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Old 04-06-2010, 12:00 PM   #1
Storm27
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HarperCollins -- or my adventures in the new agency model

This started off as a rant, but developed into some interesting information about current availability and pricing of ebooks. It's only fair to say that I don't yet know how much of my experiences are due to being in the middle of the changeover and how much is what we can look forward to.

I have been eagerly awaiting the publication of Megan Whalen Turner’s Conspiracy of Kings for some months and added it to my fictionwise basket as soon as it was in their store last Monday. However as I've been dealing with a major computer crash, I delayed buying the book until my new computer had arrived and I could install ADE. Big mistake given that -- as we now know -- all HarperCollins books were going to disappear overnight.

In general, I'm prepared to give fictionwise a little time to see whether they can get new arrangements put in place with the agency publishers, but in this case I REALLY want this book now. So at the weekend, given books seem to be reappearing at Sony and Amazon at least, I went hunting. I'm not keen on the idea of installing yet more proprietary software, so rather than try Amazon or Sony, I went straight to the HarperCollins website. But how strange -- I could search for the book and find out it was published in hardcover or e-book format, but there was no link to actually buy direct from the publisher. Instead there was a list of popular retailers, listing several stores from which it could be bought (fictionwise, diesel, books on board etc -- at least a dozen of the usual suspects); sadly it had been withdrawn from most of them.

So I resolved to be patient, but while I was online, I followed a link from author Melissa Marr's website to http://www.harperteen.com/feature/StoppingTime/ where I was able to download a couple of free books; and this was a HarperCollins website with a "buy now" button for her book Ink Exchange. "Perhaps, I thought HarperCollins do sell ebooks directly after all" -- I clicked the buy now link. This took me to a screen with the message "your shopping cart is empty" and the option to "continue shopping". Something had obviously gone wrong with adding the book to my basket. Having hit the back button and tried again a few times, I concluded that no, the website truly wasn't going to let me buy Ink Exchange, despite there being nothing on the Harperteen web page to indicate any problems, so I followed the "continue shopping" link instead. Curiouser and curiouser, this took me back to the website I'd been browsing for Conspiracy of Kings which had a search function and information about all the ebooks, but no option to buy any of them. After following some links and doing some searches, I gave up on Ink Exchange too.

It then occurred to me to see what inkmesh said about the book's availability -- it showed it at Amazon, Sony and HarperCollins. "But HarperCollins don't have a function to buy ebooks" I thought, but I followed inkmesh's link anyway. Wonder of wonders this took me to a different website, www.harpercollinsebooks.com as opposed to www.harpercollins.com which I had previously been browsing. Please note that neither individual product pages on www.harpercollins.com nor the series specific page on www.harperteen.com gave links to the e-book store where you can actually buy books. However things were now looking a bit more promising, so I tried to add Conspiracy of Kings to my cart -- at this point and not before, I got a message saying " This site is temporarily closed for maintenance; it is not possible to purchase new titles at this time. The ability to download previously purchased titles is unaffected; sign in and visit your 'My library' to download previously purchased titles." Following the link from the individual product page to the e-book store homepage I discovered that they had put that message on their homepage too; the first useful information about buying books I'd seen on any HarperCollins site all weekend.

The bit was now firmly between my teeth, so I thought it might be interesting -- having found HarperCollins' own bookstore -- to check out the new agency prices, even if the books weren't yet available. SoI began with the two books I previously been looking at;

Conspiracy of Kings is priced in hardcover at $16.99. As a new release e-book, it is priced at $12.99. The previous book in the series, the King of Attolia is available in paperback at $7.99; it's e-book price is now $5.99. Likewise Ink Exchange is priced at $8.99 for the paperback and $6.99 for the e-book. So far so good; the differential seems enough to take into account the cheaper production and distribution costs for an e-book. In fact, you're likely to get discounts when buying a physical book, either three-for-the-price-of-two type offers in-store or a discount at Amazon etc, but at least it looked as if the ebooks would be no more expensive than physical copies.

I then went back to www.harpercollinsebooks.com where I could see actual ebooks for sale and the news was even better; the list e-book prices are discounted by 20%, bringing Conspiracy of Kings down to $10.39, King of Attolia down to $4.79 and Ink Exchange to $5.59. It will be interesting to see whether the publishers allow the same discounts to third-party retailers as they offer on their own websites, but if they do then -- pricing wise at least -- this doesn't look as bad as some of us have feared.

