3 reasons Harper Collins going direct to consumer is not going to work out


TL; DR: It’s not the book, silly. It’s the ecosystem.

Each physical book is a different product, unconnected to each other. I might have been buying books from a store twenty miles from home for the last twenty years but when a new store opens right next door,  I can start buying from there without affecting the usability of my earlier purchases and without changing anything in my reading experience. If the publisher decides to sell directly to me at a discount, I can go for that too. Why not?

That, fortunately (for Amazon) or unfortunately (for Harper Collins), is not the case with e-books. It’s not just the book, but the entire ecosystem that matters.  Here are the top three things that have gone wrong with Harper Collins direct to consumer effort for e-books:

  1. The books are still not DRM-free: Shall we buy directly from the publisher? Will it free us from the walled gardens retailers have trapped us into? Can we read wherever we want? Can we add the e-book to our Calibre library without having to break DRM? Umm… not yet, honey. It is just another walled garden. Probably worse. You will need to take care of multiple walled gardens for multiple publishers.
  2. Nobody wants another reading app from a publisher who has outsourced the development: Reading experience matters. One reading app is not the same as another reading app. Just because Harper Collins has gotten someone to develop a reading app for them, I am not willing to stop using my Kindle or Kobo to read on a mobile app. Every publisher would have a different reading app. Right! That’s just what the doctor prescribed.
  3. The buying experience is bad:
    • What formats are available? Hardback, paperback and… wait for it… “Electronic book text”. Ahem! Who wrote the copy for the website? E-books anyone?
    • Listing is available at the Harper Collins website (harpercollins.co.uk). When you try to buy books, you are redirected to another site (the service provider?). The billing location, billing currency and even actual price (because it can vary by billing region) are only available on that service provider’s site but you cannot browse there. For that you have to come back to the Harper Collins site. So if you are not from the location they have chosen as default, you won’t know the price you would be paying until you add the book to the cart. (A book displayed at 1.99 GBP was added to my cart for USD 10.10!)
    • I tried to login to my account to see if I could set my default location somewhere and improve the browsing experience but my e-mail id was declared invalid. (I am logged into their app from the same e-mail id, by the way.)
      Recovering password? Don’t get me started.
    • I could go on and on, but there is no point spending time reviewing a broken product.

Point is, they aren’t coming just because you built a mouse trap. Especially when it isn’t even a better one!

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