Industry veteran discusses book rights licensing at lecture

Book industry veteran Sean P. Fodera speaks during his lecture “An Introduction to Foreign and Subsidiary Rights Licensing” held in the Philip E. Austin Building in Storrs, Connecticut on Thursday, March 10, 2016. (Sam Mahmud/The Daily Campus)

Industry veteran Sean P. Fodera explained the basics of the book rights licensing industry to a group of UConn students at “An Introduction to Foreign and Subsidiary Rights Licensing” on Thursday afternoon at the Philip E. Austin Building.

Fodera, associate director of Contracts at Macmillan, began by explaining that while most people think of a book, he and his team are “thinking property, intellectual property, franchises and all these amazing things” that can be taken from one.

“My job is to make the contracts that bring a book into the house,” Fodera explained. “We want to make the most of the wonderful things that come out of peoples’ minds.”

Diving into the topics of rights, he defined subsidiary rights as rights which a publisher may license for itself, but may also license to a third party. These rights serve as a major income stream for both publishers and authors.

Fodera explained that these subsidiary rights, as they relate to one single book, come in many different forms. To start, there are numerous print formats that help to bring in revenue, such as large print, abridgements, book club agreements and serialization excerpts.

The considerable advancement of technology in the 21st century have exerted a humongous effect on the publishing industry, a factor that Fodera made sure to address.

“This is why publishing from the 2000s forwards is completely different,” he noted, referring to the various electronic formats that books can now take. “E-books changed everything.”

Fodera explained that right before the turn of the millennium when e-books first became an option, the numbers were not at all huge. His company had licensed out the rights to the third-highest selling e-book of 1999, but that only meant several thousand digital copies sold.

“Then, we have Mr. Jobs,” he said, referring to the influential founder of the technology giant Apple Inc.

Apple, Amazon and other large digital companies took e-book retailing into their own hands, taking considerable profits away from the publishers themselves.

“It killed the market for licensing e-books to anybody else,” Fodera explained. “So now, we do these things ourselves.”

Moving past electronic formats, Fodera spoke about mixed formats, which deal with foreign markets. “These are the big-ticket items for a multinational publisher,” Fodera said, referring to the rights that allow a book to be translated into another language. He explained that publishers must be aware of various dialects, and the intricacies of simple translations vs. complex translations.

Fodera then moved onto non-book formats, and most notably performance or dramatic rights.

“This is where everybody starts hearing the cash register go,” he joked, referring to the adaptation of a book to a TV series or a movie. “You do one of these big deals, you are going to make lots of money to fund smaller books.”

He made sure to explain the role of sub-rights staff, and what they do to succeed in his industry.

“In a way, they’re like agents,” Fodera said. “They have got to sell.”

Sub-rights staff begins licensing a book by creating a rights guide, which helps to “focus the attention of the right buyer to the right book.” Then, they communicate with sub-agents and literary scouts, before disseminating the book’s bestseller and award information.

“[Bestseller] is a weird word these days, because the numbers are all over the place and they don’t match up,” Fodera said.

Finally, they negotiate licensing contracts and the terms of these deals, while also tracking the statuses of existing licenses. Fodera noted that some film companies will continue to renew certain licenses for years on end, without actually making a movie.

“There are two ways that we do things: we sell things and we license things,” Fodera said. He explained that the sales of rights are final, but with licensing, there are limits set on factors such as length and exclusivity.

“I could go theoretically go on and on, because I really love what I do,” Fodera said at the conclusion of his lecture, imploring students in attendance to pursue a career in the industry of book rights licensing.