harpercollinsA long and fairly uncritical interview article in Mashable takes us on a tour of the epublishing aspirations of HarperCollins under the stewardship of its new chief digital officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi, and its plans to corner the “Next Big Thing” in digital publishing – whatever it is.

Mashable‘s Seth Fiegerman, it seems, is much taken by HarperCollins’s readiness to jump into bed with startups like Scribd and Oyster on the first date, to get in the game. He quotes Restivo-Alessi approvingly to the effect that it matters to move early with startups to direct their thinking and guide their development.

HarperCollins, it seems, is already experimenting with breathlessly forward-looking innovations such as adding video content to ebooks. So bleeding-edge that you’d better be careful not to cut yourself by mistake on the corners of your Kindle. Fiegerman also cites HarperCollins’s efforts to find its own channel to consumers through its experiments in in-house epublishing distribution, such as the C.S. Lewis and Narnia platforms.

Claims Gartner analyst Allen Weiner, as quoted by Fiegerman, HarperCollins and its ilk seek “to use apps, direct-to-consumer sales and other digital experiments to build a stronger connection with readers in the hopes of learning more about them.” Well, what was ever stopping them in the first place? Only conservatism and fear, just as with the music industry. They would be able to know more about the consumer if they actually tried selling to them, g’doh. And for all those breathy statements about innovation, it seems that DRM-free sales to consumers, the one thing that could get around Amazon, is still just too hard a concept for Big Publishing to get its head round.

Personally, I’m surprised that HarperCollins and the other Big Publishing giants should have any trouble finding common ground with Amazon. Yes, they may not get technology. But control, sequestration, commercial brute force and monopoly are things they understand very well. Sounds like a natural meeting of minds.


  1. I suspect “adding video content to ebooks” will fizzle. I’ve seen that sort of thing bandied about since I worked on CD-ROM projects at Microsoft in the late 1980s. When consumers want to read a book, they want to read. They don’t want distractions. Adding video content, particularly when it’s of the limited and brief quality that most publishers can afford, isn’t appealing. Readers want to use their imagination.

    There are a few ideas that may make sense though:

    1. Videos that are author interviews, one to be read before reading a book, and one after. Don’t include them inside the ebook though. Link to them.

    2. More use of graphics such as maps and diagrams. Make them available by touching a tiny icon on the pages where they’re relevant. If there’s a murder, show a sketch of the crime scene. If the fugitive flees across three states, show his route on a map.

    3. Pop-up notes in ebooks that function like the popular director’s commentary that come on movie DVDs. Read a murder mystery once with note markers turned off, trying to figure out who did it. Then a few weeks later, read it again, revealing the notes in which the author describes how he slipped clues into his tale. Readers are likely to be delighted with ebooks they can buy once and read with enjoyment twice.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

  2. In playing around with ePub 3 sample files (Readium: https://code.google.com/p/epub-samples/), I wouldn’t rule out anything. Certainly non-fiction will lead the parade here but I suspect that fiction writers have an untapped potential for reaching beyond text and finding new ways to connect with their readers. It probably won’t be anything like what publishers have done s far which is to gratuitously sprinkle video on a story as if it were pixie dust.
    It has to come from the story teller, not the truck driver.

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