Lena Dunham’s $3.7M Advance Is a Big Problem

In fact, it explains what's wrong with the publishing industry: Rob Spillman

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 9, 2012 1:58 PM CDT

(Newser) – Want to know what's wrong with the corporate publishing industry? Take a look at Lena Dunham's insane book deal, which Rob Spillman pegs at $3.7 million on Salon. Random House will need to sell at least 500,000 copies to break even, which Spillman thinks is a long shot. But even if the company pulls it off, "is this any way to run a publishing company?" Spillman wonders. "Put aside the cultural impact question for a second. The whole approach seems short-sighted at best." Imagine if Random House had taken that $3.7 million and instead given $10,000 advances to 370 writers—or even $100,000 advances to 37 writers.

Surely a few of the resulting books would have been better and more successful than Dunham's book, and a few of the writers would have outsold her over time. But "this argument presumes time. Which is what corporate publishers don’t have," Spillman explains. "They have shareholders, and/or parent companies, and must justify their quarterly earnings." That's why small publishers are increasingly winning the big literary awards after taking chances on books that the major houses won't touch. "Random House’s rash deal with Dunham is … why the corporate publishers are losing cultural relevance, and why they might soon lose solvency as well." Click for Spillman's full column—or a column in defense of Dunham's massive deal.

Actress Lena Dunham arrives at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, in Los Angeles.
Actress Lena Dunham arrives at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, in Los Angeles.   (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
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