Rights are often thought of as an ancillary component in publishing, and yet the ability of a publisher’s rights department to manage and administer its portfolio of licensing opportunities can result in significant extra annual revenue. Advances in rights management software are making it easier to mine not only additional sales but to find more operating efficiencies, as well. Those were the two big takeaways from the “Beyond the Deal: Managing Rights” webinar held earlier this month by PW and sponsored by Virtusales.

“There’s a recognized need for better rights management systems,” said Bill Rosenblatt, president of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, “but not much understanding of the financial benefit for including those systems.” In his opening remarks, Rosenblatt outlined the results from a study he cowrote on the return on investment (ROI) of rights management for a report BISG published in summer 2020. Through in-depth interviews with rights management executives from companies across the publishing spectrum, Rosenblatt said he was able to identify the benefits each enjoyed after installing new rights management systems. In the report, these benefits were put in eight “ROI buckets”—five areas where a publisher was able to add incremental revenue and three places where a publisher had found cost savings. With more readily accessible data, automated systems made it easier for publishers to identify new licensing opportunities, and made going after smaller deals more worthwhile, Rosenblatt said. Being able to keep track of contracts, rights, and permissions within a more efficient pipeline facilitates cost efficiencies, he explained. In addition, more data helps with finding pitfalls, especially where sales are not maximized.

Karen Peláez has spent over a decade at Harvard University Press handling subsidiary rights. She has seen the press go from an analog system using index cards and a dizzying array of card categorization to a completely overhauled, one-stop digital rights management platform. Her experience with the system has been quite a boon. Cost savings and time are unqualifiable, she said, explaining that Virtusales’ Biblio3 software system “houses what rights we have, what has been contracted,” and that it “is able to drill down into individual licenses to see where the license duration currently is—everything from when renewal is up and even whether author comp copies have been sent.”

By serving as a one-stop shop for information, Biblio3 has changed how Harvard uses rights information, Pelaez said, adding that the data can be used in making acquisitions, seeing, for example, if a book offers good licensing opportunities. With so much time gained from no longer having to fill out cards, chase different contracts, or become waylaid between synchronizing spreadsheets from other departments, Pelaez can now “spend more time thinking about the frontlist (and backlist) in a more abstract way,” determining just how well books are performing.

At Candlewick, Biblio3 has been fully integrated since 2006. Becky Hemperly, v-p of contracts, rights, and royalties, stressed the need for sharing information effectively and seamlessly across a company with offices in Somerville, Mass.; London; and Sydney. Before creating a central database that contained rights information plus other data, “Something as simple as putting out a catalog became a three-month nightmare” because so much of the data became quickly out of date and out of sync, Hemperly said. Likewise, since the majority of Candlewick’s catalog features heavily illustrated titles, it is critical that all of a book’s assets—such as subrights availability, metadata, and publishing schedules—are in a central place. “We have a digital asset management system that is part of Biblio3 so that all of our book files live there,” Hemperly said. “When we license out to a different publisher, we can provide the necessary files easily.”

Kris Kliemann, president of Kliemann & Company, stressed the shift in how publishers are now viewing rights. “Publishing is coming to be seen as a management of assets, including rights,” she said. As the number of outlets where books can be sold has been reduced over the years, rights have become more and more important, Kliemann explained. “Rights has become a business we must manage and stay on top of,” she said, adding that investing a little in better rights management can make a big difference in how rights perform for a company.

“You’re nowhere if you don’t know about your rights,” Hemperly said. “Rights has gone from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have.’ It’s not just ancillary income; it is really central to the business.”

At the end of the day, a publisher is only as good as its portfolio of assets. Rosenblatt was happy to hear that at least one person watching the webinar has gone to their management to discuss rights management system integration. “Becky and Karen are living, breathing examples of making this work,” he added. “There’s a lot of opportunity to follow their example.”