Saturday, September 24, 2011

Harper Collins to Put Thousands of Backlist Titles On Espresso Machines for Bookstores

HarperCollins has announced an agreement to make the bulk of their backlist trade paperback titles available for printing and sale by US bookstores with an Espresso book machine, currently comprising eight independent bookstores and up to another eight machines at university bookstores. Starting in November, they will make approximately 5,000 backlist trade paperbacks available. (The backlist titles not included--numbering about 3,500--are ones with physical attributes that don't lend themselves to printing on the current machine.) The POD books will carry the same retail prices as the editions fulfilled by Harper, but in a significant change, the publisher will sell the Espresso-printed titles on the agency model. As part of that model, Harper will cover the actual manufacturing cost of each book. (With retail prices staying the same as other editions, authors will receive the same royalties based on retail price as they ordinarily would.)
Harper ceo Brian Murray says, "I think it's important that we make more of our books available in brick and mortar stores" which "are important for discovery." He adds that "if I only cared about profitability, I wouldn't be doing this," but it's "good for authors and for booksellers to be able to satisfy a customer" who goes to a physical store and wants a Harper title.
Before approving Espresso printing privileges, Harper's sales team will work with each individual account for a commitment to carry "the optimal level" of core Harper backlist titles in physical form that they believe are suited to that store. Murray says that "backlist has deteriorated for a lot of reasons" and "we want to make sure they have the right books." Harper is also experimenting with a vendor-managed-inventory program. With the agency model for Espresso-printed books and the traditional wholesale model for books fulfilled from the publisher, Harper believes the incentives are aligned properly for everyone: "We would prefer to sell a book out of inventory and the bookseller would prefer to sell the book out of inventory," but no one wants to lose a sale.
Murray adds "I think this can go a long way to helping the local bookstore survive and compete against all the dotcom channels." He sees "an opportunity for a 7 percent to 15-percent sales increase on these books," and believes the ability to put more books into customers hands easily "gives them the opportunity to keep that customer."
Up until now, many stores using Espresso machines have reported they get used primarily as self-publishing machines, but Murray hopes the availability of more titles will move in-store POD towards its promise for publishers and authors. Chris Morrow at Northshire Bookstore says, "With HarperCollins making their titles available for the Espresso Book Machine, the original vision and full potential of the machine will begin to be realized...and we will capture many, many sales which are currently lost." He adds, "I hope other publishers see the potential of this sales channel and get on board." Harvard Bookstore, Third Place Books, Village Books, McNally Jackson Books, BYU Bookstore, and University Book Store in Washington are all also quoted in a HarperCollins press release with enthusiastic support for the initiative. 

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