New HarperCollins Imprint Won't Pay Author Royalties

Posted on April 3, 2008

The New York Times reports that HarperCollins is forming a new publishing group that won't pay author advances, but instead will use a profit-sharing plan. It also will not allow bookstores to return unsold copies, which is a major change from commonly accepted practices.

Jane Friedman, president and chief executive of HarperCollins, told the Times, "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."

This is clearly a trial balloon to see if the concept of profit-sharing with authors will fly. The problem is this: what are authors supposed to live on while they are writing? And as far as profit-sharing goes, ask any screenwriter how "profits" are defined. Even Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson had to sue New Line over unpaid profits from The Lord of the Rings films.

The more we think of it, the more we see this as the outcome: celebrities and wealthy politicians and businesspeople who write books on the side will sign on. They can afford it. And they have the attorneys who can sue for an audit if they don't like their "profit" statements.

As for regular writers, they have the most to lose here. Essentially, the new deal shifts the risk to the author away from the publisher. If your book doesn't sell, you don't make a dime. This is a most disturbing turn of events for writers.

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