Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bob Miller Leaves HarperStudio

Almost two years ago (Sunday, April 6, 2008), I did a post here which I titled "What's Going On at HarperCollins?"
On Thursday, HarperCollins surprised the industry with an announcement that Bob Miller, the founder and president of Hyperion (an imprint of the Walt Disney Company) would be taking a new job at HarperCollins.

Publishers Weekly (PW) said, "Miller will be heading up a 'publishing studio' that will do 25 titles a year." He will report directly to Jane Friedman, the HarperCollins CEO. For her part, Friedman was quoted as saying, "I can't think of anyone better to build a new publishing model for today."
Of course, by now, everyone in the industry is familiar with HarperStudio, the name given to Bob Miller's new imprint. The New York Times quoted Miller saying: "Let’s take all the things that we think are wrong with this business and try to change them.” The Associated Press said: "In an ever-uncertain market for publishers, HarperCollins is looking to resolve two of the industry's major concerns: High author advances and the high rate of returned books."

Yesterday, less than two years later, the industry was shocked by an announcement that Bob Miller was leaving HarperStudio to become the group publisher of Workman Publishing's Workman, Algonquin, and Artisan imprints effective May 3. According to Publishers Weekly, "Peter Workman will remain president and CEO and will collaborate with Miller."

GalleyCat published both the Workman press release and the HarperCollins' internal memo to employees in response. According to the Workman release:
In its first two years, HarperStudio--just named one of the ten most innovative media companies of the year by Fast Company--has had three New York Times bestsellers and has signed seventy authors...

Commenting on the move, Miller says, "I am very proud of what we have accomplished at HarperStudio, and I am sorry to leave this exciting venture behind, but the opportunity to play such a significant role at Workman Publishing is impossible to resist."
According to the HC memo:
HarperStudio and its staff will continue under the leadership of Michael Morrison, President and Publisher U.S. General Books and Canada.
Responding to the news, the New York Times here quoted Peter Workman as saying "(Miller) 'replaces me...I am not going anywhere, but it’s the beginning of a form of succession.' Mr. Workman will remain chief executive." The Times reminded readers that HarperStudio limited advances to a max of $100,000, but then offered authors "half the profits from book sales."

Debbie Stier, Miller's Associate Publisher at HarperStudio took the unusual step of creating a question-and-answer format at the imprint's blog The 26th Story here yesterday. She was obviously trying to reassure HarperStudio authors, proming no contracts would be cancelled and that the HarperStudio imprint would continue through the Fall, 2010 releases.

More interesting to me were her responses to questions about the HarperStudio vision: "Of our ORIGINAL goals, I'd give us a 6 [out of ten]. But there were other goals that cropped up along the way that were unintended benefits."

Asked to define those original goals, Stier answered: "The original goals were advances capped at $100,000 and a profit share with the author; selling to accounts non-returnable; direct selling."

And in response to which goals were not met, Stier said: "The non-returnable didn't work (Please don't ask me to go into the why right now :) and the direct selling we never really got to try for various reasons. The profit share has been great."

Marion Maneker, another former HarperCollins publisher, did an article for Slate's Big Money yesterday here, which he cleverly titled "Miller's Crossing." He says:
No one should blame Miller for wanting his own fresh start. HarperStudio was never going to solve publishing's problems, because it was saddled with the corporation's costs. Touting a 50-50 profit share sounds impressive only to the uninitiated. Anyone with a half-decent sense of publishing's financials knows that 50-50 is no bargain when you have to subtract the dead-hand costs of a publishing conglomerate.
Sarah Weinman writing for Daily Finance here said:
...HarperStudio's utopian visions didn't pan out. The imprint has had bestselling authors...who thrive on the profit-sharing model. But booksellers rejected the non-returnable model and forced HarperStudio to back off.
Weinman believes HarperCollins will absorb HarperStudio's staff and return to more standard publishing terms that will "keep more of the company's money in its own pockets, and not in the hands of authors."

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