Rights without Book Fairs: How RightsZone can help you go further

by Clare Hodder

For this guest blog post, I invited Clare Hodder, Rights Consultant and Director at RightsZone, to take us through the changes that have taken place since the cancellation and postponement of London and Bologna Book Fairs respectively, considerations for future fairs and how, by using technology we might not necessarily be so dependent on book fairs to do rights business.

In this post-lockdown world, where virtual events and online book fairs are emerging, maintaining good working relationships with your rights contacts is tough. Even when life returns to ‘normal’, strained budgets and more concern for the environmental impact of travel may well mean rights people are travelling to meet their customers face to face much less frequently.

With Frankfurt Book Fair just around the corner, taking place from 14th–18th October bringing a whole host of digital ways to access the fair from afar, now’s a great time to think about using technology to approach rights communications in the future, as we try to manage making connections without meeting in person.


The cancellation of the London and Bologna Book Fairs came mainly as a relief given the situation with Covid-19, but the magnitude of the impact on rights trading was a huge concern. There were some swift pivots with publishers switching their physical meetings to Zoom calls, creation of video presentations and, for Bologna, rights sellers were able to upload their content to a virtual trading platform. 

In May we hosted one of our regular Rights2gether networking events, and invited speakers to address the question ‘Who needs book fairs anyway?’. For some, the switch to virtual was deemed very positive – online meetings could be spread over a longer period, meetings weren’t limited to those physically present at the fair, and we weren’t sat inside badly air-conditioned conference halls for days on end! 

Others felt the loss of the physical fairs more keenly. The online trading platform at Bologna had meant a big investment of time for those selling rights, but contacts and content weren’t as discoverable as hoped and it had failed to engage rights buyers. Difficulties with time zones and technology meant that meetings could not be as efficient as they would be at a physical fair, and there were reports of reluctance from buyers to switch to video calls. 

Following the lively discussion, we set up a survey so that we could delve more deeply into the impact of book fair cancellations on rights professionals and investigate how people felt fairs should evolve beyond the pandemic. The results of our research in the form of a report: Do Rights Professionals Need Book Fairs? is available to download here.

The rights community are eagerly anticipating the Frankfurt Digital offer and will invest a lot of time in trying to make it work. But the big question for many is will the rights buyers show up? Without them, all the exciting digital initiatives in the world won’t make it a successful event. Our survey revealed that the majority of rights professionals currently think that virtual book fairs can’t work as effectively as physical fairs, but at this point it is not clear when physical fairs might be able to return. We have to find a way forward and rethink how we can do rights business without them. The big question is if we can’t meet our buyers face-to-face how can we find and engage with them in other ways?

I think the answer has to lie in technology and making sure we use it smartly. 

Over the last few months I’ve been really reaping the benefits from time spent carefully adding lots of data to all my customer records on RightsZone. As well as basic contact details, my customer records tell me what rights someone is interested in, what subject interests they have, any very specific requests they may have made previously, what kind of role they have within their organisation, who their colleagues are and even a link through to their LinkedIn account. Linked to that record is every email conversation, every book fair meeting and every book they’ve expressed interested in, reviewed, rejected or contracted. And it’s all searchable. 

Using RightsZone has enabled me to take a much more sophisticated approach to reaching out to people. I can segment my list of customers in all kinds of ways and then tailor my communication, so I am only sending them things that they care about. I can create email templates which pull in data from the records (saving a lot of re-keying or cutting and pasting!) in addition to more personal touches and specific recommendations. The ease with which I can send emails through the system in such a targeted way has also meant I communicate more often and not just when I’m trying to sell something. I’ve been able to share industry news and events and ask them for advice on things I’ve been working on. I feel closer to the contacts I’ve not met and have maintained friendships with those I would usually see at fairs, I’ve even managed to reach out to new contacts. It has made a huge difference. I’ve had a really high response rate, my submissions have gone up, and I’ve secured more deals.

I’m really looking forward to getting to meet people face to face again as soon as I can, but in the meantime, I am pleased to have discovered my ability to do good rights business does not depend on it!

To find out more about Clare’s experience with using RightsZone or to see a demo of the features mentioned please contact the team.

Clare Hodder is a Rights Consultant and Director at RightsZone. She has been working in rights for many years now, loves the variety and challenge that rights licensing brings, and is passionate about making the industry sit up and take notice of rights people. As a consultant Clare has helped rights teams to tweak processes and make the most of their systems in order to grow their business without adding extra heads. She created RightsZone with Ruth Tellis to give you a system that supports the way you work and gives you the tools to be the best you can be. @rights_zone