What is funny to me is that the no advance piece of the equation is supposedly offset by an "exchange for profit sharing." Isn't that what we're doing already, profit sharing? Actually, my understanding is that it is to be a significant split--like 50/50. (I can imagine the royalty clauses, stipulations, and loopholes in that contract. In fact, I'd love to see a copy if anyone can get their hands on one.) Theoretically, the 50/50 profit sharing was being off-set by the other piece of the equation, selling non-returnable.
I'm watching closely because: A. I believe publishing is in dire need of a "Game Changer," something that will finally free us from the traditional ways of doing business that cost so much (like returns); and B. The industry is also in need of a swift kick in the pants regarding runaway advances.
Miller has been able to attract and sign celebrity authors Emeril Lagasse, Michael Eisner, Fifty Cent, John Lithgow (now that's a crew) who don't need big advances, especially if they stand to make more money on actual book sales. We know celebrity sells so that piece is pretty easy to calculate. And I've assumed that it would take strength of HarperCollins to attempt non-returnable sales. This week's PW reports that the non-returnable piece of the puzzle isn't working.
“We've learned a lot about the needs of our accounts," [said Miller,] including that
"each account has a different set of needs to be met" before they will consider buying
nonreturnable. Unable to find a one-size-fits-all policy, Miller said that at this stage
HarperStudio plans to offer retailers a choice of going returnable or nonreturnable,
“with the hope that our nonreturnable terms will be appealing enough that retailers will
try that option.”
The inability to get retailers to back a nonreturnable sale has not diminished Miller's
enthusiasm for the new venture or his determination to experiment. “It's been a very
gratifying experience,” Miller said.
Those sound like the words of a man whose corporate plug has been pulled to me, but we'll see. I'm cheering for Bob Miller and hoping HarperStudio will help chip away at some of the changes our industry desperately needs. I am all for sharing more of the pie but I've been dumbfounded at how they were going to make it work. Now it looks like it may not.