All these books are technically young adult, so while I was online I thought I would look at some other books, and did a search for Terry Pratchett. This is where things got really odd; his books are pretty uniformly priced at $7.99 in paperback; they are also uniformly priced at $11.99 for the ebooks. Why? There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, unless it's because the ebooks seem to have been released en masse in 2007, some years after the physical titles. Unless HarperCollins are still in the middle of the repricing all their books for their own store (not impossible, but in that case all questions about when they will become available at which retailers and at what prices seem premature), this seems utterly mad and not very promising at all.

My conclusions? Only tentative at this stage, but --

1. It's probably too early to tell how long it will take the publishers to sort out the agency model changeover, but if they can't get a seamless transfer for people buying directly from them, it's likely to take even longer for them to roll their books back out to other retailers.

2. Secondly, if they are serious about people buying books from them they really need to make a better job of integrating their various different websites and making it easier to get from a product page to a page where you can actually buy an e-book.

3. And on pricing, some of what they're doing looks very sensible: some of it looks insane and based on 1 and 2 I'd be surprised if they are going to rationalise all their prices very soon.
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Old 04-06-2010, 01:29 PM   #2
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This is where things got really odd; his books are pretty uniformly priced at $7.99 in paperback; they are also uniformly priced at $11.99 for the ebooks. Why? There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, unless it's because the ebooks seem to have been released en masse in 2007, some years after the physical titles.
If you look at Amazon.com, you'll find that his Discworld books are almost all priced at $7.99 and "This price was set by the publisher"

Whatever they're doing, they're messing it up. And asking the same for the ebook as for the paperback, which better than asking for more, is still pretty silly, given that the ebooks are DRMed, limited, and have no resale value at all — they can't even be given away.
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Old 04-06-2010, 02:08 PM   #3
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Whatever they're doing, they're messing it up.
This.

I've generally only bought ebooks from a couple of different stores before and the thing that really hit home to me about this weekend -- worse than just having the store still shut -- was how complicated and confusing the whole thing was.

I don't want to be a conspiracy theorist and suggest that they're deliberately putting barriers in the way of ebooks because they don't want them to take off, but a business should not make it this hard for people to give them money.
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Old 04-07-2010, 05:46 PM   #4
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I don't want to be a conspiracy theorist and suggest that they're deliberately putting barriers in the way of ebooks because they don't want them to take off, but a business should not make it this hard for people to give them money.
Be it, they do.

They don't want your money for the eBooks. They want it for the hardcovers. And if you still insist on eBooks, they damn well let you pay the price for your demand.

Sometimes life is just plain simple. Silly, though. But simple.
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Old 04-07-2010, 06:53 PM   #5
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honestly I think the market will sort the pricing issues. Basically if the publishers have ANY brains at all they will be market testing prices and also talking to consumers about their buying preferences.

They will soon realize that people think $15 is excessive for e-books and will adjust their prices. Hopefully. If not, there is always darknet.
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Old 04-08-2010, 05:23 AM   #6
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They don't want your money for the eBooks. They want it for the hardcovers.
Like the music industry and digital music, the publishers need to realise that eBooks are here to stay.
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Old 04-08-2010, 06:00 PM   #7
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They've got LotR. Given the number of copies I already own (cheap paperback to read, luxury hardcover to admire, shabby paperback because I like the cover art so much better than on my reading copy), I'd have my credit card out already ... but it's DRM'd. Damn.

Just thinking about my fancy deluxe LotR hardcover: Y'know, they could do a lot worse than selling the ebook in physical form, on an SD card, with a nifty little label, and in a fancy storage box. There are nutcases like me (the people who keep that fancy slipcased edition in print) who'd buy it, and pay stupid prices for it . Except, of course, without DRM.

Am I the only person who gets angry when they say "protected" instead of "restricted" by DRM? That's saying "You're a thief, and we have to protect ourselves from your evil acts." Not good PR at all.

Ah, well, Baen Books has a fine selection of ebooks I still need to buy, though their political slant has become a bit disturbing of late.
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Old 04-13-2010, 12:58 AM   #8
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Ah, well, Baen Books has a fine selection of ebooks I still need to buy, though their political slant has become a bit disturbing of late.
What? You're not an patriotic American if you're not a tea-bagger.

