Some people take this New Year's resolution business seriously.
Within a day of the reopening of publishing offices after the holiday break, PW Daily reported on the appointment of Dan Harvey as marketing director of six-year-old Trident Media, the firm headed by former William Morris agent Robert Gottlieb. Harvey, a well-known and much-liked publishing veteran—he spent 17 years at Putnam, most recently as publishing director—will work with the 18 agents at Trident to devise and implement marketing plans for clients.
Trident is, characteristically, hailing Harvey's hiring as more than just an internal move; executives are suggesting that installing a person dedicated to figuring out how to sell books, not just acquire them, is more than just a small step for Trident, it is a giant step for all of publishing. (Never mind that a couple of years ago, Inkwell Management hired the former Little, Brown associate publisher Beth Davey to help with marketing.) But while it remains to be seen whether other agencies will follow suit, it does clarify—as if we needed clarification—the way publishing is changing. In the old days, marketing was the province of the publisher, who might or might not run his ideas by the author or agent. Today—with marketing departments at houses already stretched thin and, it must be said, plenty of whining and complaining from authors and their reps about what happens to books once they get into the corporate pipeline—traditional houses frankly need help.
There's no doubt that Harvey's presence will fortify the already powerful Trident, which reps several huge authors like Janet Evanovich, Elizabeth George and Catherine Coulter; his experience at Putnam devising campaigns for Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, Lance Armstrong, among many others, suggests he's the ideal person for the commercially minded Trident to employ. But it's with new or prospective clients that an in-house marketing director might make a real difference. Both Gottlieb and Harvey say that Harvey will be involved from the very beginning, from the moment an agent approaches an author, or vice versa; in essence, Trident will be able to woo clients with the promise that they will ultimately have not one but two marketing departments on their side.
This is complicated, of course. Trident has around 700 clients, maybe 70 of whom deliver books in any given year; so far, Harvey is the sole marketing guy. There's also the possibility that publishers, notoriously territorial about their roles, may balk at what they see as too much agency involvement. And what about the more literary authors—like Trident client Michael Ondaatje—who may actually need marketing advice more than, say, Jon Stewart? (Trident says Harvey will work with everyone, not just the top commercial tier.) As for other agents: they'll surely say that good agents already focus on marketing, and that this kind of hire is expensive overkill.
From where I'm sitting, it looks plain old smart—for writers and for publishers. And maybe even for all those "end users" formerly known as readers. Like it or not, publishing is a business that these days needs all the help it can get.
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