Collins, the confused stepchild of HarperCollins, grandson and last avatar of the venerable publisher William Collins, and relic of a more optimistic time in America — the year 2004 — died today at the age of 4. The causes were multiple: neglect, mixed messages, gluttony, and an epidemic of stagnation that has decimated American book publishing.
The imprint (like its older half-sibling in the U.K.) entered the world as a humble “light reference” division, a member of a synergistic brood known as “Publishing+” — ex-HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman’s name for her “initiative to build a global consumer information publishing business.” By 2006, Collins was a workhorse, putting out 400 books — dictionaries, self-help and wellness titles, and a couple of wonkier business tomes.
But a year later, Friedman snatched Steve Ross away from rival Random House (where he’d revitalized Crown), and the two promised to mold Collins into a more powerful, more energetic producer of general narrative nonfiction. It was a giddy two years: Jeff Jarvis’s What Would Google Do, Tilar J. Mazzeo’s The Widow Clicquot, a coming book by Gail Sheehy. But was it a successful two years? Did Sheehy merit over $500,000? Will the bloggers behind Fail and Petfinder earn out their six figures? Critics complained about overspending, and they were right. Collins is survived by William Morrow and Harper, who will divvy up the estate.