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Archive for December 18th, 2008

S. Andrew Swann points us (through his blog post which has a really good LOLcat) to a new publishing group at HarperCollins that’s trying something different. Here is a Reuters article giving the basic overview and a NYT article with more details about the new group and what they maybe trying to do.

I think it’s good that some publishing house has not only realized that the distribution and business model of book selling is broken, but is trying something new to fix it. The “share the profit instead of an advance” has me a little worried and sets off my “Scam” alarms, but with the HC name behind it, I’m willing to give it a little room to wiggle. For that part to work, accounting at the publishers and distributors will have to become simpler than the full work-up astrology charts they currently resemble. Really, there’s a whole art to figuring out when advances earn out and how much royalty is due afterward. Go ask any published author who has actually earned a royalty check. Santeria has more straightforward rules.

The process of “stripping” is also something that should be abolished and this new venture goes a long way to plunge the stake into it’s heart. For those of you not in the know, many moons ago the publishing houses realized they were losing money on return shipping (having started the process of full credit returns during the last depression IIRC) so for paperbacks, they allowed the stores to strip the covers off and return just the cover for credit. The store was then to destroy/pulp the book themselves. I’m sure you’ve all seen the warnings to never buy a book without it’s cover. You wouldn’t need such warning if it hadn’t been such a widespread practice. Personally, I’d rather see the front side of distribution change with adding more actual people on both the handing books to the stores and the stores buying books (IMHO, this is where printed fiction has lost the majority of their audience, the automation of the process and the reduction of real humans who actually knew what people wanted to read in their local markets on both sides of the transaction).

How this will affect the whole life cycle of a book remains to be seen (publish, sold, shelved, returned, discounted, remaindered). And as you can see they’re only tackling one part of this. That part is pretty important (constant shipping of one book can soak up more than the royalty), but it exists in a larger context of the business model.

Unfortunately I see this as becoming into a more traditional “partnership” with the publisher. And it still remains to be seen how the other aspects of publishing are handled (marketing, shelf space, printing complexities, art direction, etc) with this model. For some reason (call me a cynic) I don’t believe the publisher will re-shoulder more of the marketing responsibilities. Although 25 books a year is considered “boutique” from what I understand, there are small presses which publish more books. So they may be able to give more in all these concerns.

In the overall scheme, I think this is a good new practice. I have some minor quibbles, but it doesn’t even sound like they have it all together yet anyway. It’ll be interesting to hear from the authors that sell into this new imprint. I hope they will share and can share their experiences. It’ll also be interesting to see how this would stack up against other small press deals (who I would see adopting a business model close to this faster than the larger imprints).

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