Friday, October 9, 2015

Publishing Overpayment For Comedian Amy Schumer Memoir No Joke

Comedian Amy Schumer, a relative of United States Senator Charles Schumer, inked a deal with Simon & Schuster to publish her memoir for $8 million.  The deal is controversial for a number of reasons, and leaves people scratching their heads.  Does this indicate publishing is so strong that it can throw big money at arguably a B+ talent?  Or does it show that publishing has no clue and continues to invest only in its big list – and ignores the rest?

Let’s look at this closely.  Who normally gets eight million dollars?  People like Bill Clinton or someone of that caliber.  Not a Comedy Central comedian with a movie or two under her belt.  She’s never written a book before and no one wonders if her presumably young, female fans will jump at the chance to spend beyond a few bucks for an e-book?  

How will the publisher make this back?

Is it banking on foreign rights sales and audiobook sales? Does it hope the story of her abbreviated life will be turned into a movie?  Does it really think it’ll sell enough books to make back such an obscene advance?  Or does Simon & Schuster see this as a moment to get publicity for itself?

The publishers, in my mind, would be better off taking $8 million and dividing it into 80 advances of $100,000 or 160 advances of $50,000 each and seeing these authors develop.  Why gamble that a single book will take you to the promised land?  Why would you believe that Schumer has enough fans to begin with?  Then, why would you believe a high percentage of them will buy her book?

Maybe there’s some bombshell in the book, but short of that, I think the investment won’t pay off in a way that will benefit the publisher more than if it used that money to land other talent.

I watch Schumer's show – and love it.  My wife feels the same way.  We won’t be buying her book.  She’s just not that good or socially significant.  Jon Stewart’s memoir?  I’d consider that.  But Amy Schumer?  I’d save the money to pay to see her perform, which I did earlier this year.

The thing is, memoirs don’t sell. Why?  Because people get bored by the usual stories of childhood abuse, addiction, broken marriages, etc.  It is so formulaic!  Besides, memoirs end up getting talked about in the media, and after a number of author interviews and book reviews, you feel you absorbed what you needed and move on.

Oddly, Harper Collins paid her a million bucks for a book of essays in 2013.  The book never materialized and she returned the seven-figure pay day.  But now S&S is shelling out eight times that.

If you wonder if Schumer is worth it, look at Lena Dunham, the lead actress and writer of Girls, a hit HBO show. She got $3.5 million for her book, Not That Kind of Girl, and she has a bigger fan base.  It sold 525,000 copies.  I don’t see Schumer doubling the sales for more than double the advance.

How much does a publisher make from a book sale?  How many sales are needed to break even?  If the publisher netted $8 a copy, it would have to sell a million copies to break even.  But the publisher likely doesn’t profit that much per book - -nor will it sell that many copies.

Schumer’s ratings have declined. Her first show got 1.6 million viewers.  The season 2 premier netted 1.3 million, and last season’s opener generated 1.0 million views.  This means every single viewer would need to buy the book and the publisher may still not be profitable on this deal.

She has 2.13 million Twitter followers.  Dunham has 2.86 million – and sold books equal to 20% of her following. If that holds for Schumer, she’ll sell roughly 400,000 books and prove to be a financial clunker.

Book publishing needs to stop bidding on the perceived big books and instead, turn a manuscript into a big book.  If a publisher invested $50,000 for an acquisitions editor, it can hire 160 people to extract some really good books from the slush pile or from finding some social media stars.  Think of that!

Let’s cut that in half – hire an army of 80 people and arm them with $50,000 advances for the 80 books they’ll sign.  Each title, if it sells 25,000 copies, will do better collectively and financially for the publisher than for it to bank on just one book to lift its fortunes.

Schumer is very funny and I hope it all works out.  She wins no matter hat – as do her fans.  But for the publisher, and many other authors, the jury’s out.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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