It turns out that they are able to reach deep into the coffers for certain acquisitions. Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife, just landed herself a $4.8 million advance from Scribner for her next novel. $4.8 million?!? A huge advance any way you look at it, the money becomes that much more important in this new era of acquisition freezes, layoffs, and penny-pinching. This novel better be one heck of a bestseller, or Scribner will be that much deeper in the hole. Publication of the book is set for September, so we'll have to wait and see if this pays off.
As the New York Times points out, second novels by bestselling authors have a tendency to underperform. The other, and most obvious risk, is that Scribner is going to have to wait until September to start seeing returns on their investment, which may or may not pay off. The publisher is at the whim of a reader's subjective decision to buy this book or not. How many more people have to say that publishing needs a new business model? In an industry where margins are slim in good times, why are we risking millions of dollars ahead of time?
Maybe HarperStudio with its low advances and 50-50 royalty split with authors can make a better go of it. Or anyone else out there willing to step outside the box.