Monday, April 14, 2008

Yuck factor in corporate publishing

Publishers Lunch had two links today, both relating to HarperCollins, that I found a tad disturbing.

First, folks, we have this piece by Josh Getlin at the Los Angeles Times, about a new model of acquiring a book from an agent with a film producer at your side, who snaps up film rights right there and then. In this case, it's a book called The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian. Now to the author I say, best of luck. May you have a great publication and a resounding page-to-screen transition for your literary baby.

But get this:
"We would have bid on this novel anyway, with or without a movie deal," said Lisa Gallagher, Morrow's senior vice president and publisher, describing the company's quick move to snap up the book with a preemptive bid. "But having Jeff right there in the room with us is definitely something new. It's a different model when someone like him is in on the ground level, participating in the conversation and watching as decisions about books get made."
What decisions? Cover design or... editorial decisions? This makes me nervous, and might make the author take stock as well. If that producer is stuck on Brad Pitt or Jodie Foster playing some role, you can see them weighing in on the plot. "I can't see this character - and look, I'm seein' ACTION FIGURES for this guy! - being that mean. He has a likability factor we have to protect." Etc etc... I know, ever the pessimist, and an editor could just as easily push a novel in this diraction or that for marketing reasons, but film people seem even more commercially driven.

And then there's Heidi Benson's piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, a profile of 39 year old Mark Tauber, publisher at HarperOne. Tauber's a marketing guy, not an editorial guy. I'll give him that. But he seems a bit too pro-Murdoch for my liking - and of course, Rupert Murdoch runs the show over there.
In 1999, he boomeranged back to New York to help start Beliefnet.-com, a spirituality Web site that was purchased last year, reportedly for tens of millions of dollars, by Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. also owns HarperCollins. Lured back to HarperOne in 2002 as associate publisher, Tauber was promoted to vice president in 2005 and, in January, became senior vice president and publisher.
He is tight with that old Australian monopolizer, and it's served him quite well.

And then the article ends thus:

"Books are not going away, ever. Far from it," he says.

"Digital music? It's better. Digital video? It's better." But nothing can replace what he calls "the actual experience of reading a book, taking a book to the park or propping
yourself up on the couch with a book and a cup of coffee."

He allows that today, books must be carefully marketed, and that some categories, such as reference books, will become obsolete.

"But narrative nonfiction, self-help and fiction?" he says. "They're not going anywhere."

Can we just insert "corporate" before "narrative" in that quote? I mean, he says that with such obliviousness to the indie presses and bookstores getting crushed. But again, maybe I'm just a cranky editor who watches as some books get so little distribution and media, while everything HarperOne puts out goes right on the front table or page.

I need to go do something a bit more uplifting. Is it (community) gardening season yet?

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