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Imagine that you had a business for which you had (without any marketing or sales spend), a steady stream of customers ready and willing to part with their cash to get their hands on your stuff. It would be amazing wouldn’t it? And you would do everything you could to make that process as quick and painless as possible so that they could get your stuff and you could take their money – everyone would be a winner.

If you are a publisher with a reasonable size backlist, the chances are that you are in this very situation. However instead of giving that market of willing customers an easy way to buy, you might be surprised to learn that many publishers are either completely ignoring them or putting up barriers that make it extremely difficult for people to buy their stuff.

The stuff in this case is content, and in the publishing industry we produce an awful lot of it. Despite the massive changes in the way that people consume content, we are still as an industry quite wedded to parcelling it up in predetermined bundles and outputting it as tried and tested products that we know how to market. 

Very little thought or attention is paid to the people who only want a particular bit of content for a very specific use. Yet this means of selling our wares has been around for at least as long as we have had copyright protection. Every day millions of people are re-using published content, sometimes illegally, sometimes under copyright exceptions but in a huge number of cases under legitimately licensed terms from the content owner. In publishing this type of licensing is called Permissions. 

We talk about permissions very little. If rights are the Cinderella of publishing, then permissions are the rags Cinderella casts off on her way to the ball. In many cases responding to permissions is delegated to the most junior member of the team, it is often a low priority job and something considered a chore rather than a valuable and legitimate part of the day to day publishing business. 

Consequently, when people seek permission to reuse content, they can find that it is actually very hard to make what should be quite a straightforward purchase. It’s hard to find who to request permission from and what information needs to be provided, it can take weeks to get an answer (a recent check of UK publisher websites revealed the expected turn-around time was often up to 12 weeks!) and even when you do get a response the permission terms you receive might restrict your use of the content, diminishing its value completely.

Given the way that permissions are (mis)managed it’s not hard to see why so much content is re-used illegally. The poor customer experience could be seen as an active incentive to piracy. 

Why do we respond to these potential purchasers so poorly? Imagine how lucrative permissions could be if we started to treat permissions requestors like we treat other customer facing areas of our business? If we thought of permissions as a proper sales function and invested in and resourced it appropriately? 

There are many simple and cost-effective measures that publishers can put in place to turn their permissions business around, and properly tap into a revenue stream that they may only be seeing a trickle from currently.  From reviewing processes and systems, to upgrading the customer experience, giving your permissions business an overhaul will not only improve the bottom line but also transform the way your business is perceived.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can bring in more revenue from your permissions business, please get in touch.  We can demonstrate how RightsZone supports the permission function, give advice on effective use of on-line services such as PLS Permissions, and even offer training via the highly regarded Profitable Permissions for Publishers workshop which is run by 2 of our Directors, rights and permissions experts, Clare Hodder and Ruth Tellis.

Image: Josh Appel on Unsplash