Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 10, 2011

Bloomsbury Connect

As Perseus expands their digital distribution to agents and authors, Bloomsbury is preparing a director competitor to Constellation, Faber Factory and other ebook distribution platforms for publishers. Launching soon, the new service, called Bloomsbury Connect has been in development for months under the direction of managing director, group sales and marketing Evan Schnittman. It’s a companion to the Bloomsbury Reader program, announced in April, which launched last week with almost 600 titles.

Bloomsbury Connect is a “service solution,” focused on publishers, while Bloomsbury Reader is a full “publishing solution” for out-of-print titles, focused on agencies and estates. Bloomsbury Connect will provide clients distribution into all major ebook channels, with support on retailer marketing programs and unified sales and royalty reporting through their association with Royalty Share. Bloomsbury is also partnering with a major ebook conversion company to offer clients conversion services at preferential bulk rates.

Consistent with their global publishing strategy, Bloomsbury Connect will distribute ebooks in all the territories worldwide where Bloomsbury already publishes. In one significant point of differentiation from many competitive plans, Bloomsbury gives clients the option of epublishing under the agency model (as long as the vendor allows it) or a wholesale model.

Bloomsbury Connect expects to launch with some of their own physical distribution clients. They plan to charge a commission of 15 to 20 percent, depending on volume and scale. The service is designed for publishers, but may work with some of the “true publishing” units established by literary agencies–though only to the extent that they publish titles with clear, unfettered rights.

The new Bloomsbury Reader is the company’s proposition focused on literary agencies and estates, run by digital media director Stephanie Duncan. They offer royalties of what the company calls “25 plus 5”–or what most people would call 30 percent–with Bloomsbury providing “quality conversion” and all other standard publisher services. The licensing term includes “an out-clause based on performance after 5 years,” Schnittman says. He adds, “we need a minimum of five years” at the potentially low-level sales of these back-in-print titles. While the rates are below what other newly-created digital publishers are offering, Bloomsbury is targeting long inactive material and trying to make it commercial again. “We are trying to raise the dead,” Schnittman said.

The company is currently pitching the new Bloomsbury Connect, Bloomsbury Reader, and their expanding Bloomsbury Public Library to both publishers and agencies as a broad set of digital options.

The Perseus Books Group’s digital distribution platform Constellation is adding a service offering targeted at the many literary agencies helping their authors epublish, called Argo Navis Author Services. After presentations to a small set agencies, Perseus announced that Janklow & Nesbit and Curtis Brown “are planning to make [the service] available to their clients.”

Separately, co-head of publications at ICM Sloan Harris confirmed to Publishers Lunch that the agency is close to finalizing a deal to participate in Perseus’s initiative. “They are not going to be an exclusive destination for us,” Harris said, “but I expect that they will be one of our most-favored outlets.” As for next steps, “We need to finish our deal [with Perseus], and go back around to every single client on every single title and recommend participation in appropriate cases.” Once everything is in place, Harris, added, “I expect that we will publish a significant number of books with Constellation.”

Perseus says they are “in discussions with a number of other agencies,” though most agencies we spoke with while working this story over the past week raised at least some reservations about the Argo Navis terms. Their program is non-exclusive, so even participating agencies will offer Argo Navis as one option for their clients. Perseus ceo David Steinberger says the program is limited to reverted and not-in-print or never-published works (so it’s not for titles with unclear or “in dispute” rights). Argo Navis is constructed to treat the authors as the publishers, with agents playing their traditional role in connecting authors to the service and managing the relationship and information flow.

Perseus will charge a 30 percent distribution fee and the author is responsible for the costs of creating the ebooks, though there is a version of the program available in which Constellation will advance the cost of file conversion, working with their existing vendors, reducing the upfront investment for authors (but the costs are recouped against earnings). There is a “marketing menu” of some elements that are included in the base fee, with other options available at additional charge. And there is a three-year agreement on each distributed work–which a number of agents pointed to as a particular sticking point. (It presents a problem, for example, if digital publishing success leads to a compelling offer from a publisher.) As one agent said to us, “At Amazon, if you put something up, you can pull it right down, too.” Steinberger says that from their perspective, “we feel like three years is pretty limited, coming from our distribution and publishing background.”

Perseus vp of business affairs Clare Peeters is managing the venture, which Steinberger calls “a major initiative for us.” The goal for now is that “we would like to be one of the options that agents make available to their clients,” Steinberger added, emphasizing that they “have a long-term view” and “expect this to be a significant source of revenue over a five-year period.”

Seems like this could be good news for authors with out-of-print books. Let’s hope so.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


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