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What will publisher Bob Miller's departure mean for innovative HarperStudio?

March 17, 2010 | 11:22 am

The jets returning from SXSW Interactive had hardly cooled before one of publishing's more innovative divisions, HarperStudio, announced a major change. Bob Miller, who has headed HarperStudio since its launch in 2008, will be departing to become publisher at Workman.

That position has been held up until now by Peter Workman himself, who said in a statement that he is "kicking himself upstairs" to take a more supervisory role as chief executive. Workman Publishing includes the Workman, Algonquin and Artisan imprints.

"I am very proud of what we have accomplished at HarperStudio," Miller said in the statement. A publishing veteran who founded Hyperion, Miller has been among the more adventurous of his generation, making genuine efforts to adapt to the shifting publishing environment. "I am sorry to leave this exciting venture behind," Miller said, "but the opportunity to play such a significant role at Workman Publishing is impossible to resist."

HarperStudio, a small imprint, served as a kind of laboratory for new ideas. One was borrowed from independent publishers: Rather than offering substantial advances, which can take years for authors to pay back from their sales, HarperStudio paid authors only modestly up front and then split profits 50-50.

Another innovation was to offer booksellers a higher percentage of profits in exchange for ending the practice of returns. Miller said that bookstores return 40% of hardcovers to publishers; many in publishing are looking for ways to change this part of the business model. And then there was a welcome embrace of e-books and new formats.

More visibly to the end consumer, HarperStudio took its activities online. Its website is, compared to the rest of the publishing world, a model of new media engagement. It includes videos, links to Twitter and Facebook, and a prominent calendar of author events. Miller himself blogged, and the small house allowed its energetic staff to stir up marketing momentum in the course of their jobs. 

Miller's place as HarperStudio publisher will be overseen by Michael Morrison of parent company Harper Collins, MediaBistro reports. But that doesn't go far to explain what this move really means. Will  HarperStudio's successes be adopted by Workman? Will those remaining at HarperStudio -- including the online advocate Debbie Stier, just back from predicting publishing's future at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas -- continue to innovate? What does Miller's departure say about the experiments that HarperStudio made?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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