HarperCollins is planning to sell its ebooks directly to customers through its own “end-to-end e-commerce and direct to consumer distribution solution,” according to a press release just issued by Accenture, the “global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company” which will operate the new platform for them. Yes, it’s a Big Five publisher’s attempt to create an own-brand own-list alternative to Amazon’s Kindle Story, the Kobo Store, the Nook Book Store, etc, etc. And “the project will commence with the launch of HarperCollins’ www.CSLewis.com and www.Narnia.com today.”
At present, I don’t see any release or announcement from HarperCollins themselves to back up or confirm this. This may suggest something about the relative publicity priorities of the partners in the scheme, and HarperCollins’s own actual level of commitment to the new strategy. The release itself hints at this by saying: “Accenture’s Digital Content Solution will provide a number of capabilities and tools that will allow HarperCollins and its authors to experiment with direct sales to a global audience of readers.” Note the emphasis on “experiment.” And the restriction of this launch to one distinct author and literary estate suggests that HarperCollins is dipping its toe in the water very tentatively indeed.
“HarperCollins’ increased commitment to the digital value chain gives it a unique edge in attracting writing talent and driving growth in an expanding e-publishing market,” declares Thomas Grayson, managing director, Accenture Digital Services, in the release. As if something like the new destination sites is going to lure authors away from Kindle Direct Publishing to HarperCollins instead. According to Chantal Restivo-Alessi, Chief Digital Officer at HarperCollins, the platform is launching the platform: “to establish a direct to consumer marketing and sales proposition to expand some of its strongest brands to new audiences .”
The ebooks are apparently to be accessed via a new HarperCollins Reader app, available on the Apple AppStore or Google Play. There’s a free Narnia: Beyond the Wardrobe title offered free with the app, but not any of C.S. Lewis’s own Narnia titles themselves. These are available directly from the website in “encrypted EPUB ebook” format, although HarperCollins also offers a handy drop-down menu on the new destination sites of “other retailers,” including – you guessed it – Amazon, Nook, and the iBookstore. The destination sites also offer the chance to buy hard copies direct from online retailers such as – once again – Amazon, as well as WHSmiths and Waterstones in the UK, which is really going to delight the independent bookstore community. (Steamrollered by Amazon, and now the publishers are deserting them as well, eh? Thanks a bunch, HarperCollins and Accenture.)
So answer me this: If you’re a confirmed Kindle or Nook reader, whether through the branded ereaders or an Android or iOS app, why are you going to go to HarperCollins’s own site to download your ebook instead of through the usual channel you’re accustomed to? Why download a completely new and different piece of software to your device to read the book? Why go to these website in the first place to access those titles, instead of just going straight through your existing online ebook store of choice?
Perhaps if the publishing industry had rolled out platforms like this years ago, instead of dragging its feet for so long, there would be persuasive answers to those questions. But with the incumbents so well entrenched, and offering so many discounts and services for readers, I think there’s little to no chance of publisher-exclusive platforms making any dent in the market. But I’m sure Accenture is going to dine out comfortably on all the consulting dollars that HarperCollins will shovel its way.