I HAVE BEEN TOLD I DESERVE
“A FULL LIFE THAT ISN’T JUST ABOUT FIGHTING FOR THINGS”

Because, according to his own accounting, he failed on most of the “innovations” on which this publishing imprint was founded.

As Miller stated in a presentation (2010.03.25; video) at a conference whose organizers later apologized for not giving me a press pass, HarperStudio failed on the following counts.

  • Advances. HarperStudio would pay only small advances – “let’s see what we can do if we limit ourselves to five-figure advances,” a “$100,000 maximum in exchange for a 50/50 profit-sharing deal with the authors.” But this option isn’t attractive to name-brand authors: “An author with a track record” is “making [up to] 105% out of that total pie that the author and publisher have to share” and won’t sign on to a 50/50 share. “So that became difficult.”
  • Returns. Print books are sold on consignment, with stores able to return as many books as they want in the normal course of events. HarperStudio wanted to “go nonreturnable.” “But then when we went back to these accounts with terms, it was, ‘Well, we don’t want any inventory risk.’ ” Miller got some major accounts onboard, “but by the end of the two years, frankly, it became a reason not to buy speculative material… and ultimately we let go of the nonreturnable approach just in the interest of distributing books we believed in as publishers. […] It will take publishing imprints with much larger authors and more clout than we had at HarperStudio to really make that stick.”
  • Advertising. Simply, there would be no paid advertising; all that money would be diverted, somewhat vaguely, to “marketing” and “publicity.” “And that was effective,” Miller says, but the only case he mentions is Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It, which had all sorts of mix-’n’-match purchasing options that were entirely Vaynerchuk’s idea. Miller wanted to do this kind of incremental ordering (buy a book, or a book and an E-book, or both of those and a T-shirt, or spend a grand and get a visit from the author), but neither his corporate ordering system nor anybody else’s can unite hardcopy and electronic shopping carts.

HarperStudio contracted for 70 books and has published 16, Miller claimed. He left for Workman Publishing, then HarperStudio closed. Based on the attested results of the experiment, it should have closed. On the three areas of innovation on which HarperCollins bet, it lost.

Why do I care? I’d have reported the foregoing anyway, but there’s the added factor that a jovial and chipper Bob Miller rejected one of my book proposals as follows (top-posted): “[T]he combination of light-hearted package with serious issue didn’t quite work for us.” In 21 years of publication, I’ve never heard anything so stupid. Light-hearted treatment of serious subjects is a licence to print money.

Of course this degree of acumen is just the ticket if you want to fail upward.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.05.12 11:41. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2010/05/12/bobmiller/

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