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3 Reasons HarperCollins 360 Took So Long to Start

By Edward Nawotka

News Corporation owns HarperCollins, Dow Jones, Fox News and scads of newspapers and other media companies across the world. But rarely do you see synergy between the companies brands.

Well, it had to start somewhere and it has started with HarperCollins.

The news hit today that starting in July HarperCollins will work to make all the titles the company produces across the world in English available to American readers. This means titles from Harper UK, India, Australia, New Zealand and Canada — will be accessible in editions to all global readers as soon as they are available to local readers.

Specifically, the company said that under the new program, dubbed HarperCollins 360: “”the HarperCollins global catalog — 50,000 print books and 40,000 e-books — will be available, limited only by the rights held, not by technology or geography.”

But what’s taken so long for Harper — and others, such as Penguin, which is working on its digital titles through a “global” director, Molly Barton — to begin seeing the world, or at least the English-speaking world, as a single marketplace? Three reasons:

  1. Money: There’s the rights situation, in which constituent publishers within a larger organization would often required by agents to bid on and acquire the same titles that their sibling country had produced in another country. With acquisition of “world rights” becoming increasingly prevalent, it’s become less of an issue. And what company want’s to pay twice or three times for the rights to the same title? Ultimately, that’s just moving money around on a ledger.
  2. Marketing: The long standing argument that publishers benefit from local sales and marketing channels long prevented publishers from a global roll out. A marketing campaign in India would look very different from one in Canada, but as we’ve seen several times, hype spreads virally (Fifty Shades ofanyone?). To fail to take advantage of burgeoning online hype is to miss an opportunity. And publishers cannot afford to miss an opportunity no matter how small that opportunity might be.
  3. Management: Let’s face it, within large conglomerate publishers individual divisions jockey for power, resources and prestige. The impetus to co-operate was not always there. Cultural differences can make collaboration painful (“but don’t we have to reformat ‘colour’ to ‘color’) first? The bigger the country, the bigger the sales, the less that was at stake in sharing. But if you’re living in New Zealand, with a dozen hot titles a year, the stakes of giving that content away were very high. In the digital world, the cost vs. benefit has shifted somewhat more in favor of the small actor.

Now what remains to be seen is exactly how HC plans to deliver. The program begins in July by offering Harper UK titles in the US, with plans to have integrated Australian and Canadian titles by year’s end. Does this simply mean supplying a small number of said titles to US warehouses and distributors and making the e-book available? Possibly, though HarperCollins says it’s network of POD suppliers will also help cater for demand.

Naturally, this program may itself be more an internal realignment than anything else. If you’re a book buyer, it remains to be seen how this will make a difference, especially if the price of a UK book, for example, remains in line with tje higher pound sterling price. One can already order UK titles quite easily online. And, frankly, if a book is only available online, either as an e-book or POD — it has just as much of a chance of being discovered as, well, any of the other 1 million-plus titles produced each year.

That said, if you’re a curious reader, anything that might ease access to books from abroad is welcome.  Though the audience for a New Zealand treatise on the glories of the All Blacks rugby team might be small in the US, there is an audience for it; ditto for a look at the Canadian armed forces role in D-Day. A Kashmiri cookbook direct from India and not adulterated for the American palette. I say bring it on.

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