Thursday, April 03, 2008

New Changes Coming for Publishing Industry

Hyperion's Bob Miller in Harper Start-Up
Founding publisher at Hyperion Bob Miller is leaving the company after 17 years to "launch a new global publishing program based on a non-traditional business model" starting on April 14 described as a "creative publishing 'studio' that challenges conventional trade publishing standards." They add: "Miller will publish approximately 25 popular-priced books per year in multiple physical and digital formats including those as yet unspecified, with the aim to combine the best practices of trade publishing while taking full advantage of the internet for sales, marketing and distribution. Authors will be compensated through a profit sharing model as opposed to a traditional royalty, and books will be promoted utilizing on-line publicity, advertising and marketing.

Miller adds in the release, "Our goal will be to effectively publish books that might not otherwise emerge in an increasingly 'big book' environment, an environment in which established authors are under enormous pressure to top their previous successes, while new authors are finding it harder and harder to be published at all."

What this will mean for agents and authors insofar as the Agency Contract is that agents may have to change their approach to commissions. Anything that changes traditional royalty structures must impact how authors pay agents.

More on that soon: And here it is from 4/5/08:

Bob Miller's new experimental start-up with HarperCollins took shape quickly after a casual discussion over drinks with Harper ceo Jane Friedman at the end of February. Miller says that he was "feeling restless and didn't know what next mountain to climb" and was "talking about my frustration with the paradigms in this business." He explained to Friedman how we would theoretically "do it all over again" and she encouraged him to put that plan into action. "I realized this was my time," Miller says.

On some of the specific intentions of the new line, a 50/50 profit share with authors (and minimal advances) is a central tenet. But the idea of selling everything on a non-returnable basis was overstated in a WSJ report. Miller says "I definitely want to sell non-returnable if possible" particularly since that maximizes the profits to be shared and "the goal is to try and stop wasting money on things that don't actually help sell books." But he recognizes that conversations with retailers are an essential element of such a plan and that the process may "evolve after we start."

As Miller notes, publishing today is "a race for margin" and "the current model is pretty broken," adding that "it's too tempting not to try" to improve on that paradigm.

If you intuited that the statement in the press release expressing the intention of "taking full advantage of the internet for sales, marketing and distribution" signals a desire for more direct selling online, then you were correct. "Definitely one of the things we want to experiment with is direct selling to consumers," Miller told us, along with working in partnership with a variety of internet booksellers and other entities. He also hopes to "experiment with selling other formats" so that, for example, "people get the e-book and the audiobook with their purchase" of a print book.

Miller sees his "studio"--called that so as "to not be trapped by the definitions that already exist for publishing companies we know"--as comprising a "handful" of dedicated staff focused on "mostly nonfiction" titles. While recognizing that "an established author who is already making more than the publisher probably wouldn't be interested" in the joint profit-sharing model, he adds that "I'd love it if established authors want to try off-the-beaten track" projects and experiments with the new venture. He says that "short low-price hardcovers" are "where I think the market is, and where I've had repeated success," ranging from short books by David Halberstam and Steve Martin to FISH and the Mitch Albom titles. Which also allows for the wide-ranging experimentation to include books that are longer than magazine articles but shorter than conventional book titles.

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