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Penguin Books left out in the cold as 007 books move online

04-Nov-2010 • Literary

The owners of the James Bond license have chosen to cut out publisher Penguin books and turned several of the spy’s stories into e-books themselves, reports The Drum.

Ian Fleming Publications has chosen not to go through Penguin, which has the publishing licence to 14 Bond novels, and has decided to create the digital versions of the novels themselves, which could also be sold for less than the recommended retail price of £7.99.

Penguin is said to be unwilling to renew the license for the Bond books without the digital rights being involved in any future contract.

Corinne Turner, Ian Fleming Publications m.d., told TheBookSeller the move would enable the estate to get the most out of the Bond brand. "Penguin accepted long ago that they didn't have the digital rights. Of course they wanted to do it, but why would we? With a brand like ours, people are looking for the books anyway, so the publicity and marketing will happen. It also gives us greater clarity of sales, which books are selling and where. We are very lucky to have such a big brand."

Fleming’s novels first launched as e-books in the US to mark the Fleming centenary in 2008 and were sold through Sony’s special edition 007 Reader and the Amazon Kindle. Turner said that digital sales were already 10% of print sales in the US, with Kindle sales so far this year ahead of what was achieved last year.

In the UK the books will have an r.r.p. based on the current cheapest printed edition, but the deal with Amazon and Waterstone's would not preclude discounting. Turner confirmed that both Amazon and Sony had sought exclusivity over the the sale of the digital editions, but Turner said: "I couldn't see a reason to agree to it".

The move coincides with a row over publishers fixing pricing with e-book retailers such as Amazon, where a new agency model forced upon the seller strips away all discount controls. Some e-books now retail for more than their hardback equivalents, and has sparked mass protests online from e-book consumers.

Penguin, which holds the license to publish the books in print for a further two years, declined to comment on its current deal with IFP, but said that it would not renew the relationship without digital rights included. Penguin, in line with a number of big publishers, has said that it will no longer negotiate rights without digital.

"Any publisher doing a deal now will strong-arm you for all the rights," said Turner. "Fleming loved good, new technology, and I am sure he would have been thrilled by the idea of his books being available electronically."

Penguin's position was backed by Anthony Goff, agent at David Higham Associates and president of the Association of Authors Agents: "It remains my view and that of most agents that we should not be seeking to separate out rights to different formats." But Piers Blofeld, agent at Sheil Land Associates, said he was not surprised that the estate had taken the publisher out of the equation: "It makes little sense for a brand like this to share revenue with a publisher, James Bond hardly needs a publisher’s distribution and marketing skills, such as they are."

The Bond license is worth about £3m a year to IFP, with the backlist titles selling 40,000 copies in 2009 in the UK, and a further 60,000 in the US.

Penguin is also being frozen out of the upcoming 007 adventure - 'Project X' (working title) - by Jeffery Deaver. It will be published on May 28, 2011 by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and by Simon & Schuster in the USA. The previous James Bond book, "Devil May Care", became Penguin's fastest selling hardback of all time. It may be their last.

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