HarperCollins' Relaunched Site Encourages Readers to Buy Directly from Them

HarperCollins site features prominent Buy Button_peoplewhowrite

HarperCollins’ site features prominent Buy button.

Should publishers focus on selling books directly to customers, Calvin Reid’s recent piece on Publishers Weekly asks, referencing the relaunch of HarperCollins’ website. I think the answer is yes. And writers should be direct selling too.

The internet has made it possible, and in many cases necessary, to create one-stop shops for all manner of experiences and commodities. People increasingly want to visit one destination that enables them to learn, browse, and shop; and they want to do so at the destination they choose, whether that destination is a bookstore (brick and mortar or online), an etailer like Amazon, a book review community like Goodreads, a writer’s website, or a publisher’s website.

In his PW article, Reid points out, “in a time when physical retailers are under intense competition from Amazon and other online outlets, many publishers remain leery of even appearing to undermine booksellers.” This is likely the reason many houses have been loath to build out their retail and fulfillment capabilities. But the reality is all entities online are competing, in one form or another, for eyes and shares.

As Russell Grandinetti, Amazon’s senior vice president for Kindle, recently told the New York Times’ David Streitfeld, “You have to draw the box big. Books don’t just compete against books. Books compete against Candy Crush, Twitter, Facebook, streaming movies, newspapers you can read for free. It’s a new world. It’s so important not to simply build a moat around the industry the way it is now.” It’s up to each entity to create a distinct enough brand experience and offer consumers a differentiated experience.

Is this call to shore up their direct selling function a distraction from publishers’ primary role? Sure, but it’s the world we live in now. Writers have had to become publicists, marketers, and more as constrained resources have made certain publishing services a privilege reserved only for legends, veterans, and bestsellers. Agents’ roles have morphed too. Publishers also need to adjust to the new normal.

In the end, a publisher, or writer, that’s better at direct selling won’t preclude an expert bookseller from courting and keeping a consumer base. More likely, it will force all involved to become better at differentiating their services to customers and others in the publishing ecosystem. And it will make it difficult for one entity to hold the market, and industry, captive.

Rupert Murdoch Bought Harlequin for $415 Million

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp has bought Harlequin - peoplewhowrite
Good news for romance writers? Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp just picked up Harlequin for nearly half a billion dollars, adding the Toronto-based romance novel publisher to its HarperCollins portfolio. According to the New York Times, the acquisition “is consistent with the company’s broader strategy of investing more heavily in the publishing industry. In 2011, the company bought the religious publisher Thomas Nelson Inc. In 2012, it tried to buy Simon & Schuster from CBS, but the two companies could not agree on terms.”

Harlequin’s digital publishing technology and the romance industry’s vanguard transition to e-books was of specific interest to News Corp, according to Brian Murray, the chief executive of HarperCollins.

HarperCollins Educates Readers About Enhanced E-Books

Sh*t my dad says author justin halpern tries to  explain enhanced ebooks to his dad_peoplewhowrite

Sh*t My Dad Says and I Suck at Girls author tries to explain Enhanced Ebooks to his dad

HarperCollins has released a new section of their website focused on explaining what the “EEB” (Enhanced Ebook) is.  Described as an ebook that offers an interactive digital experience that “[gives] the reader something that they cannot get in the traditional print book”, recent EEBs by the publisher include Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Colin Powell’s It Worked for Me, and Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky. Whether novel, autobiography, or cookbook, these enhanced reading experiences allow the reader to unlock images, songs, recipes, etc that offer deeper opportunity to engage with the text. HarperCollins’ spokesperson Jessica Barraco told Publishers Weekly, “We thought having a page like this would be great to show consumers what they’re paying for. [It] makes it easier for consumers to make a decision.” Perhaps enhanced products like this will be the way forward for writers to command higher prices and royalties.

Christian Publisher Launches Mainstream YA Imprint

Blink, new imprint by Christian publisher Zondervan, will release mainstream YA titles - peoplewhowrite Publishers Weekly reports that starting this fall, Zondervan, the division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing behind bestsellers The Purpose Driven Life and America the Beautiful, will release new YA titles via their new imprint Blink. “These will be hopeful books,” Chriscynethia Floyd, Zondervan’s VP of marketing explained, but the imprint is not aimed at the Christian market.

