Independent publishing in ‘rude health’ – as IMPEL mulls new partner options

Last month was a good one for independent record labels: digital rights agency Merlin announced that, thanks to its agreements with the likes of Spotify, its members were paid $353m in the 12 months to end of March – up 52% year-on-year.

It begged the question: if the latest chapter in the streaming revolution is paying dividends for independent record companies, how is it treating their compatriots in the publishing world?

The answer, according to IMPEL, is very positively.

IMPEL, which collectively licenses Anglo-American mechanical digital rights in Europe and beyond, delivered a 60% rise in royalties last year to its members – which include the likes of Beggars Music, SONGS Music Publishing, Concord Bicycle Music and peermusic.

And, according to IMPEL Chair Simon Platz – also MD of Bucks Music Publishing – another “significant rise” in revenues is expected for 2017.

“This is a good time for independent publishers – we’re in rude health and fighting our corner in a big way,” he tells MBW.

In some ways, independent publishers are actually a stronger global community, commercially speaking, than their label counterparts.

According to Music & Copyright, indie publishers (including Kobalt and BMG) claimed a 41% global market share of revenue in 2016 – with the majors scoring less than 60% combined.

Independent record companies, however, claimed a 27% stake – with the majors aggressively dominating label land with a joint 73% share.

However, the market dominance of indie publishers is currently facing the daunting threat of consolidation.

“All of Imagem‘s repertoire now remains fully independent and out of the hands of the majors – which inevitably empowers IMPEL.”

Simon Platz

As Simon Platz wrote on MBW in April, Bucks and other indies are keen to see those publishers who reportedly may sell soon – including Canadian firm ole and US-born Carlin Music – bought by independent parties outside of the three major music companies.

That was the case with Imagem, which sold – along with its 250,000+ copyrights – to Concord Bicycle Music for over $500m last month.

“The fact Imagem sold to Concord was absolutely good news for the independent community,” says Platz.

“All of that important repertoire now remains fully independent and out of the hands of the majors – which inevitably empowers IMPEL.”

IMPEL is set for an exciting evolution in the coming months.

The organization is currently on a rolling contract with its UK-based administration partner, PRS For Music – and its deliberating whether or not to move its business to a back office partner based in another territory.

The UK mechanical society, MCPS, agreed to re-up with PRS earlier this year, but IMPEL was exempt from the deal and is yet to make its independent decision.

“Everything is under consideration,” says Platz, noting that both PRS and “a handful” of prospective partners remain in the running for IMPEL’s long-term business.

“IMPEL is a very attractive prospect for a number of companies looking to administer our repertoire.”

Simon Platz

“IMPEL is a very attractive prospect for a number of companies looking to administer our repertoire,” he adds.

“A decision will be made before the end of the year. PRS are in the running, but they are very much not the only ones.”

(MBW understands that IMPEL recently sent a contingent of publishers to Zurich in Switzerland – which may suggest SESAC/SUISA’s new joint venture, Mint, could be in the mix for the organization’s business.)

IMPEL members control rights in hit songs recorded by everyone from Drake to Ed Sheeran, Elvis Presley, Adele, One Direction, Major Lazer, John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Lorde (pictured), Bob Marley, The Weeknd and Daft Punk.

In another change, IMPEL is set to extract itself from its current ownership structure under the UK’s MPA Group – as well as its official affiliation with MCPS – and become a fully independent enterprise by the end of 2017.

Elsewhere at IMPEL, further global expansion is on the cards.

IMPEL currently covers mechanical licensing in territories for its members including Europe, Africa, Russia and parts of Asia.

According to Platz, the group is talking to possible new partners in territories such as South America, Australia and China to extend its reach into more emerging markets.

“Our aspirations are simple: better deals and truly international expansion.”

Simon Platz

He says that IMPEL certainly admires Merlin’s success and global accomplishments for the independent label community – but points out that, as IMPEL has to handle a complex invoicing and split-royalty process for its members, it has a more complicated job on its hands.

“Our aspirations are simple: better deals and truly international expansion,” says Platz. “Merlin has shown us all the power of collective deal-making by independent music companies.

“It’s every bit as important, if not more important, that independent publishers have their own collective voice – and collective negotiating entity. IMPEL is perfectly placed to do that.”

He adds: “Independent publisher repertoire plays a crucial role across today’s global charts. But to be at our strongest, we need to maintain – and grow – a united voice.”Music Business Worldwide

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