Bob Miller made a big splash in the waters of publishing in April 2008 when he announced that he was leaving Hyperion and joining HarperCollins to create a new imprint. And not only did Miller change houses, he also challenged fundamental aspects of the supply chain as we know it. HarperStudio, as his imprint came to be named, was not taking returns. Period. All books are non-returnable. And wait…there’s more! Authors receive a 50/50 revenue share in exchange for lower initial advances, rather than a more traditional 10-15% with a large(r) chunk of cash up front.
There’s a lot more about HarperStudio that is remarkable. Possibly the best part of their website is their amazing blog. With articles coaching authors on how they can do great book signings or explaining to readers why eBooks cost more money than you might think, they are working on educating the entire publishing community (and I am nothing if not a huge fan of the rising tide lifts all boats theory).
There’s book promotion on the blog, sure, but there’s also a feeling of real community. The tone of the site and of the new way of doing business sync to build a feeling of everyone being in this together. After all, the author, publisher, bookseller and reader all want the same thing: getting great books into the world in a sustainable way is everyone’s bottom line.
Is HarperStudio the wave of the future or do they exist only as an anomaly within the supports of the traditional structure? This is something of a false binary but an interesting questions nonetheless. How does an imprint or a firm move to non-returnable? Is it possible to change traditional advance structures industry-wide? The competitive advantages of securing a large author with a big bonus or allowing for returns are many. Will there come a time when it makes more sense for these traditions to be retired? HarperStudio is certainly worth watching for things about how these questions will be answered.