PUBLISHED JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021
by Abe Ogden, Co-owner & Lead Strategiest, Paper Door —
The six R’s of squeezing the most out of every piece of content you publish.
- Digital has opened up a number of new, low-cost opportunities for repackaging.
- Repurposing is the process of taking content from one source and creating a new product in another format.
- Revising is an essential way to give well-performing backlist content a boost.
- If you want to get the most from your content, investigate a content repository for your published materials.
- Rights are pertinent for two reasons: how they can be sold and how they need to be secured.
- To build new products and extend the life and value of your content, give yourself
the time and resources to create a new product that delivers value to book buyers.
As book publishers, it’s easy to reduce what we do to, well, publishing books. This isn’t wrong, but it is limiting. We’re publishing content that just happens to be printed and bound between two covers (or delivered as a discrete digital file). This content is incredibly difficult and resource-intensive to produce, so the savvy publisher will get as much exposure and revenue as they can from each piece they publish. The possibilities are limited only by a publisher’s own creativity and intuition for opportunity, but there are some tried-and-true methods for getting extra mileage from your books. Let’s call them the six R’s of getting the most out of your content.
The most common way to get extra life from your content is to repackage the same material for new channels. Essentially, this is what publishers have been doing for decades with the hardcover-to-paperback-to-mass-market process—taking the same book, wrapping it in a less-expensive cover, and trading higher margins for a larger potential audience via different channels.
You may not have the resources to do hardcover out of the gate, but if you’re publishing in both print and e-book formats, you’re already taking advantage of repackaging. In fact, digital has opened up a number of new, low-cost opportunities. In addition to e-books, digital audiobooks are now a viable option as costs come down, distribution opportunities expand, and audiences grow exponentially year over year, with revenues on pace to catch e-books soon ($1.2 billion to $1.9 billion in 2019, according to figures from Statista).
But remember that “digital” applies to print books now, as well. It’s possible to create a print-on-demand (POD) version of a single title in multiple formats for specific channels. You may print most of your run offset in paperback, but with a new ISBN, a small setup fee, and a few minor tweaks to the cover and copyright page, you can create a POD hardcover version of your book specifically for the library market—with a price that covers the higher per unit print cost. Or, you could work with a regional POD vendor overseas to create an international version of a title that gets delivered locally in small batches. If you have a cookbook or illustrated title, you can do a seasonal gift version with hardcover and a bit of additional content.
The unit sales and margins may be smaller for each new package, but upfront costs are low, and with enough SKUs, the revenue can really add up.
Here’s where things can get interesting. A staple of larger media organizations, repurposing is the process of taking content from one source or channel and creating an almost entirely new product in another format. Think fitness books collected from workout articles in men’s magazines or bookazines created from cookbooks.
Consider America’s Test Kitchen, one of the most popular brands in cooking and a publisher of books, magazines, online cooking primers, and more. Notoriously, all these products are derived from a relatively small content set—between 700 and 800 recipes total. But because their recipe content development process is so rigorous, with some recipes taking years to develop, they work to get as much mileage as possible from each piece of content. And as long as the content is sliced and diced in ways that don’t overlap significantly, consumers typically won’t notice or mind.
Smaller publishers may not have the distribution resources to, say, get a bookazine to checkout stands, but creativity is the limit. Think of it as a form of licensing to yourself, and consider all the forms your intellectual property can possibly take. A few ideas:
If you publish titles made up of discrete content—poetry, cookbooks, short fiction, multi-authored works, illustrated photo or art books—there are a number of ways content could be mixed and repurposed into new titles. Short story collections built around a theme or a “best of” approach, new cookbooks pulled from a variety of source titles, or a retrospective of a particularly prolific author are all good fits for smaller independent publishers.
Graphic Novels and Easy Reader Editions
If you focus on genre fiction, think about ways the same story could be told through different formats, such as a graphic novel or serialized audio. For young and middle-reader presses, think about how the story could be adapted for younger audiences via an easy-reader version or expanded into a series of additional works for older readers.
Think Outside the Book—Webinars, Talks, and Online Learning
Repurposing does not have to be limited to print materials. For nonfiction and educational materials, consider developing learning programs that can be delivered virtually via webinars or online learning modules, or (hopefully soon!) in-person events. Good authors should already be thinking this way, but the technology to deliver these types of events virtually is more accessible than ever before (a silver lining of a global pandemic). If you have an extensive collection of materials, you can even consider creating a subscription-based online database.
Do you have appliance-specific recipes that would make a great booklet to be shipped with products? Regional materials that might appeal to a tourism board? Consider approaching corporate partners for sponsored versions of your materials. While these types of opportunities are commonly done via licensing, you might be able to negotiate for more revenue by delivering a finished product, which saves your sponsor the time and hassle of building something themselves. Offering distribution as well may sweeten the deal.
Gifts and Derivative Products
Books can be sliced and diced into smaller or alternative formats; illustrated titles can be spun off into greeting cards; lines of poetry can be transferred onto apparel; and snippets from humor books can be transferred to gifts and tchotchkes. Even better, much of this can be done POD through a variety of vendors, such as CafePress, Shutterstock, and TeeSpring (just don’t expect a huge margin).
