News that might just have Jeff Bezos quaking in his boots – though don’t bank on it – is that HarperCollins in the UK has introduced across-the-board direct sales for its books, including hard copy as well as ebooks. The ebooks have to be downloaded and read on HarperCollins’s dedicated HC Reader app (also available for Kindle Fire, cheekily enough), in conjunction with a HarperCollins account.

The ecommerce and payment platform for HarperCollins is provided by Digital River, which was behind the recent dedicated websites for its C.S. Lewis and Narnia properties. (Oops, wasn’t C.S. Lewis once an author rather than a media property? Not any more, suckers.) At the time, Chantal Restivo-Alessi, chief digital officer at HarperCollins, said:

Offering a direct to consumer option is another way in which we can service our authors and let them engage with their audiences in as many ways as possible. Whether consumers want to make purchases from a brick- and-mortar store, an online retailer, or from an author brand site, we have a solution to meet their needs and to make our authors’ products accessible to them.

Obviously, HarperCollins isn’t doing UK bookstores any favors by going for the direct option. But only the very gullible still believe that publishers are somehow bookstores’ allies against the ebook/Amazon threat. For some hard copies which are unavailable direct, such as Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls, HarperCollins does give the option of book retailers to order from. However, these are the big chains Waterstones and WHSmith, as well as … ahem … Amazon.

Overall, I reckon this HarperCollins innovation is more likely to hurt UK booksellers than Amazon. I can’t see many readers being weaned off Kindle to lock their ebooks into a one-publisher app. Where’s the incentive? On the other hand, sell those ebooks as platform-independent EPUBs, for instance, and we could have a more interesting proposition. Which still leaves the independent booksellers out in the cold, however. But it should be fairly obvious by now that HarperCollins simply does not give a shit about them.


  1. HarperCollins used to have a UK ebook store but closed it in 2010. Not a way to inspire confidence in consumers.

    The only way I’d buy ebooks directly from HarperCollins would be if they offered them without applying encryption-based DRM to them.

    From the sound of their “dedicated HC Reader app” they’re not even going to be selling ebooks with the de-facto standard Adept ePub DRM from Adobe.

    I don’t expect that this will be a success. My guess is that within a couple of years it’ll be closed, or re-launched without encryption based DRM. I suspect the former.

  2. Quote: ” But only the very gullible still believe that publishers are somehow bookstores’ allies against the ebook/Amazon threat.”

    Hardly. Any publishing company executive worth his expense account know his company must be the ally of anyone (here bookstores) that’ll keep one outsized retailer from dominating the retail book market. Direct-to-consumer is intended to give publishers an alternative when I Amazon’s treats their books badly. Having a common foe in Amazon is enough to make publishers and local bookstores allies.

    What is gullible is trusting a company that has a long history of evading sales taxes, bullying publishers, underpaying authors and, not accidentally, driving local bookstores out of business.

    That said, Paul Durrant may be right when he suggests that HarperCollins is likely to do online ebook sales badly: saddling ebooks with DRM, using a sub-standard ebook reader that does not run on all platforms, and raising serious issues about how long they might stay in this market. Amazon knows ebooks. They don’t and may be years learning the market.

  3. Unless HC is willing to pull their ebooks off the Kindle store and sell exclusively through their own this is doomed to failure on many fronts.

    Including Amazon being able to point to HC’s website and say “See there is competition. We just provide better service than they do.”

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