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This blog post was inspired by the fantastic speakers at the Rights2gether audio event in June 2018, Jo Forshaw, Kim Williams and Jenna Brown.

Demand for audio content has grown enormously over the last few years and digital audiobooks are currently the fastest growing segment in publishing.  Whilst some publishers have developed in-house audio production capabilities to create their own audio offerings, others have entered the market through licensing rights to audio publishers. 

If you haven’t yet dipped your toes into this area of licensing, we have put together 10 top tips which will ensure you can make the most out of selling audio rights for you and your authors.

Tip 1 – Check you have the right rights

As with all rights deals, before you start pitching anything, you need to make sure your authors have granted you the relevant rights.  Don’t forget to check rights for any other content that you might want to include in the deal such as permissions, cover art and design etc.  If you are active in licensing audio rights, make sure your editorial colleagues are aware so that they can make a strong case for acquiring audio rights when they are negotiating with authors or their agents.  Remember to check whether the author’s contract specifies that they have approval over choice of narrator or sign off on any licensed editions before they are published so that you can factor this into any subsequent negotiation.

Just like TV, film and production rights, being clear on what is in an author contract from the outset will make life a lot easier.

Tip 2 – Connect with the audio community

If you are new to selling audio rights, immerse yourself in all things audio.  The audio community is really friendly and there are often speakers on audio publishing at industry conferences and events.  Search social media channels to connect with those working in audio and keep up to date with what’s going on in their world.  Asking your newfound contacts questions about how audio publishing works will aid your understanding of the market.  The trade press frequently cover developments in audio publishing too.  Research which audio publishers are publishing what kinds of books and who their target market is.  See if you can identify some who might be interested in your titles.  If you feel you have books with good potential that would be a good fit for their list, then reach out to them directly.  

Tip 3 – Pitch a curated list

Many audio publishers have the capacity to take a lot of books – as many as 5000 audio books a year!  Rather than pitching your whole catalogue, select a small selection of titles that, based on your research (see above) are the most likely to work.  Assess your content carefully to ensure that your selections would be suitable for audio publication.  For example, books which have lots of visual content don’t really work or those with lots of mathematical formulae – no one wants to hear loads of equations being read out!  If there are a limited number of visual elements such as illustrations, tables or graphs in a book, you could ask the author to provide text which describes what those visual elements are depicting, but there should be a limited number. 

Tip 4– Pitch Early

Audio publishers are looking to acquire titles 6-9 months ahead of publication as simultaneous publishing is a real benefit (see below) so pitch forthcoming titles in plenty of time.  They will have a schedule with slots to fill, so getting in early makes it easier for them to spend their money on you.  It is sometimes possible to sell backlist, so if you have had success with one title then you can always go back to the publisher to share further titles which might be of interest.

Tip 5 – Aim for simultaneous publication

In this growing market, forward planning is essential. If you can aim for simultaneous print, digital and audio publication, the audio publisher can capitalise on the marketing and PR that will be generated around a book before and on publication. This is a big advantage to them.  

Be prepared for everything from the review process to negotiation to publication to be at a much faster pace than, for example, translation rights.  Factor in things like author approvals, to ensure you don’t hold up schedules. Audio publishing happens quickly!  

Tip 6 – Be clear about what you are licensing

As with any rights agreement it pays to be very specific about what is or is not being included in the agreement.  Ensure that the territory and language are specified, and clearly state whether the rights being sold are for abridged or unabridged versions of the original book (usually the latter).  Be clear on the formats being licensed. For example, Download editions (a la carte or individual sales, membership and subscription models), Physical editions (MP3 or even CD) and Library Models. Consider the terms under which sublicensing of the audio editions will be permitted (if at all).  It is also worth stipulating what rights are not being granted e.g. that there are no performance rights included.

It is common to licence cover art as part of the deal, in order to create a visual link between the print and audio editions. Including cover art in the agreement will enable customers to recognise all iterations of your book easily.

Tip 7 – Negotiate on narration  

Audio publishers will have access to a range of narrators that they work with regularly and will have their own thoughts on the right voice for a particular book.  Your author may also have thoughts on an appropriate narrator or type of accent and may even want to narrate themselves. If this is the case, talk to the audio publisher early so that they can advise what is feasible. It is wise to build in approval on choice of narrator into your agreements with audio publishers. They will usually be able to supply 2 or 3 samples, that you can run by your author well before the recording process starts, so that there is time to address any issues.  

Once the narrator is selected there may be questions from them about pronunciation.  If you know there are unusual words or names in the text, you could pre-empt these by asking the author to supply narration notes before recording commences.  Remember that production will be on a tight schedule, so you need to be able to respond quickly (sometimes within 24 hours) to queries arising.

Tip 8 – Use Comp Copies effectively

Make sure that receipt of a certain number of complimentary copies of the audio edition is stipulated in your agreement.  Audio comp copies usually take the form of download codes.  Once the audio book is published and the download codes are received, they can be shared with authors.  Any additional codes can be used for cost-effective promotional purposes – perhaps as part of a competition or giveaway or even for press reviews. 

Tip 9 – Check contracts carefully

Audio publishers are likely to provide their own agreements for you to sign so you will want to check them carefully.  If there is any terminology in a contract that you don’t understand, ask for definitions.  With the high volumes of agreements being processed, errors can creep in.  For example, things like the incorrect spelling of authors’ names, missing publication dates or royalty terms that haven’t been accurately transposed.  It is therefore worth taking the time to double-check all agreements before they are signed. 

Tip 10 – Royalties

Keeping on top of royalty payments is always a bit of a headache, but with audio sales booming keeping track of when statements are due and chasing them up if they have not been received has never been more important.  Using a system (like our own RightsZone app) is a great way to track and chase statements efficiently and ensure you keep the revenue from audio licensing deals flowing.

All ears about audio rights…but need more support?

Ultimately, as with all rights, to be successful you need to make it easy for people to acquire your rights.  If you have any further questions about selling audio rights or how RightsZone can help you to pro-actively grow your rights business, get in touch. Email info@rightszone.co.uk

About RightsZone

RightsZone is a cloud-based app which combines CRM and workflow tools with a comprehensive rights database.  Built by rights and publishing technology experts specifically for rights professionals RightsZone aims to help rights teams reduce their admin burden and give them the tools they need to grow their rights business.  To find out more contact info@rightszone.co.uk for a demo today.