As a publisher, you should never have to develop custom content for marketing. The raw materials for social media campaigns, micro-narratives of stat infographics, and digital download premiums that drive readers to an email list are all sitting in manuscripts, waiting to be deployed.
Almost as resource friendly as repackaging, revising is an essential way to give well-performing backlist content a boost. For most publishers, revisions are an automatic part of the process, especially for scientific materials or time-sensitive content. However, even if material is evergreen, a cover redesign and a new foreword or introduction is enough to boost exposure and get the title back in front of sales reps, booksellers, and media.
Revisions are also typically a quicker turnaround than new manuscripts, which makes them a great way to keep the editorial pipeline full in seasons that are light on new content.
If you’re serious about getting the most from your content—and streamlining editorial and production processes—you’ll want to investigate a content repository for your published materials. Scholarly and professional publishers have been employing sophisticated repositories for decades, using markup languages such as XML to tag content in manuscripts and then ingest this material into a content management system (CMS) for eventual delivery into multiple publishing channels, including books, journals, and online subscription databases. In fact, markup languages—including HTML, the basis of nearly everything currently on the internet—were originally developed specifically for the publishing industry in the 1960s.
While all publishers can benefit from a centralized repository for content, how sophisticated this needs to be will vary from publisher to publisher. Not everyone needs a $10,000 customized CMS and a staff of mark-up editors. If you’re self-published or just publishing a few titles, your repository may be a folder on your hard drive and a good memory. Other publishers can take advantage of free cloud-based tools, such as Google Drive, which can index your content and make finding material for repurposing much easier, especially if you take the extra time to add tags to the files you upload. But if you plan to publish even a few books a year, investing in a CMS and spending the time to tag your content up front can make it substantially easier to publish to multiple channels and formats simultaneously, repackage content quickly, and slice and dice content into valuable new products.
Rights are pertinent here for two reasons: how they can be sold and how they need to be secured.
Licensing Your Content
Licensing rights are an excellent and, arguably, the easiest way to generate additional income from existing content. There’s typically no upfront cost and little effort beyond providing content files and reviewing the final licensed product. That said, expectations need to be modest. Every publisher would love to ink a film option, but that’s extremely rare, especially for smaller publishers. More often, rights and licensing income will be incremental, but the high number of potential channels can lead to multiple income streams. Typical licensing channels include:
- Foreign translation rights
- Permission rights for figures, tables, and graphs
- Rights for different formats, such as audiobooks and illustrated formats
- Rights for use of discrete content, such as recipes and illustrations
Again, the true number of opportunities can be vast. In her very good IBPA webinar, “Your Books, Your IP Empire,” Darcy Pattison mentioned an airline that licensed Hello Kitty branding for everything on the plane—including the “barf” bags. If you can license for a barf bag, well, you can license for pretty much anything.
Securing the Appropriate Rights
In addition to selling your rights, you also need to make sure the ones you own are in order. If you don’t have your publishing rights squared away, you may be limited in the types of repurposing, reformatting, and licensing you can explore. If you self-publish, this is relatively straightforward—you almost certainly own the rights to your material, even if KDP, IngramSpark, or another vendor is printing and distributing your materials (double check your agreement to be sure). For traditional publishers, your standard publishing agreement should clearly spell out your ownership of the rights. Even if the copyright is in the author’s name, the publishing rights should have been assigned to you, and there should be very specific clauses to cover the royalty structure for licensing (usually split 50/50 between publisher and author).
When it comes to repackaging and repurposing, things can get a bit trickier. The publisher may have the rights to publish the “book,” but it may not be clear whether this would apply to an audiobook or even a digital book. Repurposing is usually even trickier, as some authors (and agents) may expect this to fall under the licensing royalty rate. Combining works from multiple authors can get even more bewildering. With that in mind, it’s best practice to spell out very clearly in your publishing agreements that you have the right to publish the book in any format and set specific royalty rates for “derivative” products created from the primary content. If you want to have the ultimate freedom, ask for all work to be contracted as work-for-hire, which gives the publisher full ownership. Just be prepared to pay more upfront (or have a fight with the author/agent on your hands).
The final “R” to keep in mind is the availability of resources. While revising, repackaging, or repurposing materials is often less resource-intensive than starting from scratch, there can be a tendency to assume it will go much faster and much easier than the original book. Keep in mind that the only part being eliminated is the writing, which the publisher typically doesn’t handle anyway. The remaining editorial and production processes will likely remain the same and require just as much time and expense as a new book. For repurposed projects that are substantially different than the original, there may be even more work than before. And since this is a new product, your marketing lift will be equal as well.
To build new products and extend the life and value of your content, give yourself the time and resources to create a new product that delivers value to book buyers. It’s a new product—treat it that way.
Abe Ogden is a publishing and content strategist, with more than two decades’ experience in the nonprofit and association publishing space and a focus on chronic conditions, health, and wellness. He is co-owner and lead strategist at Paper Door publishing and editorial.