Are Big Publishers Losing The Battle For The Big Backlists?

Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., the company which manages the literary estate of the deceased James Bond creator and thus controls not only all pre-existing James Bond works, but all future ones too, have been in the news this morning

It has been announced that Simon Trewin from United Agents is no longer representing the company, which has been snapped up by Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown (UK). The reasons for the move are unknown, but will be speculated upon.

The timeline is interesting here, and I can’t help but wonder if this is something to do with the James Bond backlist. These titles should be especially lucrative given that Bond has shifted over 100m copies in print. Some are available as e-books, published directly by Ian Fleming Publications in June 2008, just before they signed with Simon Trewin.

The performance of these e-books has been muted and, looking at the listings, it’s not hard to see why. The covers are pretty shoddy, the formatting isn’t exactly top-level, and the descriptions are flaccid. Plus, the prices are quite saucy for older backlist titles.

Last month, Mr. Trewin soundedĀ caution about agents becoming publishers, whereas Curtis Brown have openly suggested that they will be following fellow UK agent Ed Victor into publishing “but with a rather larger list”.

Perhaps I am making a leap here, but could we see an official announcement from Curtis Brown (UK) that they are moving into publishing, possibly leading off with a relaunch of what should be a lucrative digital franchise? Time will tell.

Either way, this lucrative backlist is currently out of the hands of a major publisher, and it’s not the only one. Last week, we had the stunning announcement of JK Rowling’s self publishing venture. Somewhat drowned out in that news was Amazon’s capture of 47 of the old Ed McBain titles – another author who has sold 100 million books.

Are big publishers losing the battle for the big backlists?

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In other news, Robin Sullivan has a nice article in Publishing Perspectives today about how self-publishing has gone from the last resort to potentially the best way to maximize your revenue. Hopefully, it will act as a reminder to those outside the self-publishing world that there are more people making money at this than Hocking, Konrath & Locke.

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Kris Rusch wrote an excellent article on Friday which should be read by anyone with a passing interest in writing short stories. great overview of the history of short story magazines and the current rude health of the market.

I have mentioned several times on this blog that self-publishers who write short stories shouldn’t neglect traditional markets.

In fact, if you write a lot of short stories, you should consider adopting a system which will maximize your revenue. This would usually mean selling first rights to an American magazine. Then, when rights revert, selling reprint and/or anthology rights. Foreign rights should also be explored.

Once all those sources are tapped out, then and only then, if maximizing revenue is your #1 priority, should you self-publish them (as doing so beforehand will limit the markets you can sell to).

If nothing else, it’s a great selling point in your blurb if you can say the story was picked up by a certain magazine or anthology. In fact, I’m sure that’s part of the reason that If You Go Into The Woods is outselling Transfection by a factor of nearly 2 to 1, even though the latter is in a more popular genre and, I feel, a stronger story.

So it goes!