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Are Serials Good for Your Publishing Health?

The New York Times’ Joanne Kaufman wonders if first serial rights – once so coveted by magazines that they were willing to pay six figures for the privilege of publishing exclusive excerpts from a highly anticipated book – have lost their luster. After all, when many such excerpts give away the juiciest bits of the book, why bother spending $25 for the rest, which may or may not live up to expectations?

Kaufman explains that magazine editors who five years ago would have reflexively bid for first serial rights to certain high-profile books are now exploring their options, choosing instead to run a feature about the book or an interview with the author. Some magazines – Time and Harper’s in particular – have turned to asking authors to write an article or essay that touches on issues raised in their book. “I think the whole model needs to be rethought,” said Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time. “I’m less interested in buying headlines than a great reader experience.” PW’s Sara Nelson finds the disinterest extends to publishers. “I see more and more of them interested in the TV interview for their author rather than the book excerpt because TV has a greater reach than magazines.”

But even if excerpts may contribute to book sale decreases and magazines themselves aren’t what they used to be, not all share the doom and gloom. Alison Rich, the director of publicity at Doubleday, said she had no such concerns with regards to Tina Brown‘s just-published THE DIANA CHRONICLES – excerpted first in Vanity Fair. “Tina’s writing is extraordinary,” Rich said. “The book is an incredibly rich textured portrait of Diana and all the royals, and it’s our belief that readers will be anxious for more.”

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