Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

How Enhanced Ebooks Will Cause Havoc

STATUS: It’s 8 p.m. and I’m still working…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? KISS by Prince and The Revolution

In this instance, I’m not relieved to have my assumption proven right. When the first mention of “enhanced” ebook emerged, it became immediately apparent (to me at least) that an enhanced ebook is a multimedia product. A subright agents always reserve for the author.

Agents reserve these rights because in order to do a book-to-film deal, you have to be able to grant multimedia rights to the film studio as part of the grant of rights for the option.

This was reinforced for me today as I reviewed film contract with a major studio. Sure enough, in the rights reserved to the author section, I found this clause:

Electronically Read Editions: The right to publish the text of published print editions of the Property via the Internet and in the form of CD-ROM, DVD, videocassette tape or similar electronically read devices individually purchased by the end-user. Such electronically read editions may not contain moving visual images (other than the text) or audio tracks of any kind.

Look at that last sentence. Here it’s clearly stated in the film contract that the ebook cannot have any animation or sound element.

Well, guess what publishers would like to have with an enhanced ebook? Yep. We’ve got a problem, Houston. If publishers dig in on this and this is the studio’s stance, well, granting a publisher a not-clearly-defined enhanced ebook right (which is multimedia) could derail a film deal.

Luckily for me on this contract, it’s not an issue as the deal in question has a publishing contract that predates any of this recent hoopla.

But it’s clear that this is going to be an issue in the future.


22 Responses

  1. Bernadette said:

    Your clients are very lucky to have you looking out for them on these issues and thinking about the repercussions. This is why good agents are well worth their fee.

  2. Stephanie McGee said:

    I agree with Bernadette. Your clients are a billion times lucky to have you on their side, advocating for them, and fighting for every last boon for your clients. (Did that sentence even make sense?)

    I think an author would be daft not to go with an agent or at least a literary contracts lawyer look over a publishing contract. With all the changes in the landscape authors need everyone possible in their corner.

  3. Amanda Hocking said:

    I just read a big article the other day talking about enhanced ebooks will be the way of the future and replace things like author signings and hardcover and special editions.

    I do not envy those of you sorting out the contractual quagmire, but your clients are lucky to have you on their side.

  4. Peter Collingridge said:

    Great post, and hello!

    I’m the co-founder of Enhanced Editions (www.Enhanced-Editions.com) and we make, you guessed it, enhanced ebooks. I’m also a publishing / tech industry medium-to-lifer, who spent three years working on a rights and contract management application, and whose wife is a rights director. in other words, I’m at least familiar with some of the publishing business issues here.

    Whilst I don’t dispute the direction you are taking this in, I would like to point out that over here in the UK (and based on a number of meetings with US agents) the overwhelming attitude seems to be (1) that current and legacy contracts are inadequate for dealing with multimedia or ebooks in anything other than a “verbatim” manner; (2) that there is huge hunger for all sides of the industry – authors, agents and publishers – to gain experience and indeed battle scars on this front and (3) there is huge goodwill supporting this with a “can do” attitude coming from the more progressive partners and authors / agents. Add to this the feeling that the etailers are going to be competing on price to drive ebook value close to zero (as they have with print) and our attempts are to claw back some value through premium products.

    I can’t speak for the film rights side of things, but one thing we do not do is dramatise the books in anyway – that’s for Hollywood. I know this isn’t your point, but I imagine that we will see a sharpening up of the language around rights (for example ours may be called synchronized audio and ebook rights or multimedia app rights) which may lead to addenda to existing contracts.

    Finally there is, as you may imagine, some debate on where this right resides. Suffice to say that in all cases (from Nick Cave to Philip Pullman and Hilary Mantel, among our authors) the agents have been very happy for this to be produced by us with the volume / ebook publishing rightsholder.

  5. Jeff Baird said:

    What a great post! Thank you Mr. Collingridge for your comments. As always, Kristin is just the best! It seems that the real issue is trying to grab something under a different name–multimedia. A book is a book that is read. If you read it electronically it is different with different costs. That is a different format, different rates with different demands on the business model. Doesn’t it make sense in these changing media’s to simply list them and not to use general undefined lawyer terms? The rights are always starting with the writer. They give permission so… if they did not specifically give permission then, the rights belong to the author. IS that so hard? To me the rest just sounds like greed and strategic interpretation of positioned contract talk. If you use the right words, Book, eBook, downloaded book, movie, DVD, CD or what ever–where’s the confusion? I understand the business of positioning, it just seems mute with new undefinded technology. What’s next? You didn’t say iPhone so technically it’s not a real ebook?

  6. carl brookins said:

    The best advice is consult an intellectual property lawyer. Even my experienced contract person says they are in the best position to keep current. The best agents, like the folks at NLA, can try to stay aware, but like all the rest of this stuff, we’re on an engine just about out of control, hangin’ on for dear life.

