pirate a dinner party with Paul Auster.
Perhaps the session’s underlying themes were best exemplified by a question from first-time author Kimi Puntillo, whose book Great Races, Incredible Places was recently published by Bantam. For all the work authors do, they see so little return, she noted, from traditional publishers. “Why bother?” she asked. Marlin again referenced the signal-to-noise argument, noting that publishers establish the signal. “To be a brand,” he noted, “you need to be a signal.” Nash said the “key to happiness” is finding an effective business partner. “Writers write, readers read, and there are intermediaries,” he said, to help bring them all together. “Look for those intermediaries who will help maximally,” he said, “and reward them appropriately.”