HarperCollins Launches Comprehensive Backlist Program

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Last week, HarperCollins Publishers announced a program that will enable bricks-and-mortar bookstores to promote and sell thousands of HarperCollins backlist titles through in-store “Digital-to-Print at Retail” (DPR) using the Espresso Book Machine® (EBM). The new Comprehensive Backlist promotion will feature a mix of traditionally printed books as part of a store’s inventory and DPR editions printed in-store. Under the plan, the DPR editions will be sold on an agency model.

“Even as digital book sales grow, bookstores continue to be an important place for customers to shop for physical books. The goal of this initiative is to give the local bookseller the capability to provide customers with a greater selection of HarperCollins titles in a physical environment,” said Brian Murray, president and chief executive officer of HarperCollins Publishers. “For authors this is a win; titles will be more broadly available, which increases sales with full print royalties. Depending on the size of the store, 25 percent - 80 percent of our backlist titles are not stocked due to physical space limitations. DPR technology means the books will be there for the consumer at small and large bookshops.”

“We applaud the leadership, innovation, and commitment to bricks-and-mortar bookstores HarperCollins has shown in their recently announced program that gives bookstores with the Espresso Book Machine access to thousands of active backlist titles,” said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. “By crafting a program that helps bookstores feature a broader array of titles in-store while at the same time greatly increasing their ability to more fully meet customer demand, Harper is demonstrating the sort of creative thinking that our industry needs as we work together to fashion new business models that will help all segments of our industry better serve readers and sell more books. We appreciate that only a small number of stores have an Espresso Book Machine as of now, but ABA hopes Harper’s decision will encourage more stores to take a closer look at POD.”

Most of the HarperCollins trade paper backlist, including adult and children’s titles, will be available on Espresso Book Machines starting in November. Titles from Zondervan and HarperCollins Canada will be available early next year.

Chris Morrow of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, called the Harper announcement great news. “I have been talking to publishers since 2008 about making their backlist available, so it is nice to see one of the big six show some support and have the vision to enter into this new sales channel,” he said. “We will be capturing many lost sales. If all publishers got on board, it would strengthen our competitive advantage for sure.”

“I think that it’s exciting that Harper is making its backlist available to be printed on the EBM,” said Chuck Robinson of Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. ”That should really help with books we’re not able to carry and those that are temporarily out of stock. It really does begin to address ‘the long tail,’ something that’s been difficult for bricks-and-mortar stores to do.”

To date, the bulk of Village Books’ EBM sales has come from books published by the store or by self-published authors. Robinson’s It Takes a Village Books was the store’s eighth bestselling title last year. POD titles in the Google Books initiative, which digitized books through partnerships with libraries and publishers, are also selling well.

Robinson expects the program to increase sales of HarperCollins titles, and he is working on ways to promote their availability in the store. “I can imagine that with an author with a deep backlist, we might carry three or four of the most recent and/or most popular titles on the shelf and have a shelf sign listing the other titles, which would be available via the EBM,” he said.

Carole Horne of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hopes other publishers will institute similar programs. “In the long run, if other publishers follow Harper’s lead, it will have a significant impact,” she said. “The University of Pittsburgh Press has already announced that their titles will be available on the EBM, and I believe that other publishers are close to doing the same. Customers will come to understand that bricks-and-mortar stores offer the best of all worlds: the pleasures of browsing, of meeting authors, of getting personal recommendations, with the convenience of being able to get any book they want printed in minutes and the value to their community of shopping locally.”

Northshire’s Morrow agreed. “If other publishers make their lists available and customers know that they can get virtually anything here in short order then the whole dynamic changes and it will boost sales overall,” he said, “EBM sales, print sales, sidelines sales, etc. because our status as a magnet store will be bolstered. When we get people in the door, we get sales.”

Besides increasing sales, the new program means “we never have to lose a sale from HarperCollins’ backlist because we’ve run out of a title,” said Horne. “And since no bookstore can carry every title available because of space limitations, the program expands our store’s offerings dramatically. If we’re going to be competitive in the marketplace, our customers need to know that we can supply the books they want as quickly as anyone.”

Booksellers who are interested in learning more about the program should contact their HarperCollins sales representative to determine the optimal level of core print books that stores should carry, relevant incentives, and merchandising opportunities. They can also address questions about the program to HarperCollins Vice President of Sales Jeanette Zwart.

Under an agreement between ABA and the On Demand Books (ODB), announced in May 2011, On Demand Books is offering a 10 percent discount off the up-front software license fee to ABA members that purchase or lease an Espresso Book Machine before April 5, 2012. For lease agreements, the discount would be folded into the overall lease price. More information about the Espresso Book Machine is available at ondemandbooks.com.