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Super-Sizing HarperCollins

friedman.jpg“Publishing Plus.” I hear it and think, Crest Whitestrips, high performance gasoline, questionable diet pills. Its logo: definitely rasterized in MS Word, with white text and a plus sign — in a freebie faux-handwritten font — over a purple oval. And, whatever the product is, it can easily sit next to you to McDonalds.

But what “Publishing Plus” stands for is still somewhat unclear; HarperCollins’ descriptions of “Publishing Plus” sound alternately forward-thinking and self-aggrandizing. Jane Friedman, interviewed in yesterday’s NY Times, says she “envisions a day when a reader in a bookstore will reach for a HarperCollins novel the way some parents of young children now reach for a Disney film in a video store – a result of faith in the producer rather than the specific content.” Branding a book by its author, not its publisher, is “old thinking … It doesn’t take into consideration that we are living in a society that is very well branded.”

On the one hand, “Publishing Plus” constitutes a series of small changes: offering “bonus material,” like author interviews, in the back of new paperbacks; inviting readers to sign up for emails alerting them to favorite authors’ upcoming books and readings; and giving book groups the chance to win telephone chats with the authors of selected books. But “Publishing Plus” also includes “creating a more uniform design and format” for HC books, and reflects a change in attitude towards some of publishing’s “givens”:

All the efforts, [Friedman] said, are aimed at reducing the company’s reliance on finding the next hot author. “We can no longer keep chasing the big best seller,” she said. “I feel we can really build an audience for our brand.”

Ms. Friedman said that elevating the profile of HarperCollins would help it raise the value of its backlist – the stable of previously published books to which it owns publishing rights. By bolstering brand recognition, the company hopes that readers will be more likely to choose one of its backlist books over a title by another publisher. “We want to win the ties,” Ms. Friedman said.

The article goes on to note that some HC editors “have privately expressed dismay that so much attention is being focused on consumers rather than authors.” Even so, I’m guessing those editors were more happy with the NY Times article’s headline — “Michael Crichton? He’s Just the Author” — than Michael Chrichton and his agent.

Know if Friedman liked the headline? Disagree with the ideas behind “Publishing Plus”? Found Wyatt’s Friedman vs Regan match listless? Send reactions to galleycatATmediabistroDOTcom.

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