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J.K. Rowling and eBook rightsStaggering....just staggering.


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#1 AQCrew

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 06:36 AM

So... J.K. Rowling still owns all her eBook rights. That is staggering. You go, girl.

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#2 C. Taylor

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 07:44 AM

Nice!! I'm surprised her original contract didn't hand over her e-rights. You always hear that first time authors aren't given much choice in the matter.

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#3 AQCrew

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 07:47 AM

We're going to conjecture that her first book was published... what? Ten years ago? And many publishers were not thinking "digital rights" back then.... so digital rights clauses were absent from contracts.

That's why so many mid-list authors published years ago are now turning to e-pubbing of their own backlists. Because they own the rights.

But you're right. We'd love to know if that's really what happened, especially considering that no one knew the mega-property they had on their hands when they originally bought Rowling's first book rights.

#4 C. Taylor

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 07:50 AM

That's what I was thinking too. Right now it seems like ebook rights when negotiated in a contract are still a bit of a grey area, though I think pubs and agents are quickly wising up to their value.

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#5 Justin Holley

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 08:37 AM

And funny that she's been so resistant to the idea, but one hundred million pounds is a lot of kaching to ignore!
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#6 RSMellette

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 09:33 AM

I think when HP first came out the World Wide Web was but a glimmer in CERN's eye. Remember, when Clinton became President there where only 300 (or 30, can't remember the stat) websites.

This reminds me a lot of when I worked in Home Video. Some movies that came out in the MTV era didn't have the music rights for video releases, so Fast Times at Ridgemont High doesn't have the same music in video that it did in theatres. Now all movie contracts buy the rights for "all forms of media in existance now and forever throughout the known and unknown universe" or some such crazy language. I can't believe book contracts didn't have that when HP came out.

#7 mwsinclair

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 10:09 AM

There were certainly thousands of websites by 2000. The Web went free and public in '93, I believe (after being pretty much just within CERN and among scientists before then). I For what it's worth, I wrote my first article about the Web in '95, so if a poor schlub like me was surfing, then millions of people were by then.

Sorcerer's Stone came out in the late 90s (1997 seems about right), so I'm not too surprised that there weren't e-rights being bandied about.

#8 Rick Spilman

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 11:01 AM

My guess is that the publishers had modest expectations for the first book and therefore weren't overly concerned about e-rights one way or another. If I am not mistaken the advice given to Rowling by her editor just prior to the publication of the first book was "don't give up your day job." Kudos to an alert or lucky agent who should now be recieving a cut of the $100 million pounds.

#9 RSMellette

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 11:18 AM

I was writing The Xena Scrolls in '95 which Universal Studios published without really knowing what they were doing. I had no contract and could not be paid because Universal had no web agreement with Rennaissance Pictures (Sam Raimi & Rob Tappert). A couple of years later everyone I'd delt with in Television Information Services was gone and there was something called a New Media Department. They came to me because IBM's Big Blue was going to play chess with what's-his-name and they wanted to use our site for promotion - aka an ad. I had to inform them that they didn't own my part of the stories and that they couldn't earn money off of the site without paying Ren Pics and me.

After much negotiation, the Xena Scrolls site was shut down. Years later, the WGA - who were no help to me - struck over much of the same stuff I was fighting for.

Ah, the heady days of the early internet.

#10 mwsinclair

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 12:17 PM

Yeah, I remember losing a freelance client in the mid-'90s because they wanted me to sign a contract that basically said they could use everything I'd ever written for them and ever would write for them without receiving any additional compensation for the online rights. Sadly, I get paid less now (other clients) for pieces where it's stipulated up front that the pieces would be published either online, in print, or both, as determined by the editor. But at least it's stated up front where things will appear.

#11 Cat Woods

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 12:26 PM

At my conference this weekend, the agent panelist explicitly stated that writers should not give up e-rights. It is the wave of the future and to do so is selling yourself short. Additionally, series writers need to retain all subsidiary rights. Hard to do flying solo, which is why writers who want to make a career out of this biz need savvy agents to advocate for them during negotiations.

The formats are changing to be sure, but if writers plan to go solo, they need to be more widely educated now more than ever.

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#12 Rick Spilman

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 02:14 PM

At my conference this weekend, the agent panelist explicitly stated that writers should not give up e-rights.


I wonder on what percentages of books that might be a deal breaker.




#13 RSMellette

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 02:24 PM

The other thing you have to keep in mind is how to collect what's due you. E-reporting is notoriously bad - which is a surprise, since it should be easier. Both agents and publishers can help with the muscle it takes to get your reports and money in on time and for the right amount.

#14 Cat Woods

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 02:25 PM

Rick, not sure.

From what he said, and I'm reading some between the lines here, I think having a solid agent and a solid project are key. I wish I could remember his exact words, but I got the impression that he hadn't been giving much up and yet was still successfully making good deals for his clients.

Of course, I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I will again quote him. "Retain your e-rights."

How is a whole 'nother story.

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#15 Cat Woods

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 02:28 PM

True, RS.

There's a reason why I like hanging out here. The collective wisdom of the members is virtually unrivaled.

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#16 Rick Spilman

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 05:48 PM

Of course, I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I will again quote him. "Retain your e-rights."

How is a whole 'nother story.


The next question is what do you do with them?

Do you self publish the ebook? That could cause all sorts of interesting commercial and logistical issues with the publishers of the print version. Or do you license it to the traditional publisher, in which case, are you really any better off than if the publisher "owned" the rights?

As the cliche goes the devil is in the details. There are lots to sort out.

#17 Cat Woods

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 08:57 PM

Aaaaand this is why I'm a huge advocate of finding an agent.

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#18 anticipa

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 09:10 PM

Yeesh! What a tangled web we weave. I wouldn't dream of attempting to navigate any sort of legal work without an agent, even if it was just 'read this; now sign on the dotted line.' The more I read about e-rights, etc., the less I feel like I understand!

Then again, I've still got some schooling to do, I suppose... :blush:

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