Rights Sales as “Soft Power”

In Feature Articles by Andrés Delgado Darnalt

New research, particularly in South America, is looking at how the publishing and copyright industries can be seen as national wealth generators.

By Andrés Delgado Darnalt

south_americaViewing the creative industries as a strategic sector for social and economic growth is a relatively new field of research, with both national and international bodies looking at how copyright industries can be seen as national wealth generators.

In a series of studies on the contribution of creative industries to national economies, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) proposed a methodology for classifying the creative industries on the basis of their dependence on copyright-protected content: “Core,” “Interdependent,” “Partial” and “Non-dedicated support.”

In the core industries group, the Press and Literature sector is by far the biggest contributor to national GDP with a share of 40.5%. The report also points out that almost half of the employment in the creative industries, 44%, belongs to this same sector. This makes the publishing sector — and its value creation chain — a strategic generator of national wealth and employment throughout the world.

In Latin America for example, the book industry benefitted from sustained growth of 9% from the years 2000 and 2011, according to the study El Espacio Iberoamericano del Libro (2012), carried out by CERLALC (a UNESCO office for research on book publishing and reading habits in Latin America). Over the previous century, publishers from Spain and Portugal poured titles into Latin America, but as of 2011, some 55% of titles published in Iberoamerica were released by Latin American publishers. As long as Latin American publishers can produce attractive content and explore new market niches, the number of readers will grow even more.

In order to achieve this, publishers need to trigger an element in the publishing value chain that has been scarcely exploited in the region, save through limited private and intergovernmental efforts: rights sales.

Andrés Delgado Darnalt

Andrés Delgado Darnalt

In their book Inside Book Publishing, British publishers Giles Clark and Angus Phillips define rights sales as the trade of patrimonial rights over a content or groups of content in the national and global market. These are known as subsidiary rights and include rights for paperback, the North American market, translations, co-editions, book clubs, e-book, serial and extracts, film, TV and audio, and audiobooks. Other rights include condensation, promotional reprints and Braille. Rights sales, according to the authors, carry little in the way of direct costs and are often simply extra profit for the publishers.

The case for UK publishers is telling: a 2006 report by the United Kingdom’s Publishers Association, mentioned by Clark and Phillips, points out that total income of UK publishers from rights sales in 2004 was £128.5 million, with 56% from co-editions and 44% from the sale of other rights.

And in some markets, publishers just need a little motivation to pursue what is essentially “free money”: in Spain, following the 2008 economic crisis hit publishers hard and drove book sales down in the market, rights sales boomed to €394.1 million in 2010 — almost a 200% jump over the previous year, according to study by Spain´s Ministry of Culture.

New Spanish Books 2Some of the credit can certainly go to increased efforts on behalf of publishers, but some is also due to smart marketing efforts. Rights sales in Spain have actually risen consistently since 2006, when the launch of the website New Spanish Books, a joint project between the Federación de Gremios de Editores de España (Spain’s central publishing association), the Spanish Institute of Foreign Trade (ICEX) and the Spanish Embassy in London, made sample translations of text far more widely available to a global base of rights buyers, many of whom source texts via their English translation. The project has been such a big success that a German language version of “New Spanish Books” was launched as well.

It follows then that for a core copyright industry (echoing WIPO´s term) seeking to reach new markets, rights sales is essential. It also allows publishers to extend the market for their books beyond national borders and bring what economists call “positive externalities” in terms of cultural influence or “soft power.”

Taking Spain as an example again, the country’s long economic recession has forced Spanish publishers to exploit the growth markets in Latin America, which has ultimately led to the launch of several new publishing ventures and experiments with niche, local titles.

Knowing that publishing is valuable commodity on the global stage, many national governments and private sector institutions support the book sector through grants and other forms of financing for the publication of works of national interest, be they literature or non-fiction. This is fine and well. However, the long term success of these publishing projects — measured in sales figures, the same benchmark for businesses from other sectors of the economy — depends on a competitive business environment, a wide market of readers, and commitment to publishing as a key industry for national marketing.

This is exactly where rights sales comes in: by learning the theory and practice behind rights sales, more publishers will be enabled to sell the best of their fiction and non-fiction in foreign markets where, ultimately content, beyond the limits of language, is what brings readers around to books. It could be argued that governments, research institutes, universities and other publishing-related associations could work hand-in-hand providing mentoring in rights sales hand-in-hand with qualified publishers, lawyers and agents.

Ultimately, actors in the book value chain should realize they are working with a non-tangible asset whose potential reach is wider than the one imposed by the physical format of the book itself. With a successful rights sales strategy, readers from all corners of the world will be able to enjoy more quality literary works from around the world as paperbacks, e-books, audiobooks and even movies thanks to rights sales. And the biggest hurdle for knowledge transmission, language, will have been circumvented.

Andrés Delgado Darnalt is a Colombian journalist who has worked with the Colombian Book Chamber, the Iberoamerican Publishers Association, the Museum of Fine Arts — Houston and the Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendaño. He lives in London. You can follow him on Twitter: @andeldar

A version of this article originally appeared on the website of the Observatorio Iberoamericano de Derecho de Autor, a UNESCO research center and news hub focused on copyright issues in Latin America and based in Bogotá, Colombia. Some minor amendments were made for this translation.

About the Author

Andrés Delgado Darnalt


Andrés Delgado Darnalt is a Colombian journalist based in Bogotá, where he studied social communication at Javeriana University. He obtained his MBA from London School of Commerce-Cardiff Metropolitan University, and has studied at the Book Publishing Training Center. He has worked in events and public relations with the Bogotá International Book Fair (FILBO) as well as with other companies and public offices, and he has served as a project editor and consultant in digital and academic publishing.