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HarperCollins U.S. to try new publishing model

In a move that should have people talking at the upcoming London Book Fair, HarperCollins U.S. has announced plans to launch a new-style publishing program. The man in charge is publishing veteran Robert S. Miller, who is credited for building Disney’s Hyperion publishing program.

According to a press release from HarperCollins:

As President and Publisher of the yet-to-be-named entity, 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.

The references to leveraging the web sound like the usual breathless PR-speak, but compensating authors through a profit-sharing model does indeed sound like something new and notable. Who knows what it’ll mean for the authors in practice, but it’ll probably be an experiment worth watching.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has posted an article examining HarperCollins’ plans, in which it reports that Miller also aims to reduce (or altogether eliminate) costly returns. The article doesn’t make clear how he plans to do this, except to say that:

The new group will also release electronic books and digital audio editions of all its titles, said Jane Friedman, president and chief executive of HarperCollins, a unit of the News Corporation.

At this moment of real volatility in the book business, when we are all recognizing things that are difficult to contend with, like growing advances and returns and that people are reading more online, we want to give them information in any format that they want.