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March 25, 2013

HarperCollins sued by former death row prisoner over ditched book

NickSeven Days to Live, Yarris, who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for murder, sues publisher over abandoned life story.

By Josh Halliday

From death row to the high court. Book publishing giant HarperCollins is embroiled in a bitter legal dispute with a former prisoner who spent 21 years in solitary confinement in the US for a rape and murder he did not commit.

Nick Yarris, who was released from death row in Pennsylvania in 2004, is suing HarperCollins, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, at the high court in London for breach of contract over his life story, Seven Days to Live, published in 2008.

Yarris was sentenced to death in 1983 after being convicted of the rape and murder of a woman in Delaware. He spent the next two decades in one of America’s toughest prisons but was dramatically acquitted in January 2004 thanks to DNA evidence.

His harrowing account of the ordeal appeared in the book, Seven Days to Live, which was set to go on general sale in July 2008.

However, days before the release date, Yarris was arrested and charged with growing marijuana.

That prompted HarperCollins to swiftly halt the book’s publication – but not before a number of copies had been passed to retailers, including and high street bookstores.

It is estimated that more than a thousand copies of the book were purchased by readers around the world. Used copies are for sale online for between £35.99 and £81.55.

The marijuana-growing charges against Yarris were later dismissed.

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March 10, 2013

US indies launch DRM lawsuit

posmanThree US independent bookshops have launched a lawsuit against the big six publishers and Amazon in America claiming that by signing a contract to sell e-books with DRM through Amazon, they are combining to restrict the sale of e-books through indie stores.

Fiction Addiction in South Carolina, Posman Books in New York [pictured] and Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza are taking the action against Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Random House, Macmillan and Amazon claiming that the publishers signed contracts with Amazon to sell e-books with DRM that was “specifically designed to limit the use of digital content” to Kindle devices, according to Publishers Lunch.

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February 16, 2013

Harlem Shake at HarperCollins

By Jason Boog
The Harlem Shake meme exploded online last week, as a video maker named Filthy Frank took an infectious beat created by a producer named Baauer and invented a kooky dance sequence.

UPDATE: The Epic Reads team at HarperCollins posted a publisher edition of the Harlem Shake today, bringing the dance craze to a major publishing house (embedded above).

Videomakers around the globe took the same 30-second clip from the song, choreographing surreal dances in everyday locations, including firemen, office workers and an entire news team.

Below, we’ve collected a few other literary video takes on the viral video phenomenon. We would love to see more literary participation, perhaps in a large-scale library performance, a big bookstore dance or even an Amazon warehouse ballet.

We have already uncovered a few examples of librarian patrons doing the Harlem Shake, but our favorite was the West Point Library edition of the dance.

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December 12, 2012

Wilbur Smith: is this the book deal of the century?

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 7:08 am

HarperCollins has offered the author £15m to provide plot outlines – and he won’t necessarily be writing up the novels. Nice work if you can get it.

Age: 79.

Appearance: Maths teacher on safari.

Ah, yes – I’ve heard of this guy. He writes novels about people having sex in Africa. Set in the past. Occasionally they escape from jackals between shags. Is that right? No.

Oh. Well, I mean it’s not always jackals. Sometimes it might be pirates or hippos. Look, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. What I mean is that Smith won’t actually be writing them any more. At least not every word.

What? First it’s Katie Price, now this! Is nothing sacred? No, it isn’t. According to various reports, Smith’s new publisher HarperCollins is going to pay him £15m to come up with six plot outlines, some of which will be written up by other people over the next three years.

That’s very nice of HarperCollins. It certainly is. “My fans have made it very clear that they would like to read my novels and revisit my family of characters faster than I can write them,” Smith says. “For them, I am willing to make a change to my working methods.”

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December 4, 2012

How Mergermania Is Destroying Book Publishing

bookstore_ap_img  By André Schiffrin
The recently announced merger of Penguin and Random House, which is owned by Bertelsmann in Germany, sent shock waves throughout Western publishing circles. This new leviathan will publish a quarter of all books appearing in English, with annual sales of close to $4 billion, yet it is being treated by The New York Times and other media as a routine and perhaps even beneficial development.

Since the 1980s, when Random House was purchased by Si Newhouse’s Advance Publications, mergers have swallowed up most small and independent US and British firms. Publishing has been so dominated by the major conglomerates that another merger seems natural, the Times suggests. Indeed, others can be expected to follow. Rupert Murdoch has already expressed his disappointment at not having bought Penguin and his desire to buy another large firm to merge with HarperCollins, a subsidiary of News Corporation, which his family controls.

In a way, there’s a logic to this analysis. The mergers are occurring because book publishing has proved to be less profitable than the conglomerates had hoped. For most of the past two centuries, Western houses averaged a mere 3 percent annual profit. The new owners had hoped to raise the rate closer to 25 percent, to match those of their other holdings: newspapers, magazines and TV stations (even though these depend on advertising). But try as it might, publishing failed to churn out enough bestsellers.

Then came the competition from Amazon, which has entered the publishing market itself, hiring agents and editors to help it find bestselling authors. Amazon has also forced publishers to accept its pricing of e-books at $9.99—which has drastically reduced their profit margins and has the additional benefit for Amazon of weakening sales of the traditional trade paperback, the format publishers have counted on as a dependable earner.  It has even refused to list the books of houses that resisted its policies. Amazingly, the Justice Department has taken an extremely narrow view of the antitrust laws, prosecuting the publishers resisting Amazon’s pricing rather than the behemoth pressuring them.

