July 10, 2014

Save the pre-order button! New HarperCollins site sells books directly to its readers


book on laptop

We’re still working on the technology that makes a book pop out of your screen like this, via Shutterstock. We hired the guy who programmed that old “cup holder” email forward that made your CD drive pop out.

HarperCollins U.S. updated its website yesterday with this funny new feature: you can buy books directly from the publisher. The site is mobile-friendly and will grant newsletter subscribers discounts. Print books are 15% off with free shipping, and ebooks are 20% off.

“The elegant, consumer-centric design of the site provides an innovative platform for our authors that will boost the discoverability of their books, drive sales, and—ultimately—launch writing careers,” CEO Angela Tribelli told The Bookseller.

This is a big step toward an outward-facing online marketing campaign — designed for readers interested in purchasing the books Harper is publishing, rather than authors, agents, and other publishers interested in information about the company. When they’re looking to make a purchase, most readers must search for titles or authors rather than publishers. Why didn’t big publishers do this years ago?

Oh, that’s right. Hachette is the first to renegotiate its terms with Amazon, but no doubt the other big publishers are preparing for battle. HarperCollins doesn’t want to lose weeks of sales if their negotiations with Amazon are as drawn-out and painful as they have been for Hachette.

Publishers Weekly reports, “In addition to offering new titles and backlist books, the site also offers forthcoming titles, and includes pre-order buttons.” [Emphasis mine.] So this is an effort to shield pre-orders, which help the publisher determine how many copies to print. Since first week sales are usually a book’s strongest, pre-orders are often a book’s best chance to hit the bestseller list.

While Amazon has jumped into the publishing market, the inverse isn’t true. Publishers haven’t made big moves to become online retailers, unless you count the book recommendation sites they’ve created (many ill-fated) like Bookish, LibraryThing, and Bookateria.

Random House and Simon and Schuster (not to mention Melville House) already offer books for sale on their websites. Other houses tend to list a series of retailers, both indies and giants, alongside copy for each book.

Sites like the revamped version of HarperCollins U.S. will arrive with HarperCollins UK (in August), then Canada and Australia. The company will update its readers about author events, previews of upcoming books, and will help the company collect data about its customers (a market Amazon still has cornered).


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.