July 10, 2014, 4:50 PM

HarperCollins goes direct to the reader

The book publisher revamped its web site and will now sell print, e-books and physical audio books directly to consumers.

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HarperCollins Publishers will now sell its titles on its own e-commerce site. All HarperCollins U.S. e-books are available for purchase globally wherever HarperCollins holds rights. Print books and audio books are only available to consumers in the U.S., though the publisher has plans to expand to the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia over the next year. HarperCollins’ web site previously served as a portal for readers and authors, but the site did not sell any books.

This is not the HarperCollins’ first foray into e-commerce. Last year, HarperCollins partnered with consulting firm Accenture to launch Narnia.com, an e-commerce site focused on selling e-books from the “Chronicles of Narnia” franchise. Accenture, which ran the e-commerce site, is not involved in the relaunch of HarperCollins.com.

The e-commerce push goes beyond HarperCollins’ web site. Authors published by HarperCollins can use the e-commerce technology to sell books on their own web sites, the company says.

"We are excited to be able to offer an e-commerce solution to our authors, ensuring their books are always available to their fans," says Chantal Restivo-Alessi, Chief Digital Officer. "As a publisher, we want to offer as many paths to the consumer as possible."

The refresh of HarperCollins’ web site features more search functionality, mobile optimization, areas for promotional content—including author bios, sample chapters, audio—as well as newsletters, including the publishers daily deals e-mail called Bookperk.

"Our mission as a 21st-century publisher is to connect authors and readers," says Angela Tribelli, chief marketing officer. "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."

HarperCollins would not comment on whether the move was in response to the ongoing pricing dispute between Amazon.com Inc. and Hachette that’s led Amazon to stop taking pre-orders on Hachette titles and reduce discounts. A spokesperson says the company has been working on a site redesign for several months: “There’s a lot we can learn from selling directly.”

At least one other retailer has seen a boost in book sales because of the Amazon-Hachette dispute. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says sales of books via Walmart.com increased 70% after an e-mail blast offering 40% off Hachette titles went out to consumers.

HarperCollins titles are still available on Amazon and other e-commerce sites, sometimes for less than the publisher is charging. For example, “The Kill Switch” by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood is available for pre-order on Amazon.com ($8.99) and on HarperCollins.com ($9.99). The book is also available for pre-order on BarnesandNoble.com for $9.03.

This is a convenient time for a book publisher to get into the book selling game, says Forrester Research Inc. analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. "It's a low risk time to do an experiment because you can blame Amazon for pushing you this far," she says. "It'll be tough—who is in the habit of going to a publisher to buy a book?"

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