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October 11, 2012

‘New’ JRR Tolkien epic due out next year

Filed under: Publishers — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:12 am

JRR Tolkien … ‘new’ book out next year.

Lord of the Rings author’s previously unseen 200-page poem of Arthurian legend draws on tales of ancient Britain rather than Middle-earth.

By Alison Flood

It’s the story of a dark world, of knights and princesses, swords and sorcery, quests and betrayals, and it’s from the pen of JRR Tolkien. But this is not Middle-earth, it’s ancient Britain, and this previously unpublished work from the Lord of the Rings author stars not Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo, but King Arthur.

HarperCollins has announced the acquisition of Tolkien’s never-before-published poem The Fall of Arthur, which will be released for the first time next May. Running to more than 200 pages, Tolkien’s story was inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory’s tales of King Arthur, and is told in narrative verse. Set in the last days of Arthur’s reign, the poem sees Tolkien tackling the old king’s battle to save his country from Mordred the usurper, opening as Arthur and Gawain go to war.

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September 5, 2012

EU investigation: publishers ‘concede e-book discounts’

Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Livre and Macmillan owner Verlugsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck have offered to allow retailers including Amazon to sell their e-books at a discount for two years in a bid to end an EU antitrust investigation and stave off fines, according to a Reuters report.

Apple, with which the publishers have entered into agency pricing agreements, is also said to have agreed on the concessions. Penguin, a fifth publisher which employs agency pricing on e-books, is not identified as having offered the concession.

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August 30, 2012

Victoria Barnsley: ‘We can’t think of ourselves as book publishers any more’

Victoria Barnsley of HarperCollins: ‘In some respects, publishing 12 years ago had more in common with publishing in the last century than now.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Observer

HaperCollins’s chief executive is about to launch an e-atlas – and, she says, that’s not the only way the world is changing.

By Juliette Garside

As the trays of cheese and wine begin to circulate for this autumn’s book launch season, one of the UK’s biggest publishing houses will be pinning its hopes not on a hardback, but on an app designed for tablet computers.

Alongside celebrity autobiographies from Victoria Pendleton and Cheryl Cole, and John Major’s history of music hall, HarperCollins will be unveiling a digital reinvention of the Collins World Atlas. “It’s the culmination of years of work, and it’s going to be really ground-breaking,” says Victoria Barnsley, UK and international chief executive of the book publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

The app presents a collection of globes suspended in space. One shows a satellite view; others are themed by population, energy or telecommunications. A few swipes, and the world lights up according to which areas have mobile coverage, or consume most oil. The information is, of course, always up to date.

“We can’t think of ourselves as book publishers any longer. We have to see ourselves as, you know,” Barnsley hesitates to use the cliché, “multimedia content producers.”

Her flower-scented Hammersmith office, with its plush upholstery and charcoal-grey walls so dark the eyes have to adjust, is a world away from the warehouses across town on east London’s Silicon Roundabout, where most new digital products are being produced.

But HarperCollins appears to have wholeheartedly embraced the e-book revolution that followed the arrival of Amazon’s Kindle reader in the UK in 2009. Barnsley predicts that within 18 months, over half of revenues from her fiction titles will be digital: they already are in America.

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August 14, 2012

A Record Store, Imitating Plot of a Book

Zuma Press
Writer Michael Chabon at his Berkeley, Calif., home last year.


To help sell Michael Chabon’s new novel “Telegraph Avenue,” HarperCollins Publishers is dipping a toe into the record business.

The novel, planned for a Sept. 11 release, is set in Oakland, Calif., in 2004, and in it, main characters Nat and Archy run a used-records store called Brokeland Records that is threatened by plans for a new megastore nearby on Telegraph Avenue.

To launch the book, the Harper imprint’s marketing team plans to convert Oakland bookstore Diesel into a pop-up store called Brokeland Records. From Sept. 7 to Sept. 14, the pop-up store will sell used jazz records provided by an independent record dealer named Berigan Taylor.

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April 18, 2012

Book Publishing’s Real Nemesis

Eric Holder with Sharis Pozen, acting assistant attorney general, discussing the price-fixing case.


The Justice Department finally took aim at the monopolistic monolith that threatened to dominate the book industry. So imagine the shock when the bullet aimed at threats to competition went whizzing by Amazon — which not long ago had a 90 percent stranglehold on e-books — and instead, struck five of the six biggest publishers and Apple, a minor player in the realm of books.

That’s the modern equivalent of taking on Standard Oil but breaking up Ed’s Gas ’N’ Groceries on Route 19 instead.

Last week, the Justice Department sued in United States District Court in New York, charging that Apple, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster had colluded to fix e-book prices. (Hachette, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins have already agreed to settle.)

The suit has its roots in 2007, when Amazon released the Kindle and began selling some of the most sought-after books for $9.99 in order to bolster sales of its device. Not surprisingly, booksellers and publishers hated this price with the force of 10,000 suns because it made physical books sold for $25 or more seem outrageously overpriced.

Under the wholesale arrangement with Amazon, the publishers received half of the list price, which yielded better money, but gave them no control over the pricing of their product. With the introduction of the iPad, publishers got a crack at remaking their deal because Apple allowed them to set the price and then took a cut of 30 percent.

That so-called agency model developed with Apple allowed publishers, not just Amazon, to set the price and in a move that caught the interest of the Justice Department, they all came up with pretty much the same price. (Why the crumbling book business is worthy of so much attention from Justice while Wall Street skates is a broader question we’ll leave for another day.)

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