The lack of solid upfront advances might make some writers gulp, but I think this publishing model is worth trying to see what benefits it may have...
HarperCollins Publishers, in an effort to address one of the more vexing issues of the book industry, is forming a publishing group that will substitute profit-sharing for cash advances and attempt to eliminate the costly practice of allowing booksellers to return unsold copies....
Author advances and bookseller returns are two issues that have long troubled the publishing industry. Best-selling authors can command advances that are so high that publishers often come away with slim profits, even for books that are major successes. Publishers also offer high advances to untested authors in the hopes of creating best sellers, but often those risks do not pan out.
Ms. Friedman said the new group, which will start by publishing 25 titles a year, will offer “low or no advances.” Mr. Miller said he hoped to offer a profit-sharing plan in which both publisher and author would split the net profits.
This puts some of the onus and risk on the writer -- but if it's a true 50/50 split, it could result in a decent payday if a title should take off. Frankly, most advances are so low these days for most folks who aren't John Grisham or J.K. Rowling that a plan like this would be something like self-publishing...except with a professional marketing and distribution team doing the heavy lifting.
It's all gonna depend how it's implemented, and the story doesn't say anything about subsidiary rights (except that HC wants to release e-books simultaneously). But it seems that if a particular book began to sell well, the writer could be getting dollars per copy instead of pennies...and might be able to leverage a "regular" book deal in the process.
I got the highest advance of my life from HarperCollins for a book that was never published -- it got ashcanned in a publishing industry contraction. Fortunately, I didn't have to give back the money, but I do wonder what would happen to a writer who spent a year revising and working with the publisher if this arm of the company should suddenly go tits-up.