Something we’ve heard a lot of lately is that publishers have to diversify the way they deal with copyright, a large part of which is selling or acquiring rights outside the traditional publishing channels of book fairs and trade shows. IPR License, set up by Tom Chalmers, is an up-and-coming British startup that facilitates just that, holding more than 13 million rights records in a database that interested parties can browse to purchase.
Launched in 2012, it has almost 50 publishers from six different countries already signed up (a sign that perhaps publishers aren’t so quick to dismiss startups with a good idea as many would believe) and is still growing globally at a rapid rate.
I caught up with the managing director, Tom Chalmers, to find out how it’s been doing so far and what’s in store for the future.
1. How did IPR License come about?
I have been very interested in the potential for rights licensing since starting my first publishing company, Legend Press, eight years ago. From my front room, with just a laptop and a phone I licensed the rights to our second novel into seven editions and four languages. This illustrated very early the potential for rights licensing.
Then in 2010 I agreed to be involved in Roger Shashoua’s new company IPR Connections, which was focussed on licensing of intellectual property rights (IPR), including patents and trademarks. It was through this work that I saw the opportunity for a platform on which to list and license book rights. I presented the idea to Roger, whose history includes three major global companies founded and successfully floated on the stock exchange, and he agreed to back it.
The concept is based around the fact that there are more markets open for business and more rights to license than ever before. Traditionally, book rights are sold through professional relationships and tradeshows but IPR License allows licensing, both buying and selling, to take place on a global platform from a desktop.
2. IPR License was only launched in 2012, so is a relatively new venture. Have you found it more or less challenging to get off the ground than you expected, and what have some of the biggest challenges been thus far?
IPR License is the seventh company I have founded – Legend Press is now one of six companies in the Legend Times group – and so by this point I have had some experience of company start-ups and getting them off and running.
Of course, there are always some individual challenges and for IPR License they included: the platform itself – building a system to cover all aspects of what can be complex issue but still user-friendly – and initial research for our contact database covering countries and languages throughout the world. Additionally, as with anything that is breaking new ground, there is a challenge to explain clearly what it offers and how it is the next step in rights selling.
3. The site itself has separate areas for authors and publishers. Which area seems to be growing more rapidly, and why is this do you think?
We started the publisher and agencies section first and once it was proved that the offering worked thanks to the global interest it received, we then launched the author service. This took place towards the end of last year. We are equally delighted with the process of each side. From the publisher and agencies side we have both large-scale and smaller publishing companies using the platform to find the best rights available and to sell their rights. And from the author side we are receiving large numbers of enquiries and memberships from writers either looking for their work to be found by a publisher or agent or to license international and media rights for their work directly.
4. You also have other ventures, for example the mainstream book publisher Legend Press. Do you think your experience as a book publisher has helped you pitch this to other publishers, who I’ve heard are notoriously difficult to get to commit to start ups?
It has definitely helped, as IPR License was developed out of knowing what would work for us as a publishing company, and being heavily involved within the industry for the past eight years has helped highlight just where the gaps in the market are.
There is the notion that publishers don’t want to be first to be involved with new initiatives and that they wait until they have seen others join, thereby losing all of the advantages of being there from the outset. However, many are also recognising that this is a time of rapid change in the industry and to survive and indeed thrive publishers must look at new ways of generating business or increasing the business from existing revenue streams. We have had many fantastic conversations with publishers, who have immediately seen the opportunity IPR License provides and want to push a selection or all of the rights they hold through the platform. We’ve seen publishers want to add number of rights from one to tens of thousands.
5. How would you like to see IPR developing in the future?
It is one of those ideas that just makes sense, sometimes the best appear to be the most straightforward and there is no limit to what can be achieved through the platform. We have already been approached by the film and music industries about incorporating their rights and so enabling greater cross-sector licensing. We also hold a license for online auction software, which is another possibility and are in talks with a number of major organisations re partnerships.
Our short-term aim is to continue confirming new members and by the end of 2013 for them to cover all major and emerging market countries and in time that IPR License will become the industry standard tool for those looking to buy and sell book rights.