Tuesday, December 13, 2005

HarperCollins - Gulp! - Invests in Book Scanning for Web Access

Reuters reports on plans by HarperCollins to start scanning its inventory of 20,000 book titles into digital form so that Web search engines can index them for online audiences. There are no immediate plans as to how HarperCollins plans to monetize books via this effort, but clearly book publishers are beginning to realize that new market channel strategies are going to be required if they are to maximize profits from online access and sales moving forward. HarperCollins chief executive Jane Friedman told Reuters "This is going to be a costly initiative," likely in the millions. Heavens. Actual investment in new business models. Friedman is quite right that book publishers have to take better control of their own inventory and stop treating online marketing as something best left to others with well-established online retail capabilities.

Channel partners such as Amazon, Google and the Open Content Alliance are certainly good "clicks" equivalents to the "bricks" retailers that have serviced the book publishing industry for centuries, but the value of all online content revolves increasingly around the communities that have interest in it. Publishers of all kinds are beginning to realize that leaving that community-building entirely to search engines and content portals disintermediates them from both revenues and relationship -building capabilities. Book publishers are not very far along on this path, but as the tenor of their attitude towards online search engines and portals shifts from crying foul and conservative aggregation plays to staking out a claim of their own using books as premium destination content they are far more likely to develop their own highly profitable online presences. This may result in business models new to book publishers in some instances while in other instances it may mean breathing new life into very old models such as serialization via ad-supported distribution. Whatever the outcomes may be it all starts with committing your inventory to having its own independent online presence. Here's to HarperCollins succeeding in establishing a strong new presence online where books can thrive in new and exciting ways.
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