July 22, 2014

HarperCollins Expands Digital First | PubCrawl

Traditional publishers may be johnny-come-lately to publishing digital-only and digital-first, but their efforts bring the weight of deep editorial and marketing experience to the digital-only equation. This spring saw a new push by HarperCollins to enhance its digital-first lines with the launch of Witness Impulse, a digital mystery, suspense, and thriller line that will release its initial ten titles in October under the William Morrow Impulse imprint; the publisher said it is the first of its kind (mystery) from a major U.S. publisher.

“We’re not treating these [titles/authors] as second-rate citizens,” said Dan Mallory, a mystery aficionado himself, who is heading up the Witness initiative. “We’re acquiring titles selectively, not hoovering up literally everything that comes in,” like Amazon, he said, and “we’re giving them the same dedicated editorial, design, marketing, foreign rights, and sales” attention that print titles get. Witness already has 100 titles in the pipeline and plans on releasing ten-12 a month and never more than two-three on the same date.

While traditional publishers aren’t abandoning print, Mallory and the Impulse team believe that “print is no longer the route to market for new or unknown authors,” he said. “This is the way to get authors off the ground,” including midlist authors who “sell maybe a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand books.”  Nevertheless, Witness (like other Impulse lines) plans to exploit as many formats as possible, a strategy that bodes well for libraries, and to deliver titles through standard library ebook channels.

Besides bringing out new authors and content, Witness will introduce international bestsellers not previously available in the United States., drawing on Mallory’s background at Little, Brown UK, along with newly digitized backlist classics, like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories, to be released as digital singles and then in an “omnibus edition.” Among the lead Witness titles, Mallory told LJ, are James Hayman’s Darkness First, which he describes as “an atmospheric thriller in the Tess Gerritsen vein;” Rory Clements’s Prince, a historical thriller featuring the bard’s brother, John Shakespeare; An Illustrated Death, a “bibliophile mystery” by Judi Culbertson; and The Art of Drowning by CWA Dagger winner Frances Fyfield (CWA Dagger is a prestigious UK award for mystery/suspense).

Mystery, long a genre leader, is still an also-ran to romance, especially on the consumer side. The Witness line follows in the footsteps of Morrow’s successful Avon Impulse romance imprint, launched two years ago, and Harlequin’s Carina. Impulse marketing director Shawn Nicholls says the Impulse model is part of a larger branding campaign to build sales for midlist authors overall and to help readers discover authors; for instance, said Nicholls, a first author could move from digital to print and vice versa, and over the course of a year publish a novel, an e-original novella, a digital short story, and an e-serialization that would continue to put that author in front of readers. “There is no doubt that digital publishing has become an integral component in strategically growing new authors and extending discoverability and marketability of our existing author base,” said Liate Stehlik, publisher of William Morrow.

“Unleash the Book,” Challenges HarperCollins

In another digital first for the publisher, HarperCollins on June 6 issued The BookSmash Challenge, a four-month long contest ending on September 5, designed to motivate would-be developers “to create new digital products that ‘break the binding’ and re-imagine the book.” To help innovators build the software that “goes beyond the traditional ways we read and discover books,” Harper is providing APIs to access books (text, metadata, covers, etc.) from authors both new and old, including Eloisa James, Kim Harrison, James Rollins, and C.S. Lewis, among at least a dozen others.

Submissions can be software programs or apps for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, PC, Mac, or web/mobile platforms. There are $25,000 in prizes: Grand Prize, $15,000; Runner-up, $8,000; Popular Choice, $2,000; and HarperCollins Recognition Award (non-cash) for large organizations. “We’re hoping developers will think big,” said HarperCollins VP of Innovation Ana Maria Allessi. “To give them ideas… we’ve created the ‘Idea Bank,’ which helps them access great work that’s been done around books already—and hopefully encourages them to go even further.” The OpenBook API page gives links to APIs for sites like Goodreads, Foursquare, etc. The Idea Bank points to previous innovations, among them:

  • NY Times Snow Fall – A browser-based digital storytelling app
  • Tapestry – A beautifully simple tappable story app
  • Versu, by Linden Research, Inc. – An interactive reading app where readers become the characters
  • Poems By Heart from Penguin Classics, by Penguin Group USA – A memorization game
  • The Room, by Fireproof Games – A physical puzzler, wrapped in a mystery game, inside a tactile 3D world
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore – An experiential digital storytelling app

The publisher has already received 122 entries. Librarians, start your engines!


Francine Fialkoff About Francine Fialkoff

Francine Fialkoff (ffialkoff@gmail.com) spent 35 years with LJ, and 15 years at its helm as Editor and Editor-in-Chief. For more, see her Farewell Editorial.

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