HarperCollins’ Dips its toe in the Digital Pool

As they say, everything old is new again. Remember back in the 80s, GM created the Saturn Car company, whihch was meant to be completely separate from and autonomous of its parent? This was ostensibly so it would not be contaminated by the practices that had brought GM’s market share hurtling towards the Yugo’s. It appears that HarperCollins is taking a similar approach in launching its yet unnamed imprint that promises to end the traditional practices of paying large advances and taking back returnsfrom booksellers. According to the story in today’s New York TImes,

The new unit is HarperCollins’s effort to address what its executives see as some of the more vexing issues of the book industry. “The idea is, ‘Let’s take all the things that we think are wrong with this business and try to change them,’ ” said Robert Miller, 51. “It really seemed to require a start-up from scratch because it will be very experimental.” 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. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/04/business/04harper.html?em&ex=1207454400&en=2e85dd23a4442d80&ei=5087%0A

If this new unit accomplishes nothing more than reducing the deplorable waste of resources caused by the pulping of returned books (about 30% – 40% of all titles), it will most likely be more sustainlable than the current antiquated practice. If it lets more authors share in a greater percentage of the profits, as well as giving readers more choice of format (ebooks, audio) even better. I hope the Kindle is part of their distribution strategy.

“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.”

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