  7. Michelle Wolfson said:

    Great post, Kristin. Clearly this is something that agents absolutely need to stay on top of for their clients, both with existing deals and with deals going forward.

    However, I think that there are a lot of exciting changes happening right now in publishing, particularly in the area of “enhanced eBooks” or transmedia or whatever you want to call it. It’s impossible to know how it’s all going to shake out or what things will look like in the end. But one thing I think will happen is that contracts will change as the formats of the books and the needs of the industry change. No side-not publishers, agents, film-will be able to say “well this is how we’ve always done it so this is how we’re going to continue.” I believe there will be too much pressure to change.

    I think that Peter Collingridge very eloquently outlined some of the possible terms that will be split out and redefined.

    The most important point, in my opinion, is that agents, as always, need to stay on top of the changes in the industry and look out for our clients. And that’s something that will never change.

  8. Oliver Yeh said:

    Setting aside the issue of contracts and the role a studio could play in providing the enhancements, I have a question that I cannot get my head around: By enhancing a book/eBook, are we bringing about the demise of the book as we know it?… one that is read and imagined vs having a gun-shot ring out, a specific voice, and an image of the setting displayed for us?

    Aren’t we just heading into the realm of movies?

    Where’s the line?

  9. John said:

    I wonder if TTS (Text to Speech) is considered an audio track. Technically it’s not part of the audiobook so probably not.

    But imagine an enhanced ebook with TTS and in that ebook’s code there are tags to indicate voice properties, etc. so the TTS can simulate female, male, etc. with different characteristics.

    That’s a fairly easy thing to do and TTS isn’t half bad nowadays.

    That could definitely infringe on audiobooks.

  10. Kristin Laughtin said:

    Ooh. That could be quite tricky to get around. I imagine the solution will be in more specific language, especially for the audio tracks, to reserve rights for the TTS track or even audiobooks. I’m wondering how long the explanations will end up being to account for every possible objection either side could bring up.

  11. Joseph L. Selby said:

    Enhanced ebooks remind me of DVDs when they first came out. DVDs came with a vast number of bells and whistles. You had featurettes, commentary, trailers, deleted scenes, gag reels, blah blah blah.

    You still get them, but they were considered mandatory back then. They needed to convince people it was worth buying a new media player when their old and reliable VHS players were still operational.

    That’s what enhanced ebooks are trying to do and they will go a similar direction. Look at the enhanced ebooks Penguin has put out and you can already see the trends establishing themselves. More physical interactivity for younger readers. More social interactivity for young adult readers.

    In the end, we buy DVDs for the movies, not the special features. The same thing will be true of enhanced ebooks.

    CAVEAT: The place where enhanced ebooks is most exciting is educational publishing (and thankfully doesn’t risk screwing up a movie deal). I’ve seen some of the work done for Pearson’s A&P college texts and it will blow your flipping mind. Layered animations that can be used as both study and testing materials, focusing on selected layers. Want to see the circulatory system? Bam, there it is. Want to see the nervous system. Bam, touch of a finger on your iPad. Want to dissect a heart, label or drag and drop? All at the touch of your fingers.

    For educational media developers, a golden age is about to begin.

  12. error7zero said:

    Many of today’s writers cut their literary teeth on blogs. Bloggers are always trying to increase readership and decrease bounce rate. Enhanced content, such as images and audio are important components. When they make the step from blog to book, naturally they desire to retain as much of their content as possible. As Kristin mentioned, this could be tricky to get around, but rights will sort eventually.

  13. Gina Dungworth said:

    According to a plenary lecture at this week’s EMWA conference, enhanced journals are the next big thing in medical writing. There’s a lot of scope to improve the educational qualities of a paper with mulitmedia applications, and it allows authors to publish more results than would fit into the space available in the print edition of a journal.

    On the other hand the speaker seemed unconvinced of the need for eReader formats of journals, even though a lot of professionals catch up with their reading while on holiday or travelling to and from conferences.

    I’ll be very interested to see what direction all this takes in the next few years: multimedia applications for both work and leisure reading combined with some of the major medical, scientific and veterinary journals becoming available in eReader formats might actually convince me to read on something other than my netbook.

  14. Boone Brux said:

    As a fairly new writer, two years, I’m just now diving into the business end of this career. I’ve heard the term enhanced e-book bantered around, but didn’t have a clear definition until now. At first I thought ‘Oh, what a neat concept for an e-book, music, moving images.’ But many of these comments have opened my eyes to the more reality based issues of enhanced books. Plus, I can’t help mourn the loss of the traditional book. Times change, and many times we need to change with it, but it’s hard not to cling a little to the good old days. Great post. Very enlightening.

    Boone Brux

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