The state of the publishing industry has been the subject of much intense and divisive conversation this year more than any other, as e-book sales figures continue to skyrocket. One firm which seems to be embracing these new times more than other publishing companies is giant HarperCollins. “They operate the most like a technology company,” says Trip Adley, CEO of e-book subscription start-up and HarperCollins collaborator Scribd, “in terms of their willingness to try new things.”
HarperCollins has long played second fiddle to Amazon in the e-books game; the behemoth behind the Kindle has had more or less full control of e-book prices for the last five years. Says Charlie Redmayne, Head of HarperCollins UK: “Publishers have historically been the most innovative and creative of organisations… but I think that when it came to the digital revolution, we came to a point where we stopped innovating and creating. We thought, we’ve done an e-book and that is what it is.”
HarperCollins’ decision to bring in EMI alumna Chantal Restivo-Alessi last year as their Chief Digital Officer, along with a host of specialists from other media, indicates a less traditional, more disruptive approach moving forward. The firm’s proactive exploration of relatively new spaces like e-book subscriptions also speaks to a wider urge to claim territory before Amazon can get its monopoly-grabbing mitts on it. “If you are early, you get more leverage,” Restivo-Alessi told Mashable. “If you are early, you can have a bit more say on the terms because you got a premium for being there early.”
Something else which Restivo-Alessi and her team are currently working on is the unlikely marriage of traditional print media and augmented reality with their new app Unbound, which enables readers to scan books with their smartphones to unlock exclusive digital content.
Restivo-Alessi is remarkably frank when it comes to discussing her perceptions of the relationship between Amazon and HarperCollins; not quite rivals, not quite pals, she refers to Amazon as a frenemy. “At times we are enemies and at times we are friends. When it comes to commercial negotiations, everyone is back on their high horse… but we are all there in partnerships to grow our businesses. I don’t want to be only dependent on their innovation but I am always happy to talk and participate in their innovation, too.”
So while Amazon still holds the majority of the cards, book lovers may find it worth keeping an eye out for HarperCollins products and services in 2014.