Challenge,  On Writing

Fiction Branding… Part 12

The Value of Copyright…

This will be very basic in this chapter. Very. And then in another post on branding, I will talk more about estates and so on which is very complex and writers need to think about it.

To start off with, many of you automatically defaulted to the…  “My copyright has no value. It really doesn’t sell.”

The problem is that statement is a belief that has no basis in any reality. Sort of like believing in a Yeti having babies with a an alien from space. It could happen, but more than likely your belief is just wrong.

Copyright is a form of property under the law and is treated in a very similar manner. Sales are not a requirement in copyright law.

With a contract, the ownership of a copyright can be exchanged in whole or in part. Like any business property, copyright can be depreciated (with great special rules), and it can be assigned a value that is based on possible earnings for the rest of your life plus 70 years past your death. That’s a lot of years of earnings potential, which more often than not is how copyright value is determined.


Or someone throws a dart at a board and just makes up a value that sounds reasonable to the right suckers.

Kris and I own and control a vast amount of copyright. Over 50 years the value has continued to increase as we kept writing and creating more products. And with indie publishing we could get all the product on the market and earning at one level or another. And we can add merch now to increase value.

We also own and control a large number of trademarks. Trademarks are also a property right and have value, calculated in a different way than copyright. Sort of…

We also own and control a vast number of brands. Brands have business value, and are often made up of property such as copyright and trademarks, especially in publishing.

So you are going along just writing up a storm. You create a five book series, brand the series for readers, have two other branded series, a bunch of short fiction, some inside the novel brands, others not.

Say you are fifty-five.  So you have another 30 years to write and 70 years past your death for your work to sell. That is a full century your work could be earning you and your estate money.

There are a bunch of different ways and formulas to calculate what your copyright is worth right now. And these kinds of calculations are done all the time in music to price an artist’s catalog for sale.  And they are done for estates or bankruptcy in publishing.

So imagine you get to that goal (very possible) of making 100K a year with your writing. You now have more copyright, more brands, and more than likely some trademarks. (Pulphouse is a trademark and part of a brand.)

So is your copyright and brands and trademarks worth 100K because that is what you make in one year?  Or more?

The answer… How about a ton more if you have 100 years of earning power ahead of you. They figure that potential (evil word), smack it around with a bunch of different factors and come up with a number that would flat hurt anyone who tried to take your copyright over in an estate if not done correctly.

A single short story has value because it is a property. How much value? Depends on the neighborhood it lives. Really.

If it is the only thing you have ever written, not a lot of value, and more than likely will be just tossed when you die.

But say the story is one of my Bryant Street stories and lives inside a brand and a trademark and with a bunch of other similar stories, then that one short story has a lot of value and will hold value for a lot of decades if done right.

So, so, so many things to think about when it comes to copyright.

But first, before anything else, you have to realize you are creating property that has value and treat it as such.

And for most writers, that simple realization is the most difficult.



  • James Palmer

    Great points, Dean. Like Chuck Wendig says, writing is a long game, not a short con, and not enough writers look past the short term to create a large body of work that will add value for years to come. You never know what’s going to hit big, or gain interest from a TV or movie producer.

    But do you think that sometimes we can overvalue IP? I’ll give you some examples:

    I was once contracted to write a story featuring a lesser-known pulp hero called The Spider (think the Shadow but crazy), but at the last minute I had to turn it into a story about a public domain hero called the Black Bat because the very old man who owned The Spider was convinced by his lawyer that he should be making gigantic gobs of money from licensing this character. He was making money on the license, but the lawyer thought he should be making gobs more.

    In Slaying the Dragon, a book about TSR, the creators of D&D, the author tells about how, when Cynthia Williams, whose family owns the Buck Rogers IP, was selling the company, she was worried that the buyer also wanted the Buck Rogers IP, and told him that she didn’t want to include it. This was music to the buyer’s ears, because he hadn’t even considered Buck Rogers and didn’t want Buck Rogers. But he played it cool and got her to knock off $5 million off TSR’s purchase price to exclude an IP he didn’t even want and wasn’t going to do anything with. For years the company published a Buck Rogers game, supplements, and novels that didn’t sell.

    So do you think it’s possible to overvalue an IP? In the end, a thing is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and I would never pass up definite money in hopes of some much larger yet hypothetical amount.

    • dwsmith

      Actual license amount of a property at any given moment in time, James, has little to do with the overall value of a property.

      Do I think it is likely and possible for a property to overvalued on a certain market at a certain point in time? Sure. Zero doubt there and you outlined some great examples. There are many, many more.

      But New York tends to overvalue the copyright they grab from writers for a reason. You put an inflated value in your corporate books and then depreciate it for 20 to life of the copyright in years and the value of that copyright becomes very real. All without a market or buyer or anyone caring besides shareholders and corporate officers. So having a buyer or sales means something, but is far, far from the only way a copyright has value.

  • Jason M

    This is really the crux of everything. It’s why I stopped ghosting.
    Writers who stick their fingers in their ears, who don’t recognize the power of copyright law, are kneecapping themselves.