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Are Big Advances Killing the Publishing Industry?

Even though publishing is facing dire economic times, it is still spending furiously for celeb books.   Galley Cat points out that these rarely earn out for the publisher so why the overspending?   Dan Stone, agent for many of these celeb authors, argues that publishers must know where the market is otherwise why spend the cash?   I can’t remember the last celeb book I bought unless you call The Audacity of Hope a celeb book.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Ann Somerville
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 01:06:18

    Do these books act like loss leaders? Creating a buzz for that publisher’s books and so on?

    The way the print publishing industry works baffles me completely

  2. Angie
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 04:52:02

    Same question as Ann. And if they’re not, if people whose attention is attracted because their favorite celeb “wrote” a book don’t actually buy other books as well, then one would think this trend would be self limiting. I mean, seriously, how long can publishers keep writing seven- or eight-figure checks and not making that money back? If it’s not making money for them in the long run, then they have to stop eventually, right…? :/


  3. Kimber An
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 08:46:03

    Do these publishers ever consider the readers they’re alienating and driving away into the arms of the used bookstores and ePublishers? That’s where readers go for variety, you know. And many don’t come back.

  4. Susan Helene Gottfried
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 12:20:04

    I might buy Strone’s arguments except for a few things he says:

    1. That the books will earn out these big advances.

    * Yet I recall Sara Nelson in a Publisher’s Weekly editorial commenting that the publisher who spent around $4M for Alan Greenspan’s book admitted they knew it wouldn’t earn out. They’d only spent that much for the bragging rights. (Yet every pure reader I talk to — not book blogger, not reviewer, not writer. Just reader. — has no idea what the difference is between publishers. So the bragging rights angle… who is listening to the bragging that’s being done?)

    2. Strone also made a comment about being one step removed from publishing, and so he couldn’t answer the question posed to him.

    * He is one of the bigwigs at Trident Media, which is one of the biggest agencies out there. It’s his job to make sure he understands the intricate dealings of the publishing industry. Why would I want an agent who is removed from the industry that pays his rent?

    As for the last celebrity book I bought, that was The Heroin Diaries. The one before that?? No clue.

  5. Marsha
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 13:17:56

    If loss leader isn’t the right metaphor, maybe these advances are like those runway shows that some fashion designers stage. No one (or few people) will ever buy those particular clothes, they’re just meant to drive traffic to the brand and gain attention.

    Of course, although I’m an active reader who does occasionally write about what she reads and also dabbles in writing, I couldn’t tell you the difference between one publishing house and another (unless its Persephone – which as far as I know doesn’t plan to publish anything new – or Workman, which is completely outside the scope of this discussion, again AFAIK) or possibly even name more than a handful.

  6. Jules Jones
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 14:13:43

    Note that “did not earn out the advance” is not identical to “the publisher made a loss”. It’s quite possible for a publisher to make a tidy profit on a book that didn’t earn out its advance, courtesy of the intricacies of publishing industry accounting practices. This is something I have seen mentioned by a number of people involved in the publishing industry on the sf side, including an IP lawyer who spends rather a lot of his time crawling through royalty statements. Remind me at the weekend when I’ve got two brain cells to rub together and I might go digging for some references.

  7. Ann Bruce
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 18:40:13

    Do these books act like loss leaders? Creating a buzz for that publisher's books and so on?

    How often do you buy from a publisher because they put out a big name book? I buy Harlequin books because I like category, but just because I read The Audacity of Hope doesn’t mean I’m now going to buy other books from the same publisher. After all, books are not shelved or categorized by publisher, are they? (Of course, except for Harlequin romances.)

  8. Ann Somerville
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 19:17:01

    How often do you buy from a publisher because they put out a big name book?

    Well I don’t, but I didn’t know if that was the thinking behind these weird decisions. Frankly, especially in these times, it seems like pure madness.

  9. Ann Bruce
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 21:03:32

    Sorry, Ann. I knew you were just tossing out ideas.

  10. Victoria Janssen
    Nov 21, 2008 @ 08:57:39

    Perhaps handing out giant advances gives them more advance publicity?

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