HarperCollins Possibly to Say Goodbye to Amazon

After you read this article be sure to tweet your comments to me @Gabrielle_Faust!

This past weekend, while camped out at our vendor table at HavenCon, fellow authors Kody Boye, Rhiannon Frater and I noticed a new article regarding HarperCollins recent decision not to renew their contract with Amazon for the sale of both print and ebooks. Some people are saying that this is still all speculation, but after reading 5 separate articles on the subject, it is looking more and more like HC may possibly say goodbye to A-Town afterall. Our first reaction was a mild shock and uncomfortable dread for the authors within HarperCollins’s stable. After all, Amazon owns 75% of the online book retail sales in the United States and 95% in the UK. Morgan Stanley estimates that Amazon sold $3.57 billion worth of Kindle e-readers and tablets in 2012, $4.5 billion in Kindle device sales in 2013 and $5 billion in Kindle device sales in 2014. The decision to walk away from the proverbial 800 pound gorilla of the retail world is not only ballsy, but, upon first glance, suicidal. But, is it?

Those of you who follow my work and my public life online understand my disdain for the publishing industry, especially after the Permuted Press apocalypse of 2014 in which I, along with roughly 100 other authors were royally shafted when a business decision on the part of the publisher negated the terms of our original contracts. This incident, along with a long line of other previous nasty publishing experiences, have given me a snarky jadedness when it comes to traditional publishing houses. At times it seems that there are perhaps only a handful of publishers, from the big dogs like Tor and HarperCollins to little one-horse houses, that actually hold any respect for authors and their work. There is a strange resentment publishers hold towards authors these days, as if they begrudge the fact that they ever decided to become a publisher in the first place, like a parent who resents the fact that they chose to have a child, but is stuck with the decision until at least the kid is out of high school. Hence the reason why more and more authors are embracing self-publishing and simply eliminating the middle-man altogether. I mean, if we wanted a pimp, we’d be hookers.

Thus, when I read that HarperCollins was walking away from Amazon I honestly wasn’t really surprised. Disappointed, perhaps. Initially disgusted, yes. But surprised? Not at all. My first reaction was to lump them in with all of the other unscrupulous publishers that riddle the literary world and tie them to the stake to be burned. However, after reading a few more articles I’m now wondering if HC is making the right decision?

If HarperCollins does indeed walk away from Amazon entirely, they will be directing people to purchase books directly from the HC website. This cuts out Amazon from the overall profits. Which, in theory and if HC has a soul, should mean higher royalty payouts to the authors. In theory. The HC website will support MOBI files, which is compatible with Amazon’s Kindle e-reader device. Thus, why bother going through Amazon at all, if you can get files for your Kindle direct from the publisher? And if you purchase a MOBI file direct from HC the files are DRM-free. In many respects, it is still a risky venture for HC as Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan have all signed the new contract with Amazon. Perhaps, though, this will set a precedent and, in the end, force the Amazon dictatorship to bend to a new wave of literary democracy. Perhaps, but not for a very long time.

Many small publishers, such as my publisher Barking Rain Press, already offer a selection of downloadable ebook formats such as ePub, Kindle, and PDF, as well as the paperback editions. However, it is not merely about the capability of offering the files. It’s about exposure. Amazon means billions of built in consumers around the world. When a business disconnects from that spiderweb they are severing that advertising artery. Now, a company like HarperCollins has been around since 1989. It has a solid reputation in the publishing world. For avid readers HarperCollins is a household name. HC also, as aforementioned, possesses the revenue to pay for marketing. Whether or not they will invest in additional marketing strategies is left to be seen this early on. But if they play the game correctly they could set the new business model for mainstream traditional publishers. I will continue to embrace my skepticism though, in that regards. Marketing isn’t exactly a service nurtured these days by publishers, to the dismay of authors everywhere.

There will never be a return to the Golden Age of publishing. Regardless, it will be interesting to watch the evolution of the industry continue to unfold. Today it is a far different creature than it was even five years ago--who knows what the literary landscape will look like in another five.

What are your thoughts on HarperCollins’s decision? Tweet your remarks to me @Gabrielle_Faust.

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