Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Book-Jobs Not by the Book: Tom Chalmers, Literary Rights & Tech Startups

Tom Chalmers

Tom Chalmers

Tom Chalmers is the founder and Managing Director of the recently launched online platform, IPR License, which allows people around the world to post and discover literary rights. Tom has been shortlisted for a number of publishing and entrepreneurial awards in the UK, and has a range of publishing ventures on his resume already. He took the time to talk to Trendsetter about being a tech startup within publishing, exciting opportunities within the field of Rights Licensing, and about the importance of business know-how for the bookish set.

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What was your first job in the book business and what were the most important things you gained from it?

My first role was temporary work for Macmillan Journals, followed by editorial work on a financial yearbook and then as a sub-editor for the trade magazine, Mortgage Introducer. These roles taught me to widen the scope of what I was looking for in terms of starting out in the industry, attention to detail, and, in the case of the latter, which was a weekly magazine, how to handle and ensure deadlines are met.

How do you explain your current job to people?

I left the magazine to start my own publishing company Legend Press in 2005, which evolved in an internet shop near my shared flat with some support from The Prince’s Trust and One London. Legend Press is now part of a group of six companies. IPR License is a newest member of this group and was launched in 2012.

I guess I would be best described as an entrepreneur, although I didn’t know that word existed when I decided to take the leap and start my own company. The last eight years have been a huge adventure and learning curve – one that continues every day.

To run a start-up, you need to have a handle on a wide-range of skills and I am a great believer in having experience of those skills before you can delegate them. For instance, I have handled all the finances and tax returns of new businesses, marketing, sales and production through to general admin, I now have an understanding of most areas that come up in general business and so am better able to assist those who may incorporate them into their roles.

For specifics relating to the publishing industry, there are some challenges due to changes in the market – such as prices being pushed down and therefore also profit margins, digitalization and the internet resulting in an increased appetite for free content – which highlight a greater need for non-physical product sales, hence the interest in increased licensing revenue through IPR License. As a company leader you need to be constantly looking ahead towards the next steps rather than remaining stationary but historically in publishing this rate of change has often been slower than other market sectors. However, this is something the industry is currently working on and is becoming more dynamic in its new ventures.

What specific aspects of your previous jobs or internships prepared you for what you do at IPR?

I have learnt a huge amount regarding start-ups, business fundamentals, and acting quickly when spotting an opening in the market, all of which have helped when starting IPR License. The idea for IPR License came through having seen the opportunity for protecting and releasing value from all of the rights that derive from literary work. They say the best business ideas are usually the most straightforward and this was one of those ideas that just seemed to make sense.

Once the idea was formed, it was a case of timing, planning, and execution, and then repeating this cycle quickly and effectively as we look to grow rapidly on a global scale.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your current job?

All new businesses have risks, although we were in the position of having strong backing from Roger Shashoua who has grown and floated a number of global businesses over the last 40 years. When there is a big gap in the market, you need to act quickly as a new business and therefore there was, and still is, a challenge to ensure we are communicating the opportunity effectively, i.e. ensuring authors, as well as publishers and agencies, are aware of what IPR License offers them as a global platform.

What are the most important things for a new or young book publishing professionals to know about rights and licensing

First of all, the basics need to be understood – that the rights to a literary work can be broken down and licensed to third-parties in different territories, languages and formats. Revenue can also be derived from permissions to use parts of any literary work. The licensing of rights is a vital revenue stream to the majority of publishing companies and there are now more rights available to license than ever before. In addition, authors need to be very aware of the rights they hold to their work and how they can best license them.

What advice would you give to young publishing professionals about taking new technologies and media and applying them in novel ways to a particular aspect of the book business? 

Publishing is a very personal business with a strong focus on personal relationships and this shouldn’t be disregarded. IPR License is not intended to replace personal contact but to increase business leads and widen a company’s global reach in licensing and it’s important to take these publishing fundamentals into account when considering implementing any new technology.

In terms of any advice, I speak to lots of new start-ups and it’s not uncommon to find that whilst they are often based on good ideas, there is a lack of proper financial forecasts. Another mistake is where ideas have not been planned out carefully enough and certain barriers to the business have not been considered. But we’ve all made mistakes and often it’s how we react to them that’s important.

One Comment

  1. Michael Smith says:

    Interesting piece- I think there may be an increasing number of start-ups and new ventures in the current economic climate.

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