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Has Transparency Made Book Scouts More or Less Important?

Information is worthless unless you know what to do with it.

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s feature story looks at the importance of foreign rights deals to small publishers. For small publishers, foreign rights deals are an important opportunity. But for big conglomerate publishers who sign up multi-million dollar titles, those foreign rights deals are often essential to covering those whopping big advances. What’s more, they are in competition with their fellow conglomerates to snap up the rights to as many potentially lucrative bestsellers as possible. To help them do this as quickly and as cheaply as possible, many big conglomerates rely on book scouts.

As we’ve noted here before, book scouting is a secretive business. Described by some as the “black ops” of the book business, they are simultaneously among the most social and most private people you’ll run across in publishing. Their stock-in-trade is getting information, getting it early, and interpreting it for clients — whether that means simply reading a book in one language and assessing it for sale in another, or parsing market trends and data. But, the question is, with the increased year-round flow of information, tools such as Google Translate, and instant communication — are they more or less important to the business?

One might argue that they are less important because information can be had so quickly, that a scout has no competitive advantage. Scouts, on the other hand, might say that much of the information you get so fast and free is worthless unless you know what to do with it. Their role as middlemen of sorts is even more important because they can tell you what the worth of a particular book might be and if you should act on it.

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Increased data flow could cloud opportunities, not improve them.

    A good scout, or rights agent, can provide the expertise necessary to match the right book to the right publisher. In a world full of noise, a personal recommendation from a publishing profession still holds tremendous value.

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