Thursday, September 23, 2010

Multimedia Rights No Longer Only for the Film Buffs

This morning, Twitter pointed me to an article on by Richard Curtis. This instantly caught my attention because I'm having lunch with a literary agent, Richard Curtis, tomorrow (he's the agent on the fabulous Jillian Stone novels I recently acquired). But whether it's the same man or not, remains to be seen--and either way, the article is an intriguing one.

I've been in the publishing industry for four years now and until I read Mr. Curtis's article, I was unaware that e-book rights were separated into two different factions--straight text and multimedia. I was also ignorant of the fact that the standard boilerplate electronic rights include straight-text only for a publishing house, so as not to interfere with dramatic rights (film/tv). I've never seen it in a contract, so how was I to know?

But apparently, I'm finding out just in time, as the creation and growing popularity of enhanced e-books is forcing some literary agencies to recall that boilerplate and no longer retain those rights, according to Mr. Curtis's post:

Since the dawn of the digital age – call it Year 2000 – publishers and agents have separated e-rights into two categories. One is verbatim text rights – plain old e-books. The second is interactive use of texts in combination with music, video, audio and other media – what have come to be called enhanced e-books. Commonly, agents struck the latter provision out of publisher boilerplate. Why? Because film studios and networks felt that enhancements incurred on their ability to dramatize the books they acquired.

But with development of vooks and similar hybrids of text and other media (“Vook” = Video + Book), publishers are challenging the assumption that interactive rights must be reserved to authors. As enhanced e-books become viable and valuable, publishers want to know why they are abandoning rights to movie and television companies.

That is the background for the memo that a major literary agency has sent to a number of film agents informing them that henceforth they cannot count controlling those interactive rights.

The memo declared in part:

“As a result of this fundamental change in publishing, we will no longer be able to agree to the boilerplate language in most studio option/purchase agreements that address multimedia. These clauses usually restrict the author’s reserved electronic book rights to digital text only. We cannot agree to this limitation. Authors’ reserved ebook rights must now include the right to grant enhanced digital rights in their work, including all the elements mentioned above.” The memo made it clear that “enhanced digital editions, as long as they are non-dramatic, are best exploited by the author in conjunction with the publisher.”

Despite this distinction it’s not likely that Hollywood is going to take this shift lying down. Where enhancements end and movie effects begin will certainly become a bone of contention, so this is going to get interesting and probably adversarial. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

Though enhanced e-books are on everybody’s tongue these days, we suspect you won’t see a flood of them any time soon. The cost and complexity of clearing permissions and the time it takes to produce works of real quality will in all likelihood restrict the number released to a precious few. But that may not be the point, as we will eventually see when the titans of publishing and Hollywood clash on the field of enhancements.

See the post HERE

Personally, I think this is a fabulous idea. Many publishers have already jumped on the enhanced e-book bandwagon, and while yes, it is a slower building trend, I know a lot of houses have much in the works regarding this new form of multimedia. (I wish I could tell you specifically what I'm referring to but I can't--you'll just have to keep your eyes peeled!)

Not only do publishers have a lot of great ideas to implement, but the movie biz isn't capitalizing on enhanced e-books anyway. And in contrast to what one commentor on Mr. Curtis's post, Scott Nicholson, suggests--"a Hollywood studio is about as well-equipped as a publisher to release an ebook today, and probably MORE equipped to release an enhanced e-book"--I don't believe that Hollywood does necessarily have that capability. Though the film/tv and book businesses may seem to have similarities to some, they are run--and behave--nothing alike. They have different distribution channels and different ways of producing their products. It's not a mix-and-match scenario.

I can, of course, understand the studios concerns over Vooks, which are completely different than many of the enhanced e-books hitting e-shelves. Quite frankly, as some of you may already know, Vooks don't seem much different to me in concept than movies in the first place (clearly they are different, but they are very similar in many ways). But other kinds of enhanced e-books are horses of another color.

Scribner and Simon and Schuster released Nixonland as an enhanced e-book, for instance (Check out a video demo HERE). In this non-fiction book, S&S embedded video into the e-books e-pages:

The book, a history of how Nixon used the modern media, makes use of archival video footage from Simon & Schuster parent, CBS (NYSE: CBS). Among the 27 videos inserted into the text of the iBookstore’s enhanced e-book, there’s an original interview with the author conducted by CBS News Face the Nation anchor Bob Schieffer. (

You can also take the The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss as another good example. The enhanced e-book that has shown up with the creation of the iPad is pretty phenomenal. Kids can click on words and illustrations and the e-book will say the word aloud. It's an amazing tool to help with literacy. And Grand Central Publishing went the fiction route with its release of an enhanced e-book for David Baldacci's Deliver Us From Evil in March 2010. It was "an innovative 'Writer’s Cut' eBook that will hurtle readers inside David’s creative process" (

But, of course, you do also have books like Flipped, which was recently released as a movie tie-in enhanced e-book by Knopf for Young Readers:

The FLIPPED enhanced e-book movie tie-in will include an exclusive video feature about the making of the movie with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the director and cast as well as three original songs written and recorded by author Wendelin Van Draanen. It will also feature eight video clips of key scenes from the movie. With sixteen full-color photos from the film and four video interviews with the author, as well as a sneak peek of Van Draanen's latest romantic comedy Confessions of a Serial Kisser, the enhanced e-book edition has much to offer fans and will appeal to readers of all ages. (PRNewswire)
Enhanced e-books of that caliber just may help the two industries merge as Nicholson suggests. There are lots of ways this one could play out. I'm very curious to see which reigns supreme (to steal a line from my beloved "Iron Chef").


  1. Hi Danielle,

    Yes, the Richard Curtis of e-reads blog fame is indeed the infamous literary agent. FYI, he is quite the futurist when it comes to the publishing biz. Be sure to grill him for lunch!