My concern with Webscriptions is that there have been a lot of "new" books lately that are actually omnibus reprints of ebooks I already have. Between the Mark Van Name omnibus reprint and the tea-bagger manifesto, I'll skip the July Webscription and just pick up the new Honor Harrington.
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Old 04-13-2010, 01:54 AM   #9
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By the Night Shade bundles instead then. Pretty sure Lassen and co's politics don't swing that way.
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Old 04-13-2010, 02:59 AM   #10
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By the Night Shade bundles instead then. Pretty sure Lassen and co's politics don't swing that way.
Night Shade?
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Old 04-13-2010, 03:13 AM   #11
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My concern with Webscriptions is that there have been a lot of "new" books lately that are actually omnibus reprints of ebooks I already have. Between the Mark Van Name omnibus reprint and the tea-bagger manifesto, I'll skip the July Webscription and just pick up the new Honor Harrington.
Baen have always published a number of books pushing an ultra-right-wing political message; all John Ringo's recent books read more like political manifestos than novels, to my mind (which is a pity, because he USED to write really, really good "hard" SF). On the other hand, that's balanced by the fact that they also publish Eric Flint's books, which push a socialist ideology. I buy all Baen's webscription packages, because I very much support what they are trying to do, but I certainly don't read those books which I find unpleasant.
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Old 04-13-2010, 03:58 AM   #12
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...all John Ringo's recent books read more like political manifestos than novels, to my mind (which is a pity, because he USED to write really, really good "hard" SF).
Ever read any of John Norman's early "Gor" novels? They're good stories. But he found that a certain segment of his audience really, really went for the B&D angle. And since nobody else was writing for their niche, they'd buy anything he wrote. It didn't have to be good. It didn't even have to be readable. It just had to be their particular flavor of porn.

That's what's going on with Ringo: he's discovered that there's a market for his flavor of porn (figuratively or literally) and they'll buy anything he writes, even if it stinks on ice. Mike Harmon is their fantasy: ruler of his own petty kingdom, swilling beer, raping underage girls, killing anyone who disagrees with him, etc. They'll buy it and fantasize to it, and not care if it's any good or not; they're not buying it to be good.

Once upon a time, John Norman wasn't a half-bad writer ... but he gave it all up to write third-rate S&M porn, and his writing declined accordingly. John Ringo seems to be going the same way. It's unfortunate, because his early books were excellent. It seems that the more political they become, the worse the writing gets. He's depending on the theme rather than the writing to sell them, and judging by his sales, it's working, but it's a loss to literature.

I think this is true, by and large, of any writer who forgets that writing is supposed to be about telling a story and decides to use it to wave their particular flag or exercise their particular fetish. It doesn't matter what the flavor of politics or social theory or strange sexuality is; the writing suffers.

Plus, as a reader, I find that if I disagree with the author, I want to reach through the book and throttle him , which is not conducive to a relaxing mood for reading, and if I agree with him, it's like having someone force-feeding me chocolate: just because I like something doesn't mean I want it rammed down my throat. Obviously I'm not typical, or John Ringo wouldn't have the sales figures he does (nor would several other writers), but that's how it works with me.

I still buy from Baen because they support something I find even more important than a couple of authors' politics: Not treating their customers like criminals. Behaving honorably, and trusting my honor. Proving to the "readers are the enemy" publishers that you can in fact do very well by giving your customers a good product at a fair price. I don't like to see them turning SF from a unifying force to a dividing one, but on the scale of social evils, that's still a lesser evil then criminalizing the customer.
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Old 04-13-2010, 07:37 AM   #13
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Night Shade?

Yes, dozens of, with many bundles (because I have them all) :-


http://www.webscription.net/m-8-night-shade-books.aspx
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Old 04-13-2010, 09:10 AM   #14
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Baen have always published a number of books pushing an ultra-right-wing political message; all John Ringo's recent books read more like political manifestos than novels, to my mind (which is a pity, because he USED to write really, really good "hard" SF). On the other hand, that's balanced by the fact that they also publish Eric Flint's books, which push a socialist ideology. I buy all Baen's webscription packages, because I very much support what they are trying to do, but I certainly don't read those books which I find unpleasant.
Which of Eric Flint's books push a socialist ideology? I'd like to support SF that isn't mired in libertarian fantasies or militarism. I've been eyeing his Belisarius books because the Byzantine Empire is part of the social studies curriculum that I teach (I also have ties to India, so that part of the setting is interesting as well).

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Old 04-13-2010, 11:47 AM   #15
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My concern with Webscriptions is that there have been a lot of "new" books lately that are actually omnibus reprints of ebooks I already have.
That sounds like a problem with the print line, not Webscriptions.

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Between the Mark Van Name omnibus reprint and the tea-bagger manifesto, I'll skip the July Webscription and just pick up the new Honor Harrington.
They're selling a version of the July Webscription without the political screed for $3 cheaper.
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