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Subrights.com Offers Book Publishing Savvy to Rights Race
Calvin Reid -- 3/13/00

Digital rights management seems to be in the air. Subrights.com, a new venture boasting a management team of veteran book publishing professionals, will take advantage of the London Book Fair to debut as an online platform for selling subsidiary rights.

Much like recent online rights ventures such as rightscenter.com and goodstory.com, subrights.com is offering publishers a secure online platform for listing available rights and notifying prospective buyers. However, subrights.com claims that, unlike those firms, it has the expertise to produce a system that will work better for books, reducing the cost and time needed to transact and track both large and small rights sales. The venture is aimed strictly at the book market and is restricted to titles that have made a primary rights sale--no proposals, no screenplays, no magazine articles. And unlike its competitors, subrights.com will take a percentage (8%-10%) of transactions conducted through the site and will not charge sellers to post titles. Subrights.com will input content for publishers and sellers for free until the end of the year. The site has secured a first round of venture capital investment from Jubilee Investments.

Although the firm is conducting a "soft" launch at the London Book Fair, the site is not yet fully functional. However, it is soliciting sellers to list titles and will debut with a limited set of online features. Subrights.com is headed by founder and CEO J l E. Fishman, a former Doubleday senior editor and founder of the literary agency Bedford Book Works. The COO is Robert Riger, former managing editor of Book-of-the-Month Club and cofounder of the publishing consultancy Market Partners International. The chief sales and marketing officer is Jacqueline LeDonne, former publisher of Frankfurt Virtual, an online rights posting board, who has long worked to develop an online rights marketplace.

"We're book publishing people," Fishman told PW. "We're not from Silicon Valley or the film industry." Publishing, he said, is not the most efficient industry. "It leaves a lot of money on the table," he continued. "The rights marketplace is fragmented, and it's difficult for buyers and sellers to find each other." The Net in general, and subrights.com in particular, he said, "can reduce costs per transaction; create transparency in the market; provide information on what rights are available, what's out there and who controls what. It will open channels."

Fishman expects subrights.com to create a new volume business out of the many incremental permissions requests that are often neglected, or simply avoided, because of the cost and time needed to process them. "It's easy to find out who has the rights to a Stephen King work. But for the vast majority of midlist titles, it's hard to know who has what," he pointed out. He compares subrights.com to Amazon.com. "Amazon has allowed people to find out about backlist and niche titles. People can list titles and make calls and meet face to face and find buyers. And we'll help sub-rights departments by releasing them from the mindless work of tracking properties," said Fishman.

The site's database can be searched by author, title, rights and other criteria. Once registered at the site, publishers and agents can list as many as they wish, without charge. Sellers can post graphics, excerpts, full manuscripts, blurbs and other content; adjust the levels of access; and conduct automated auctions and set dates and reserves.

Fishman said he decided to charge a percentage of each transaction because "it's customary in the industry. We only get paid if you do business. Besides, fees run counter to Net culture. We want as much product posted as possible. In publishing, you never know when a property will become valuable."

Features to be added to the site include chat areas and news about on-site selling activities. "We're looking for feedback. On the Web you can change things quickly," he said. The site will work with publishers who have proprietary or legacy rights-management software systems to help them interface with subrights.com. "We'd like to be a Bloomberg service for publishers," Fishman said. "Something that they have to check all to time to see what's happening."
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