Roger L. Simon

HarperCollins to Authors: Sorry, no money... but we will publish your book

Major publisher HarperCollins is responding to the crisis in publishing in this manner: In a radical departure from traditional book-publishing practices, News Corp.’s HarperCollins Publishers is launching a new business that won’t accept returns from retailers. In addition, the new entity intends to pay little or nothing in the way of advances to its authors.

Instead, the unit, which hasn’t yet been named, will share its profits with writers and focus much of its sales efforts on the Internet.

No returns? I welcome that as a man who has seen many of his books returned only to end up as pulp. [Weren’t they pulp in the first place?-ed. Ah, a Tarantino fan.] But what interests me here is the second part of ths strategy – that the publisher will pay little or no advance and go into partnership with the author on potential profits with sales focussed, evidently on the Internet.

My question then is – what’s the point of the publisher?

Well, there’s editing (which one can get elsewhere) and the fancy publishing house imprimatur, maybe a little help with production and publicity (again available elsewhere – many authors pay for their own publicists anyway). It this really enough? The author can do much better on percentages, I am sure, by self-publishing. And that same author may know his or her way around the Internet better than the publisher, when it comes to publicity. So I am skeptical of this model. But I’m not surprised that it is happening – it is another symptom of the huge shakeout in the arts and letters instigated largely by the online world. I will be interested in the results.