“These would be no different from other YA titles published by HarperCollins. They are for anyone, regardless of faith,” Floyd continued. Harper Collins also publishes YA titles under their Harper Teen and HarperCollins Ebook  imprints, among others.

Perhaps referencing the trend of dark themes that have topped the young adult bestsellers lists for the past few years, Floyd added, “We won’t go as dark [as some other YA novels], but we will touch on very real issues.” Blink plans to release five to six titles a year.

I'm Starting to Be Suspicious of the Term "Book Discovery"

Inkling to surface e-books in Google search results - peoplewhowrite

“Content discovery platform” Inkling will surface e-books in Google search results

The terms “book discovery” and “content discovery” sound great if you take them at face value. There are so few channels for discovering new writers or books, and as author Adam Mansbach recently pointed out, the beleaguered publishing industry is at a loss for how or where to introduce new works to new audiences.  Unconventional alliances (like McDonald’s distribution of books with Happy Meals) seem to be the best ideas.

But as amazing as all this effort toward “discovery” is, I’m starting to see a pattern. For example, Condé Nast recently expressed the desire to “create expanded opportunities for [writers’] work to be enjoyed by new audiences.” Awesome, right? Yet, to do that, their new author contracts limit writers’ compensation for stories that become films.

Likewise, Google has been embroiled in litigation with publishers for the last few years with regards to whether the search giant should be able to surface scanned pages of books in search results.  I actually love the idea of being able to “discover” a book on the topic I’m searching, but, again, the problem of compensation to the author of the work has to be dealt with.

Anyway, all this is to say iPad publisher Inkling has announced its intent to be a “content discovery platform”. PaidContent.org reports that much like Google wanted to do, Inkling will surface e-books in Google search results. The difference in Inkling’s approach versus Google’s is they reached out to publishers to secure rights.

“Inkling has secured all of the rights it needs to make books indexable on Google,” the paidContent piece says. “Client publishers include O’Reilly, Wiley, Workman and Pearson. HarperCollins will soon make some of its titles available on the platform, and MacInnis said that Inkling is either in negotiations or has signed contracts with the remaining big-six publishers.”

The piece also reports: “Inkling says the launch of its ‘Content Discovery Platform’ is a way for publishers to make their e-books ‘more discoverable and profitable.'”

Sounds good so far, Inkling, but I’m watching you.

The Books We Want to Publish: Editors Reveal Their Criteria

The short answer is narrative non-fiction, with some room for commercial/genre fiction. Eight editors polled by the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency break down the kinds of books they want to acquire in 2013. I’ve posted a snippet from Harper Collins Editor-at-Large Bill Strachan’s explanation below.

Bill Strachan, Editor-at-Large at Harper Collins - peoplewhowrite

Bill Strachan, Editor-at-Large at Harper Collins

The pat response is “good books that sell,” but since you never know what a book will sell until after publication, I’ll shorten that to “good books.” I acquire non-fiction, so I’m on the lookout for works by authors who are expert in their fields–this past year I was proud to publish Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, et al.– and those writers who can make nearly any subject interesting. In the latter group I tend to like narrative histories and works that bring a new perspective to a subject that may have been considered previously–no books on Lincoln, though. I also have a soft spot for works of natural history and place. Harper Collins is very invested in digital publishing, so I also need to acquire books in the genres that readers on electronic devices find attractive. For me, that’s strong narratives (again) and works on pop culture, especially music.

Click here for the full break down.

HarperCollins Launches New Digital YA Imprint

The NY Times says HarperTeenImpulse will begin sales December 4th. The piece goes on to report:

“Its first titles include “Breathless” by Sophie Jordan, described as a companion novella to Ms. Jordan’s popular “Firelight” fantasy series about a dragon in human form, and “Stupid Perfect World,” a futuristic novella by Scott Westerfeld, author of the beloved “Leviathan” trilogy, which mixed alternative history with science fiction.

Impulse says it will make up to four new books available on the first Tuesday of every month through e-book retailers, at prices ranging from 99 cents to $2.99. HarperCollins will back up the Impulse books with dedicated marketing, social media outreach and cross-promotion in HarperTeen print books.”