Challenge,  Fun Stuff,  publishing

Another Note on Copyright Valuation

Head-Shaking But True…

I talk copyright on this blog in any way and the letters and comments just dry up like they were hit by a bad desert wind on a hot summer day. Fun to watch, and I know these posts are just skipped by most. Makes them uncomfortable.

But on the last valuation posts, I got a couple of private comments that went something like this…

“How can my copyright be worth anything if I only sell a couple copies a month?” Or… “I am a new writer, my work has no value.”

Well, in some ways, past performance and sales do help set value at that moment in time.Sure. And being new means you have no track record of sales. (That “new” comment was meant more towards “quality” of the new writer’s work, but I am ignoring that because a writer’s opinion has no impact on valuation of a property they own. When you bad mouth your own work, all I hear is “I am stupid, I am stupid…”)

Keep in mind that the valuation of a copyright will change from year to year, often month to month. I had a short story that sold to F&SF Magazine. It would have had a valuation of what it made at that point plus the years and other factors. In other words, not a lot. Then one fine day I got an option on it from Hollywood and the value of that same short story shot through the roof. And so far I have made almost $20,000 from that story in real income, so who knows what I will make in the next decades. That is valuation. Figuring that “who knows.”

But these writers who wrote me clearly do not understand either copyright, business, or the extreme length of their lifetime plus 70 years that they or their heirs will own that property.

So let me start with the length of time. I am 72 from decent pioneer stock. So I could easily be still writing for 20 more years. That’s 90 years (20 plus 70) then for all my work to be protected and in my control or in the control of who or what I set up to keep that control making money with my copyright.

So calculating that 90 years looking back… That’s 1933. If I was sitting at that point I would be in the middle of the Pulp Era, with twenty more years of that, then the paperback era, then the indie world before my estate lost control of my work in 2023. (Some weird copyright law changes in that time period, but I am ignoring that to make a point.)

My point, I have no idea what publishing will be like in 90 years or what mediums my stories will be told in, and neither do any of you.

So these young writers have no understanding of the power of the future or the real power of copyright. They just gave up on their own work, bad-mouthed it, because of short-sightedness.

If a work is not selling now, does that mean it won’t sell ten years from now???? Uhh, nope. Unless the writer takes it off the market and tosses it away. Then it will not sell.

Amazing how powerful knowledge can be, and how damaging being willfully stupid can also be.




  • Em

    Great analysis. IMO a lot of us have a hard time thinking of realities a decade from now, let alone 30 and 70 and 100 years from now (which copyrights for young writers will stretch to and beyond). We think of getting the next story out, not that story’s trajectory.

    You often make the comparison of bananas with trad publishers. Writers do that as well. IDK how to change that mindset. Do they not see previous writers (now deceased) whose work is still plugging along? Like the re-imagined Sherlock. Or Hercules Poirot. Or from the Comics sphere, with the Spider-Man Re-inventions and more.

    Anyway, these blogs on copyright are packed with wisdom. Thanks!

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, EM… Actually, Kris and I are now using the publishing companies and trusts and estates of writers as examples now on how to set up estates that last. For example, did you know the Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. has a booth at the Licensing Expo every year to license works from ERB and they are creating new works all the time. And at this point a bunch of ERB’s works are in the public domain and that does not stop them in the slightest. And that’s over a hundred years. Think they understand copyright and derivative rights and licensing? (grin)

      It would surprise you how many more estates are doing the same thing. What is shocking is how many are not.

  • Ken Hughes

    “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

    And you lose every chance for the next *lifetime* to change the story’s value for you, if you lose control of the rights. And then lose the next story, and the next…

    –Thanks for writing these.

  • Cheryl

    “I still love the song and I’m very glad that Gary will get a windfall.” Just read that yesterday. Linda Ronstadt in 1 Feb article in Billboard. Apparently, *Long, Long Time* (an absolutely beautiful song from 1970) is latest to see huge uptick. Yes — a little bit of apples and oranges (songs and story IP), but … you never know.

  • Kate Pavelle

    Dean, I reinstated my GetBookReport on Amazon just to see how various things were performing (I had uninstalled it few years back because checking it became addictive, and bad for my writing.) So anyway, since 2015, the year I went indie, I had amassed 125 works (various lengths, of which at least 40% are paperback versions.) Last I checked years ago, I had almost 50 works total.

