Home » Amazon, Big Publishing » Because Outright Agency isn’t Good Enough: HarperCollins Now in Conflict With Amazon

Because Outright Agency isn’t Good Enough: HarperCollins Now in Conflict With Amazon

1 April 2015

From Ink, Bits & Pixels:

Amazon may have inked deals with Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster in the past 6 months, but HarperCollins is proving to be tougher prey.

Business Insider reports that HarperCollins is in the midst of a bitter contract renegotiation with Amazon, and it’s not going well. Very few details have been leaked, but we do know that:

The contract between “Big Five” book publisher HarperCollins and Amazon is about to expire and HarperCollins is refusing to sign an agreement with the new terms that Amazon is asking, a source with knowledge of the situation tells Business Insider.

Amazon reportedly offered the same deal to HC that they signed with Hachette, S&S, and Macmillan late last year.

. . . .

I happen to have been looking at the Kindle ebook prices for Hachette, S&S, and Macmillan over the past week or so, and I don’t think we should describe this as a lighter version of agency.

Of the top 20 most popular titles for each publisher, nearly all S&S and Hachette titles indicated that “this price was set by the publisher”(*).  That used to be a sign that they’re being sold under agency, with the publisher dictating the price and Amazon blocked from discounting.

It’s not clear what that statement means now, but when paired with ebooks priced above $10 and ending in $X.99, I think we’re looking at agency.

Link to the rest at Ink, Bits & Pixels

Amazon, Big Publishing

49 Comments to “Because Outright Agency isn’t Good Enough: HarperCollins Now in Conflict With Amazon”

  1. Maybe this time Amazon will say, “If we don’t have a contract, I can’t sell your stuff anymore.”

    Too bad they won’t ‘leak’ what the sticking point is, it would give us a better idea who to laugh at — though I have this funny feeling it ain’t Amazon that’s trowing the toys out of their playpen … 😉


    miracle: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment. — Webster’s Dictionary

    Edited to add that I’d forgot it was fools day — have I just been had? 😛

    • Stephen Gradijan

      It seems too ridiculously real to be an April Fool’s Day joke.

      The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense….

      • Which are the ‘best’ to use on fool’s day — you can’t tell if it’s real — or a rigged demo … 😉


        Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and think what nobody else has thought.

    • Why wait for a leak? We just need to get HC sister company News of the World to hack some phones, as they’re known to do, and then maybe tune in to their other sister company Fox News to get the real scoop about what’s going on. 😉

  2. Possibly HC will have the grace to do the negotiations PRIVATELY? After Hachette’s PR version?

    Would that be too much to hope for?

    Amazon knows they don’t own the world – they also know their profit margins are deliberately thin. But of all the players in these battles, they were the ones who behaved like grownups in public.

  3. Again? Well, if history is any indicator, we all know how this will end.

  4. Smart Debut Author

    I hope Amazon decides to play hardball.

    Divide and conquer.

    Perhaps it’s time for the “Big Five” to become the “Big Four”

    Sometimes you gotta flatten a lump or two to level the playing field.

  5. I think it’s good the publishers are fighting Amazon tooth and nail not because I have special affinity for publishers but for the whole balance of power thing. We only need to look to Audible to see what Amazon will do when they corner the market at something so I’d like that to not happen to ebooks.

    • If they were actually ‘fighting’ Amazon, you might have a point. All this is is HarperCollins wanting everything ‘their’ way. As Hachette showed, you don’t always get what you want — but you can sure look like a fool trying.

      Most likely HarperCollins doesn’t like the price-points at which Amazon gets more of a take. Like the other big boys, they can always take their ball and go home, but then they lose all that money selling through Amazon is making them.

      As far as balance of power, the big five love the money Amazon is making them — or they’d have pulled their books long ago. So all this whining is not because they ‘depend’ on Amazon, but that they can’t order Amazon around like they could a smaller distributor — well that and Amazon gives pretty much the same ‘deal’ to all the players. There are also hints that the big five don’t like that Amazon won’t play the ‘ranking’ games with them. Want to be in the ‘top ten’ or marked as a ‘best seller’on Amazon? Then your book has got to be a best seller or sell in the top ten — not just be ‘expected’ to, and ‘awards’ given to books by paid promoters don’t cut it anymore either …

      Then there’s the self publishers, who no longer need the big boys to be seen on Amazon. That scares the big five more than a little bit, a loss of ‘gate-keeping’ and ‘control’ over what the public can find to read.

      I’d like it better if a traditionally published writer could review their options every couple years and put their books with whoever they think with do best for them.

  6. I’m wondering if HC is deluded enough to think that their website (hc.com) gives them some sort of upper hand. Hah.

    • Smart Debut Author

      An upper hand?



      HarperCollins.com is the 13,000th most visited site in the US.

      Amazon.com is the 4th.

      In fact, when there’s a particularly energetic series of posts here, ThePassiveVoice.com tends to have more visitors than HarperCollins.com does. Even right now, with a current US rank of 29,000, it’s within hailing distance. 😀


      And do the people that visit HarperCollins.com go there to buy at those bloated prices? Or are they mostly industry types?

      Who knows? Right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if PG’s Amazon affiliate-sales link was generating more sales volume than the entire HarperCollins.com site. 🙂

      • As an FYI, I just checked Alexa and the stats they show for TPV are way low.

