Whistling Past the Graveyard: HarperCollins and Amanda Knox

I ran across a news item today about HarperCollins signing Amanda Knox to a huge book deal. Four million dollars for her tell-all biography about her ordeal in the Italian justice system. For those of you, like me, who don’t have cable and haven’t been following cases like this (or that of Casey Anthony) closely, the short form is that Knox, her boyfriend and another man were convicted of murdering Knox’s female roommate. The prosecution suggested that the girl was murdered because she was reluctant to have group sex, etc.. Subsequent investigations pointed up irregularities with evidence and Knox’s conviction was overturned.

Italian authorities are appealing the ruling which overturned the convictions.

Before I go any further, let me note for the record that I’m happy as a clam that Ms. Knox got a book deal. If folks are willing to pay her money to tell her story, I think that’s great. (And if she needs a ghost… 🙂 ) I’m not sorry she got the money, nor am I morally outraged that someone’s whose fame is based on an infamous crime is getting paid off. Welcome to the wonderful world of capitalism.

What has me scratching my head about this deal is this: Amanda Knox’s story is past its sell-by date. The book is slated to come out next year, which means, unfortunately, there will be another pretty girl murdered, or having done the murder, which Nancy Grace and others will flog for fleeting ratings, and then they’ll move on. It’s old news already…

…unless the appeal is successful, and the convictions are reinstated. At that point HarperCollins will be flogging the most infamous set of self-aggrandizing and self-serving memoirs since O. J. Simpson tried to peddle his hypothetical side of his dark act. I have no doubt that possibility was raised in meetings, and I am feeling really skeevy about someone saying, “well, that will put her back in the news, so we’ll just up the print run.”

Because we know someone did say that.

The biggest problem here, as I see it, is that HarperCollins cannot actually expect to make that four million back. And, yes, I know they don’t intend to. They figure that they can sell off translations of the book and make some of it back, but much of the benefit here is in the publicity they get from having given the girl that much money. That’s how the business works, and how it’s always worked.

And look where that’s put traditional publishing.

Here’s a suggestion: pay a little less for books from faux-celebrities, and spend a bit more on your ebook preparation and, best of all, actually publicizing good books that readers like. Great novels go out of print and never find the full audience they could because they never get a push. Instead of throwing vast money away on an unknown bet, why not double-down on a book or two that has legs and could make a lot of money for the publisher, retailers and the author?

I know, I’m a dreamer. It’s just that the same-old thinking has put the industry in a very difficult spot. Right now we need out-of-the-box thinking. I know we won’t get that out of trad pub, but just for fun, can’t they see their way to explore a bit more inside the box? It might not save them, but it will stop them from tanking quite so quickly.

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2 Responses to “Whistling Past the Graveyard: HarperCollins and Amanda Knox”

  1. HarperCollins are all over the place. One of their best scifi authors is Stephen Hunt, but it’s almost impossible to get his books here in the USA, even as e-books. His novels sell to US publishers about 3 books behind the UK, and in Britain his first novel now looks to be out-of-print, even as his 6th in the series is coming out. Crazy way to run a publishing business for readers.

  2. This just makes me wonder if S&S has any buyer’s regret over Snooki’s book. Faux-celebrities, indeed.