The inaugural New York Rights Fair brought together 70 panelists from all over the world: literary agents, scouts, foreign rights associates, film producers, literary managers, and other publishing professionals working in a marketplace packed with both challenges and opportunities. The event was held at New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion from May 30 to June 1 and was the official rights fair of BookExpo, which ran concurrently at the Javits Center.
“We were delighted by the diversity of participants and the breadth of the programming,” said George Slowik Jr., president and CEO of PWxyz, the parent company of Publishers Weekly, which organized NYRF with Bologna Book Fair and Combined Book Exhibit. “It got New York publishers out of their offices—which was the goal, simply.”
NYRF counted 1,500 registered participants, and an additional 1,700 BookExpo participants with rights, exhibitor, or press badges were eligible to attend as well. Each day of programming at the trade and licensing show focused on a single theme, beginning with “The Global Landscape” on Wednesday. Audiobooks were a hot topic throughout the day. In 2010, there were 6,000 audiobooks published in the U.S. Estimates suggest that by 2017, that number had swelled to 80,000 audiobooks, due to the rise of smartphones, podcasts, and on-demand entertainment.
Thursday’s programming focused on the transition from “Page to Screen.” Panelists repeatedly described how streaming services and increased TV spending have created a literary rights free-for-all. Surian Fletcher-Jones, head of development for the television arm of the U.K.’s Working Title Films, said this “golden age” of TV has dramatically amplified competition for literary source material. “The culture and the climate feels like producers are circling before something has even been written,” she noted.
Friday’s theme was “The Pillars of Rights,” and book scouts, film scouts, co-agents, and other literary professionals gave views from the trenches of literary acquisition. China was a popular topic in the opening panel about foreign rights and book scouts. “The market has matured quite a bit,” said Rachel Hecht, the owner of Rachel Hecht Children’s Scouting, talking about big numbers being posted there. “It’s an exciting place to be right now.”
The scouts and agents also discussed how the rise of TV and episodic streaming adaptations has supercharged the rights marketplace. Veteran Intellectual Property Group literary manager Jerry Kalajian described the acquisition frenzy: “The economics from just last year until today have shifted so dramatically it makes your head spin. I had seven-figure offers for books that haven’t been read yet. That’s how nuts it is.”
The exhibition hall featured about 160 exhibitors from around the world, including collective French, Italian, and Nordic exhibits. “You never know what to expect the first time, but it was perfect,” said Nathalie Carpentier, founder of French Pulp Editions, an exhibitor. The publisher counts a backlist of 2,200 popular French fiction titles from the second half of the 20th century and used the fair to connect with the East Coast publishing and film community. “We will be back next year,” she said.