        • Patricia Sierra

          I used to work for a website and knew Alexa was waaaay off on the numbers.

        • Smart Debut Author

          Yeah — I don’t doubt that for a minute, PG.

          Alexa’s stats are to my knowledge projected from a subset of Internet users that installed the Alexa toolbar back in the day and are thus having their web activity tracked and collated.

          But nowadays, most web-savvy folks are generally reluctant to install toolbar-type spyware like the Alexa bar, so Alexa stats skew high at the kinds of sites less experienced/savvy web users visit (AOL.com & Yahoo, anyone? And definitely HC.com) 🙂

          And Alex will definitely skew low for TPV, ’cause your visitors are generally pretty web-savvy for the most part, and far fewer of them will have the Alexa toolbar installed and tracking their visits.

  7. Please don’t let this be a big huge public battle that stretches for months with everyone and their dog giving their opinion on the matter. Please.

  8. Smart Debut Author

    An upcoming Nielsen survey of 3 HarperCollins authors reveals that ebook sales are declining rapidly and that readers nationwide are buying print books instead, although print sales are down overall because no one reads anymore!

  9. My ESP is telling me that Doug Preston is calling the DOJ at this very moment.

    • Smart Debut Author

      My ESP is telling me that Doug Preston just might be smart enough to want to avoid looking like a buffoon again.

      • Again? Or still more of a?

        What we’ve seen so far isn’t very promising … 😛


        The only real argument for marriage is that it remains the best method for getting acquainted. — Heywood Broun

      • Felix J. Torres

        I. Don’t. Think. Soooo…
        If he had the common sense of a gnat he wouldn’t have done it even once.

        • Smart Debut Author

          Well, there is that… but I was just trying to be charitable.

          I’m not very good at it. 😉

      • We’re not going to hear from Preston. He’s a Hachette author. He got his. For him to turn up now would be to show concern for others outside his own interests, which wasn’t exactly a hallmark of his efforts with AU.

  10. Prey?

    • That was a joke. Later in the post I used a picture of a piranha.

      According to the accounting system I use in place of a sense of humor, this is funny.

      • It is. That’s what I get for just reading the excerpt without clicking through to the original or even bothering to check out who wrote it.

        According to the instant-gratification instinct I use in place of critical thinking, it’s perfectly fair for me to render an opinion without even glancing at the entire piece for context.

        • Why would one click-through when some pieces were only made to have you click past all the ads only to find — nothing worth reading? 😉
          (the comments here are often much better than their cause … 😉 )

  11. HarperCollins has a webstore.

    Worse comes to worse, Amazon pulls the buy buttons, but keeps their price up, and links top the HC store for a customer to buy at HC’s price. Somethimes HC is even competitive.

    Other times, not so much.


    • Several users told me last year that it was a s***** store.

      Does anyone know if that is still true?

      • Check it out. You’ll be amazed. The most-generous description I can give it is “barebones”.

        • Smart Debut Author

          I checked it out.

          Pretending I was an adult book-browser looking for a good Thriller ebook, I selected the “Fiction” checkbox on the left side and “ebook” for format.

          I got a list of results back.

          The first choice was a children’s book called Blocks (Bing #9) for $6.30.

          The second choice on the list was the same: Blocks (Bing #9) for $6.30.

          The third choice in the list was also the same: Blocks (Bing #9) for $6.30.


          The most generous description I can give it is “incompetent.”

          • Smart Debut Author

            This is too funny to be real.

            I tried another search and it hung the site.

            Right now, it’s still grinding away, totally unresponsive to any clicks, as I’m typing this.

            Maybe they should have Mike Shatzkin build them one of his $2,000 websites from 2005.

            It’d probably work better that the current mess HarperCollins has now.

          • Chris Armstrong

            It really is startlingly bad. Try performing that search and then hitting page 2. Boom.

          • Smart Debut Author

            Oh dear.

            Click to go to page 2, and HarperCollins’s entire site freezes.

            Hit reload, and they automatically select the category “Teen” checkbox for some reason.

            However, the first book listed in the results is now “How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage”. Definitely what that “Teen” audience is looking for.

            Be afraid, Amazon. Be very afraid.


      • Smart Debut Author

        I just attempted to browse HarperCollins.com on a rarely-used mobile device called… an iPhone 6.

        This is what happens when you try to select a really obscure category like, say, “Fiction”:


        Warning: illegal string offset ‘message’ in /var/www/vhosts/supadu_core_live/application/models/Snipp… on line 152: Error 1. T.

        Result: 1
        1 Result Found

        Warning: invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /var/www/vhosts/supadu_core_live/application/models/Snipp… on line 96.

        Wow. Just wow.

    • The real keening and wailing will come when their books don’t get free first-page promotion and high placement in the suggested lists. Then they will start the drumbeat of complaints that Amazon is abusing authors.

      Yes, I’ll admit I get a sick thrill out of it.

      • Then they will start the drumbeat of complaints that Amazon is abusing authors.

        Oh, no! I had wiped all that from my memory. Even with this teaser about HC, the full horror of the Hachette spin had not returned to my consciousness. But now…dash it! it’s back in panoramic color and surround-sound. Noooooooo!

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