I was recently asked about how pricing for transmedia book productions might be established, by someone who had listened to my interview with David Wilk at writerscast. This topic is difficult terrain, and rapidly evolving. Not coincidentally, the question came from a CEO at a transmedia (vs. book publishing) company that has recently begun to serve the writers community.
As my friend, Hugh McGuire of Librivox, has pointed out, the transition to complex objects, particularly those that are web native and embed pointers to resources existing across the network, is one that the publishing industry has yet to get its head around. I know that publishers would ideologically like to have these assets bundled into a single physical file (or small set of linked files) for purposes of both ready technical translation and rights control, but I suspect that we will wind up with “narrative experiences” that are actually not wholly “owned” but increasingly have at least some of their aspects licensed for performance rights (instead of having been either commissioned or licensed for broader rights), or that rely on blanket proffered commercial license terms. UGC that is just-in-time and custom-embeddable into transmedia productions will only hasten the transition to more complex rights packages.
Already the issues of advanced publications, like Peter Collingridge’s work (e.g. Apt Studio, in London), are obvious in extremely large file sizes, and this kind of CD-size aggregation is probably not tenable long term for end-user device management as composite assets swell. So inevitably, I think the tendency is toward assemblage of pointers, versus assemblage of assets.
From the limited terrain that I can see, traditional publishers are not well positioned in terms of their competencies to compete in this area, and I think we will find a wide range of new entrants, particularly those from gaming, movie and audio recording and production studios, and other more innovative media groups. The consequences for the further attenuation of digital first sale are obvious, and one can expect that the “publisher” and end user relationship will be governed by restrictive licensing covenants.
The maintenance of rights information for any form of complex asset is difficult, and pricing is tied to accurate capture of rights data and rights attributions. In the absence of any international, distributed rights registry, the requisite tracking of rights data will fall laboriously into firm to firm arrangements, and incur the consequent risk of litigation and constant management as assets are re-used. Even if production companies establish collectives, the management costs will merely be mitigated. This is one reason that I think collecting agencies and their brethren are well positioned to innovate, particularly cross-border, in the development of new services to support new creative endeavors. [N.B.: There is a potentially relevant, prescient 2006-2007 Yahoo! WIPO filing].
From my point of view, another extremely serious shortcoming of the GBS Books Rights Registry is that it looks over its shoulder at publishing’s past, being too focused on historical interpretations of books from the perspective of a narrow range of commercial uses. It is ill equipped to accommodate the world of creation and use that we are heading into.