HarperCollins announced today that it will sidestep Amazon, by moving to sell directly to customers. The international mega-publisher already sells e-books direct to customers globally, and in August, will move to sell paper and physical audio books to its UK customers. US, Canadian, and Australian stores will follow.
The new store will provide a wealth of data to the publisher and may represent the first step of freedom from a relationship with Amazon that has often been toxic, and sometimes predatory. The online retailer, currently embroiled in a dispute with Hachette, has been accused by publishers of hoarding data and overcharging for services. In Publisher’s Weekly, a HarperCollins rep commented that the site “will enable the company to better understand consumer preferences and, most importantly, further extend the global reach of its authors.” Among the benefits to the publisher are a database of customer emails and other contact info, an opportunity to study browsing and purchasing habits, and the chance to build on their existing relationships with readers.
Friends at HarperCollins suggest that the publisher has considered the move for years, but lack of brand awareness has long been a concern. Unlike avid readers who know what every imprint is likely to produce, and exactly where to go to get their fix, most readers aren’t moved by loyalty to publishing houses. Direct sales is an opportunity to reach customers in a new way, and respond faster to market trends.
On the consumer end, the site will offer book previews, information on upcoming titles, pre-ordering, author information and tour schedules, and giveaways, but not the steep discounts that Amazon customers are accustomed to. Readers can purchase directly from HarperCollins of local and online third party booksellers (including Amazon!) — while still in the HarperCollins store.
Most interesting to me is the announcement that HarperCollins authors will be able to use the HC store technology to sell directly to customers on their own sites — sharing data, I assume, and assuaging authors who might be considering hybrid or self-publishing.