The Rights You Sell Matter


The Expanse, a show in its third season on the SyFy Channel, was cancelled last week by the network. It’s the classic story of a show that everyone appears to love but the ratings aren’t showing it. In the case of The Expanse, this is a particular problem.

The deal that Syfy has with Alcon Entertainment, the production company behind the show, is very narrow. Syfy only has the rights for first run, linear viewing in the U.S. The channel success depends on viewers watching the show on Wednesday at 9PM ET. That is a tough deal in the still growing world of time-shifting, streaming and devices.

After the announced cancellation, the internet kicked into high gear with a #savethexpanse campaign with twitter campaign and online petitions. A group even hired an airplane to fly passed the Amazon Studio headquarters with a banner saying “Save The Expanse.” Their efforts paid off to a certain degree with the May 16th episode of the series drawing the highest live ratings in two years.  And Amazon appears to be in serious talks to revive the show for a fourth season.

The book publishing lesson from this story is to pay close attention to all the rights associated with your book.  Pay attention to digital rights, audio rights and dramatic rights, who is selling and how they can be used.

I read an author account last week where they talked about O’Reilly building sponsorship deals for the use of books with marketing programs. Clever.

Audio rights used to be a forgotten clause in many contracts. Now, book publishers won’t sign a new title without audio rights being a part of the deal. On my trip to New York in January, I heard the story that Tim Ferris ended up publishing with HMH because it was the only publisher that would do a deal and let him keep the audio rights.

And dramatic rights can be leveraged interesting ways.  Parts Unlimited is the ficitional company in IT Revolution’s The Phoenix Project. Check out the Parts Unlimited Github repo.  This is a working ecommerce site that was built by Microsoft for Visual Studio training purposes.  There is also a functional MRP system.  This deal was done with a simple IP agreement that allowed them the ability to use characters, plots and settings.  In exchange, IT Revolution obtained amazing exposure with a huge developer community and a key set of readers.

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