Technically, Hyperion bit the dust before it was conceived, but the recent sale of the Disney-owned imprint marks another step in the trend toward reducing the publishing world to a few powerful giants. In this case, Hyperion, whose list includes bestsellers such as Michael J. Fox’s autobiography, Always Looking Up and Mitch Albom’s, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, will join Hachette, increasing the Hachette Group’s backlist by more than a thousand titles.
The news should come as no surprise. Hyperion announced it was selling off most of its adult backlist last March in an effort to reorient the imprint “synergistically” with its ABC programming. In this case, synergy does not mean “the combination of multiple elements to produce an effect greater than its parts.” There is only one part: TV.
The creation of print tie-ins to television shows hardly qualifies as an addition to the content, or the impact, of the original. However, in limiting its scope to what it can profitably sell, Disney is only doing what everyone else in the industry is doing - hiding from Random House/Penguin and the other Big Five.
It is only by focusing on undesirable, or unpoachable, products that everyone else in the industry can escape being swallowed at a future date, or simply being chewed up right now into an unprofitable pulp.
The clock started ticking, not last March when Hyperion announced its backlist sell-off, but last September, when Hyperion president Ellen Archer – known for her forward-thinking views on cutting author advances – hired former talent agent Laura Hopper as editorial director for franchise publishing. This marked Hyperion’s first serious move to increase “product” at the expense of whatever it was writers once did.
The following January, Ruth Pomerance, a long-time veteran of the Hollywood talent scene, was brought aboard as senior editor, where she continued to do what she had been doing for the last 30 years – “synergy” (i.e. reformatting books into other media, and vice versa).
In spite of these last-ditch efforts to stay in the game, Hyperion was a lost cause. Transforming TV shows into original content (what we used to call “books”) wasn’t enough to convince the Disney execs that they should stick to their publishing guns.
According to Publisher’s Weekly, Disney announced that it would be retaining its children’s imprints and any media-related titles, such as its Castle series, which ties into the ABC television show about the fictional detective novelist, Castle. In what can only be described as nearly excruciating synergy, the “Castle” books are authored by the fictional character Richard Castle.