Sunday, April 06, 2008

HarperCollins New Venture: Good for Authors?

Bob Miller, founder of Hyperion, is moving to HarperCollins to start up a new program that will publish about 25 books per year, pay no advances to authors, and sell to bookstores only on a nonreturnable basis. They plan some sort of profit-sharing model instead of a traditional royalty. They also intend to focus on online publicity, advertising, and marketing.

Will this be good for authors? Not really. Here's why:

1. The books will get very little bookstore distribution, the one true strength of the major publishers, because they won't be offering returnable terms.

2. No advances mean the authors will have to write their books totally on spec with nothing to finance their efforts until well after the book is published.

3. A profit-sharing plan can mean anything. Since publishers currently make no money on three out of four books they publish, a profit-sharing plan is meaningless. So it all depends on what this plan really means.

4. While HarperCollins is probably the most innovative online marketer of the larger publishers, the emphasis on online marketing only leaves authors with very little to measure to tell whether or not the publisher is actually doing anything substantial for their books.

5. I believe authors would be better off self-publishing. They could offer better terms to bookstores than HarperCollins will be offering. They will have to pay some money upfront. Their profit-sharing plan will be very clear since they will be sharing the profit only with themselves. I know many authors who are doing more effective jobs marketing online than any major publisher.

I do think new authors would be ill-served to sign a contract with this new division of HarperCollins. At least according to the terms reported in Publishers Weekly. Authors should watch to see how this new division develops before committing the life of their books to an uncertain future.
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