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IFP to release all 14 Fleming titles as e-books in the UK this month

03-Nov-2010 • Literary

Ian Fleming's James Bond books are to be published digitally in the UK for the first time, but not through their current print publisher Penguin. The e-books instead are to be published by Ian Fleming Publications, which has administered the rights to the Fleming estate since the author died in 1964, reports The Bookseller

The fourteen 007 titles, including the first book Casino Royale, are to go live on Thursday (4th November) and will be available via Amazon and Waterstones.com, as well as other e-book retailers. The Young Bond books, written by comedian Charlie Higson and published by Penguin imprint Puffin, will follow as e-books in December.

The deal throws a spotlight on how agents and publishers are scrambling for digital rights not previously assigned under old publishing contracts. Earlier this year Booker winner Ian McEwan signed an exclusive deal through Amazon.com for the digital rights to his back catalogue, while The Bookseller revealed in May that the digital rights to JK Rowling's Harry Potter series are currently under negotiation.

Corinne Turner, managing director of Ian Fleming Publications, said 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 RRP 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".

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.

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.

Turner said that the company did not have the digital rights to the two most recent Bond books, Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care, published by Penguin in 2008, and Jeffery Deaver's forthcoming new Bond book, known as Project X, which will be published by Hodder next year. "Any publisher doing a deal now will strong-arm you for all the rights," said Turner.

Neil Blair, partner at the Christopher Little Agency which represents Rowling, said the agency hoped to have something to announce on the Potter books before the final film was released in July next year, but said nothing had been ruled out. "We are talking with everyone. What we've got to try and do is come up with an arrangement that suits everybody, and which makes the e-books available to as many people as possible globally."

Turner added: "Fleming loved good, new technology, and I am sure he would have been thrilled by the idea of his books being available electronically."

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