Earlier this week, Publishers Weekly e-book blogger David Rothman called attention to a startling discovery by a publishing veteran teaching a graduate-level publishing course: Of the 30 students Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti polled, none of them had ever downloaded an e-book or owned a PDA. Rothman extrapolates this to mean that young aspiring editors are more interested in the content ("nurturing future Hemingways") than the new and future forms of content delivery.
Rothman invites readers to prove him wrong. But most of the commenters just proved his point. For example, one said "Why is it the editor's job to deal with E rights? I'm a young editor, and I have yet had to deal with rights other than registering copyright on a book. Is it really the EDITOR's job to deal with subrights and such? Granted, it just may be the way my company deals with things, but the editors here aren't involved in rights issues. Yes, I'm aware of the issues, but I'm not the one going out and making deals. Are we expecting the editors to do a bit of everything now?"
My two cents on this is that if you want to move up to be an acquisitions editor and beyond, you'd better understand rights issues, especially electronic rights. Acquisitions editors often find themselves in the position of explaining parts of the publishing contract to potential authors before they will sign. And rights are a big part of the contract. So you need to know enough about them and how they work to be able to ease a skittish author's mind that they're not giving your company their first-born.
Then there's the other five percent of authors, the ones who know enough about rights to be dangerous, or have a lawyer advising them. You need to know what rights are important to your company so that you don't end up giving them away in a negotiation. And these days, you should never let go of your electronic rights. Any request from an author to keep these rights should be a deal-breaker.