Harper Slips In

by wjw on October 7, 2014

My sometime publisher HarperCollins has quietly re-entered online retail by relaunching its online site, hc.com, and announcing that writers would earn an additional 10% royalty for ebooks sold through the site.

Bully for them!  Ebook royalties offered by major publishers are, let’s face it, low.  25%, maybe, against 70% or more for self-publishing.  So 35% is clearly a step in the right direction.

And, as Harper’s press release goes on to say, “Our authors can also be certain that their books will always be available to consumers through HarperCollins, even if they are difficult to find or experiencing shipping delays elsewhere.”  Which is aimed at you, Amazon!  If Harper’s buy buttons disappear, the way Hachette’s disappeared, readers can order their books direct from the publisher.

Though there are a few indications that Harper hasn’t quite mastered the art of online retail just yet.  For one thing, it’s unclear how Harper authors are supposed to sign up for this deal.  Are we all automatically enrolled, or do we have to sign up on a web site to be named later, or do we have to sign an amended contract?

Also, their search function leaves a bit to be desired.  When I first went to hc.com I typed in my own name and got 404’d, but when I tried it just now, I succeeded.  (Here’s the link, just in case.)

But the main thing that tells me that hc.com isn’t ready for prime time is the matter of discounting.  Online retail is all about the discounts, and a quick stroll through hc.com shows that only a small percentage of the books are discounted at all.  For a paperback of The Sundering, you’d pay the full list price of $8.99— or go to Amazon and pay $8.09.   Harper charges the full $8.99 for the ebook, but on Amazon you can get it for $7.69.

But my books have been in print for a long time, and maybe nobody at Harper is paying them any attention.  Let’s check their big new bestsellers … hc.com sells Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success in hardback for $25.99, and the ebook for $14.99.  Amazon offers $15.59 and $12.74 respectively— if you buy the hardback from Amazon you save ten bucks— enough to buy a copy of The Sundering with enough left over for a bar of candy.  Andrew Cuomo’s All Things Possible goes for $29.99 in hardback and the ebook for $16.99 on hc.com, whereas Amazon sells the hardcover for $18.33 and the ebook for $13.99.

Amazon sells big bestsellers at cost or at a loss, but publishers could certainly match Amazon’s cost, at least, without giving up a bigger share of the price than Amazon would take in the first place.  So what I’m thinking right now is that the folks at Harper aren’t really ready to deal seriously in online retail.

For a site like hc.com to do well, it will have to match Amazon’s discounts, and make it as easy to buy a book as it is at Amazon— or actually do better, because Amazon carries books by more than one publisher.  What the Big Five need to do is set up an online operation that carries all their stuff, and the other publishers, too.  But that’s not likely to happen, because, well, if they had the smarts to do that, they would have done it long ago.

So what’s happening right now with hc.com is that you can go there and pay more for your books, but with the full assurance that authors will get a bigger percentage of your money.  It’s a good deal for me, to be sure, but I’m not sure whether it’s a great deal for you.

I’d advise you to let conscience be your guide.

And if I were Jeff Bezos, I wouldn’t put the mansion on the market just yet.

Andrew Timson October 11, 2014 at 1:47 am

I bought ebooks from HarperCollins the last time they tried selling them, before they closed up shop. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Adelord October 20, 2014 at 11:13 pm

I was just able to buy the Hattchet published “Ancillary Sword” from Amazon in Ebook form. Did something change?

wjw October 21, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Amazon hasn’t slowed digital sales, only sales of physical books. Which is weird in a fight over ebooks.

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