    So I wrote a nice thank-you note to the owner of GetBookReport for making seeing data over time possible, and had some questions. Such as:
    1. how hard would it be to make this app work on other sales platforms?
    2. would it be possible to provide annual industry-wide e-book shop sales and tax documents for extra charge?
    3. there is this buzz about estate valuation (and I referred him to your and Kris’s blogs,) so would you be willing to delve into this and see if a range-type formula could be developed and amended as the industry keeps developing new methods and tools?

    He responded, thanked me for a real-person letter instead of just a one-line “there is a bug” note, and will investigate what can be done. I sent him to you, Dean, because you are inventive in business. I’d be thrilled if D2D had transparency and historical tracking features like that!

    The valuation aspect would require other value points like options, Kickstarters, private stores, etc., which indie writers would have to add in on their own. However, even having a ballpark range would be quite valuable.
    I hope I didn’t overreach in mentioning you!

    • dwsmith

      Not in the slightest,Kate. And all good suggestions, although I got a hunch those suggestions hurt the heads of some writers reading them. (grin)

    • T Thorn Coyle


      There is another “get book report” for wide platforms. It’s called Scribecount. It tracks all the major platforms and D2D.

      I also manually enter my Kickstarter, Patreon, and Substack info each month so I have all my main writing income sources in one place.

      — Thorn

  • T Thorn Coyle

    One way I get tripped up by this is my “onto the next project” attitude.

    On one hand, onto the next project is important! It keeps my creative output going. On the other hand, it means I have to make concentrated effort to sit down and attend to managing my catalog. That includes basic stuff like “what’s on sale this quarter and how do I let people know?” to “is there repackaging to be done, and a Kickstarter to run because it’s been 5 years?” to valuation and leveraging my catalog in all the different ways I can think of.

    Kris caught me out on this just last month, when I wrote you about music licensing. When she chastised me for saying I was a small fish in the music pond, I realized what had happened:

    I don’t put out music anymore, so, even though my music is still a tiny income trickle, I had relegated it to something in my past, and therefore, something I no longer needed to pay attention to.

    That was eye opening.

    I’m only now really digging into the reality of what it means to “put on your publisher hat” while still keeping my “writer hat” close by.

    • dwsmith

      Yes, exactly Thorn. Another issue for all of us is the nature of this modern world for writers. To do this right, we have to be balanced on both sides without letting the publishing side get into the writing side. So thanks. Well said.

  • Catherine

    I am really interested these posts – just to get another vote in.

    Plus another vote for learning about the estates and corporations and all that. I have the books from Nolo (on both estates and wills, as well as corporations) now to make the time to get through them all. Just figuring out the basics of how to license my IP to my future corporation (C of course) is a whole learning experience.

    It does seem better to get this stuff setup properly near the beginning.

  • John Bredesen

    Here is another vote of appreciation for these copyright/IP/valuation posts. Haven’t commented as I am working through how I can use it all. I have learned a lot from you and Kris. Thanks!

  • Nathan Haines

    When it comes to your posts on business, copyright, and IP valuation, I don’t have much to add. I know more than just the basics of copyright, but IP valuation is a bit new. So when that happens, I shut up and listen.

    Perhaps the decrease in replies is more of the same? 🙂

  • C.E. Petit

    Another way to think about this is to treat copyright as parcels of land bought up on speculation. They ALWAYS have a nonzero value, and someday — maybe — someone will invent the internet air conditioning and those trunk stories and songs and paintings semidesert parcels near a relatively small town in southern Nevada that were purchased in 1947 will become rather valuable.

    Back in the mid-19th century, Victor Hugo’s idea was to create a counterbalance to the aristocracy founded on land ownership by creating an additional, new aristocracy — with long-after-death ownership that can be put into wills and trusts and other means of accumulating capital and power — founded on creative works. (By the right kind of people, but that’s for another time. After we resolve the arguments about who can be the “right kind of people.”) Tax codes, estate law, family law, bankruptcy law, securities law, etc., etc., etc. all require valuation of property at time of, or even when just thinking about, any transfer of any interest in or use of that property (to be perfectly crass, just ask the Beverly Hillbillies). Why should it surprise anyone that copyright requires the same sort of attention, even if it uses different measuring tools?