HarperCollins has relaunched its website and, in a way, its business.
The company is now selling all its book, ebooks and audiobooks directly to consumers through HarperCollins.com.
“We are excited to be able to offer an e-commerce solution to our authors, ensuring their books are always available to their fans,” said chief digital officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi in a statement. “As a publisher, we want to offer as many paths to the consumer as possible.”
Her comments may be in reference to the current dispute between Amazon and Hachette, wherein Amazon has taken steps to make it more difficult for readers to buy Hachette titles. Should HarperCollins be able to develop this new retail channel, it would make it less reliant on other retailers like Amazon.
Previously, HarperCollins.com was directed to consumers, partners, investors and other stakeholders. Now, the site is focused solely on readers, helping them engage with HarperCollins authors and titles, and selling them books.
Like other retail sites, HarperCollins.com offers promotions, specials and discounts off of print and ebooks. The company is also offering free shipping on print titles.
According to Publishers Lunch, this is just the first phase of a larger project to work with HarperCollins authors to sell books and ebooks directly to readers around the world:
Within the next couple of weeks Harper “will reach out to authors to make a concrete proposition” on how they “will be able to use the technology to sell directly from their own websites” with some simple code. Restivo-Alessi says they are still “working that through and thinking about whether we’ll offer some additional benefit” to authors for sales they enable. At a minimum, she promises “we’ll be totally transparent with them on the learning” through any direct sales Harper makes, including customer names that will enhance marketing to the author’s fans and insights into “the reading behavior” of readers using the HC app.
The new site, which is currently U.S.-only, will be rolled out to major HarperCollins territories in the next year.
Publishers and Selling Direct
Publishers have traditionally been hesitant to launch their own e-commerce operations, selling directly to readers. Managing an e-commerce operation is complex, difficult and not a core competency for publishers. And besides, they would be competing with their partners, retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, which already have large and well-tuned e-commerce operations.
But some publishers, particularly publishers with vertical audiences, have launched direct sales operations and have had some success. Most recently, Verso, a New York- and London-based publisher of political and philosophical titles, has launched a very successful e-commerce operation. F+W, which publishes Digital Book World, has a reported eight-figure e-commerce business and had 20 million customers in 2013. HarperCollins had previously dabbled in selling directly to readers with its launch of Narnia.com.
HarperCollins and Amazon
Many in the book publishing industry will see this launch as a preemptive move to counter Amazon’s influence. As publishers become more reliant on Amazon as a retailer, it gives Amazon more power in its contracts with those publishers. The same is true for any other retailer.
If HarperCollins can develop its own sales channels, it will give it more power in negotiations with retailers.
Chantal Restivo-Alessi and Angela Tribelli
In 2012, HarperCollins appointed two publishing outsiders to senior-level positions: Angela Tribelli was made chief marketing officer and Chantal Restivo-Alessi was made chief digital officer. Both appointments have had a huge impact on how HarperCollins does business.
Since Tribelli and Restivo-Alessi started at the publisher, HarperCollins has earned a reputation as one of the most innovative publishers. HarperCollins was among the first and most aggressive publishers in entering into the ebook subscription business, signing deals with Oyster, Scribd and others. The company was the first of the largest publishers to invest heavily in direct sales and e-commerce. It has a new transmedia project coming out in partnership with award-winning Niantic Labs. It has done experimental marketing and dabbled with authors signing ebooks. The company even launched its own technology innovation contest. The list goes on.
HarperCollins also acquired romance publisher Harlequin, perhaps in an attempt to make its business more vertical in anticipation of direct sales ventures like the new HarperCollins.com.