harpercollinsA long and fairly uncritical interview article in Mashable takes us on a tour of the epublishing aspirations of HarperCollins under the stewardship of its new chief digital officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi, and its plans to corner the “Next Big Thing” in digital publishing – whatever it is.

Mashable‘s Seth Fiegerman, it seems, is much taken by HarperCollins’s readiness to jump into bed with startups like Scribd and Oyster on the first date, to get in the game. He quotes Restivo-Alessi approvingly to the effect that it matters to move early with startups to direct their thinking and guide their development.

HarperCollins, it seems, is already experimenting with breathlessly forward-looking innovations such as adding video content to ebooks. So bleeding-edge that you’d better be careful not to cut yourself by mistake on the corners of your Kindle. Fiegerman also cites HarperCollins’s efforts to find its own channel to consumers through its experiments in in-house epublishing distribution, such as the C.S. Lewis and Narnia platforms.

Claims Gartner analyst Allen Weiner, as quoted by Fiegerman, HarperCollins and its ilk seek “to use apps, direct-to-consumer sales and other digital experiments to build a stronger connection with readers in the hopes of learning more about them.” Well, what was ever stopping them in the first place? Only conservatism and fear, just as with the music industry. They would be able to know more about the consumer if they actually tried selling to them, g’doh. And for all those breathy statements about innovation, it seems that DRM-free sales to consumers, the one thing that could get around Amazon, is still just too hard a concept for Big Publishing to get its head round.

Personally, I’m surprised that HarperCollins and the other Big Publishing giants should have any trouble finding common ground with Amazon. Yes, they may not get technology. But control, sequestration, commercial brute force and monopoly are things they understand very well. Sounds like a natural meeting of minds.