This interview between Diane Spivey, Group Contracts Director for Hachette UK, and Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief at Publishing Perspectives, first appeared earlier this month, ahead of The London Book Fair.

Hachette UK’s Diane Spivey says there’s more recognition these days about how rights sales contribute to publishing revenue, even as the industry eyes Brexit’s approach.

As Publishing Perspectives has recently reported, the stress in the run-up to the anticipated deadline for the UK to leave the EU is already impacting parts of the international books industry, with Brexit protests at Calais having delayed the French collective stand and its books reaching the London Book Fair, while fair participants coming from the Continent encountered delays in Eurostar service from Gare du Nord in Paris.

We’ve had a chance to put several questions to Diane Spivey ahead of the Introduction to Rights program, both about potential Brexitian issues and about rights trading in publishing more generally.

Spivey has more than 30 years in the British publishing business and is today the Group Contracts Director for Hachette UK. She began her work in the industry as an assistant in an export sales department, moved to a position as rights assistant to rights director, and is seen as one of the most accomplished in the UK publishing community in her field. Over the years, Spivey has worked not only with Hachette but also with Little, Brown, Simon & Shuster UK, Cassell, Harrap, Methuen, and Hodder & Stoughton.

‘The Universal Appeal of Strong Fiction’

We begin our exchange with Spivey by asking about potential Brexit effects in rights work.

DS: There’s an immediate concern from children’s rights people about the impact of Screenshot 2019-03-20 14.35.54getting books and stand construction materials back from the Bologna Children’s Book Fair if the UK crashes out [with what’s termed a “hard Brexit” in which Brussels and London are unable to negotiate a transition period and other accommodations].

Broader worries are around firstly the status of EU nationals working here. Many rights people are European as their language skills are so valuable and it’s worrying that they might feel vulnerable and future recruitment may be harder.

Publishers who specialize in co-editions where print and delivery deadlines are so important are working closely with Far East printers to try to avoid delays in getting books across borders and back into the UK.

And longer term, if the UK government opts for international exhaustion of rights rather than national, publishers will find it really hard to publish or license English-language editions around the world with pricing to suit the market, so special cheaper editions for the developing countries may become too risky to be worth it.

PP: Aside from such Brexit-related worries you’ve listed, do you find when lecturing and teaching rights trading that some parts of the business is harder than others for newcomers to grasp?

On Brexit: “Many rights people are European as their language skills are so valuable, and it’s worrying that they might feel vulnerable and future recruitment may be harder.” Diane Spivey

DS: Underlying copyright law is often the greatest challenge for people to understand. Many attendees are self-publishers or very small operations and are at a loss regarding both how to protect and exploit their work.

We also make them aware of the variety of ways a work can be exploited through rights selling and give them some very practical guidelines.

PP: How do you find the handling of audiobook rights going these days?  Are those rights still generally held and exploited by publishers, or are agents tending to hold them back—or try to—for authors?

DS: Some agents are resistant as it’s always attractive to secure a separate revenue stream. However, audio publication is becoming so integral to publishing the work as a whole—I’m talking trade publishers here—that many now see the advantages of coordinating print, audio and ebook publishing and securing consistency over the recordings, presentation and marketing of all editions via one publisher.

PP: As we watch rights trading gain in importance to publishers’ bottom lines in so many parts of the world, does it seem that rights departments and specialists are finding more support inside publishing houses?

“We try to encourage all rights managers and literary agents to contribute figures to the Publishers Association survey so our huge contribution to the UK economy is fully understood.” Diane Spivey

DS: Yes, I think there is a greater appreciation of what financial benefit can be brought to a company through rights licensing.

But as an industry, we still struggle to isolate and quantify the numbers. Licensing income goes straight to the bottom line and is often overlooked or wrongly categorized when stating turnover.

We try to encourage all rights managers and literary agents to contribute figures to the Publishers Association survey so our huge contribution to the UK economy is fully understood.

PP: While in the States, there’s a certain boost for nonfiction from the plethora of “Trump books” on the market, can you discern any rise in interest for nonfiction in the international rights market?

DS:  I think the universal appeal of strong fiction will always be an easier sell in translation. We do get good sales on practical nonfiction but more politics and current affairs can be a challenge.

I think it’s still the lure of a great story that brings together readers in all countries.

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