A half-day seminar and series of panels organized by the Book Industry Study Group, called Managing Publishing Rights Across the Supply Chain, focused on the increasing importance of publishing rights—and examined the industry’s longtime problem of poor rights management.

The panels and seminar were hosted by BISG executive director Brian O’Leary, who said the program was an effort to “shape the conversation about where the industry is headed on rights.” The event’s programming was based on a survey of publisher views on rights in the era of digital technology, new content models, and an increasing global demand for English-language content. The results of the survey were also used to produce a new BISG white paper, “Publishing Rights: An Untapped Opportunity,” and a report on 10 rights-management software vendors and their products.

The panelists at each of the day’s sessions focused on several key points from the BISG white paper, including the finding that many houses can’t identify which rights they own, let alone collect the rights revenue owed to them.

The program kicked off with a conversation between Ken Brooks of Macmillan Learning and Zachary Haynes of Oxford University Press, moderated by Bill Rosenblatt of GiantSteps Media, and it illustrated just how specialized rights management can be. Both publishers discussed the growth of new kinds of publishing products—aggregated dictionary content from multiple reference publishers at OUP and new kinds of educational content at Macmillan Learning—and the challenge of standardizing rights packages as rights requests become ever more complex. As an example, Haynes cited working to provide new kinds of rights for Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant, Alexa, popularized through the Echo home device. “How do I explain the rights requests for [content to be accessed via the Echo and] Alexa to our more traditional partners?” he asked, without offering an answer.

The final panel, “Rights Management Success Stories,” provided a thoughtful (and entertaining) look at the past and future of rights management. Three publishers with long-standing rights management software systems offered advice based on hard-won experience. The panelists emphasized that investing in digital rights solutions software will have significant ROI.

They all noted that their departments were no longer simply back-office service groups but serious revenue producers. Jeffery Corrick, director of permissions at Penguin Random House, said PRH rights and permissions generated “seven figures” in annual revenue. Paulette Goldweber, manager of copyright and permissions at John Wiley, said revenue from rights transactions grew from about $1 million in 2008 to more than $6 million today, after Wiley integrated its in-house rights system with the Copyright Clearance Center’s online RightsLink service. RightsLink, she said, made it possible to process a huge volume of permissions requests quickly.

Becky Hemperly, v-p of contract rights and royalties at Candlewick Press, described her company's early commitment to licensing Biblio, a rights management software platform developed by the U.K. firm of Virtusales. Biblio holds all rights, contract, royalty, and marketing information about Candlewick books, including a digital scan of the book's original contract. "We acquire these rights, and it's incumbent on [publishers] to be good stewards and to make money," Hemperly said. "After all, we do this to serve our authors. We don't exist as a company without them."

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Biblio was incorrectly described as a proprietary in-house system.