Bookperk, Ebooks and HarperCollins
Indiebound, B&N, Kobo, Amazon, iBooks, Google. There seem to be more ways to buy eBooks than “regular” books. 0s & 1s, anybody? Atavist? Scribd? Emily Books? Reader, do you buy eBooks? How?
Here’s something: Bookperk, a program from HarperCollins that offers eBooks from the HarperCollins catalog for $1.99 (sometimes $2.99, but always darn near free). Sign up, and every day you’ll get an email with a few titles to choose from, which you can buy through all the popular channels. The email also includes giveaways, advance looks at new books, author exclusives, even deals on paperbacks.
If you’re anything like me, you and I both get a million spam emails a day, and their effect approximates physical pain. The idea of signing up for more is anathema—nevertheless, unfailingly, I spend 30 seconds scrolling through the daily Bookperk, and I even look forward to it. Often there’s nothing for me among the titles from various imprints: HarperPerennial to Harper to William Morrow to the romances, kids books, and cookbooks—but it’s always interesting to see what’s out there. And since joining last year, I’ve built an eShelf filled with things I’ve wanted to read. Plus I bought all Blake Butler’s novels, which I already have in print, cuz why not?
I just finished Boris Fishman’s excellent book, A Replacement Life, much praised last year but not the sort of thing I’m inclined to read. But as a $1.99 acquisition, it was a cinch to add it to my library. Then when the spirit finally moved me, there it was. And I’m glad for that. I recommend it, especially (and obliquely) if you liked The Goldfinch.
So I reached out to HarperCollins and Jim Hanas, who runs the Bookperk program there, among other things. He agreed to answer some questions.
How long has the Bookperk program been active, and how long has it been focused on eBooks specifically?
Bookperk, as a daily deals e-book newsletter, launched on October 14, 2013. The brand, however, is quite a bit older. The list started out in late 2010 as a Groupon for bookish products and experiences. So we had a good list to start with.
Wait, so you write “e-book.” I write “eBook,” but I always wonder about this. I remember when email was new, no one wrote it the same way.
This is a controversial topic. We use “e-book,” because the dictionaries do. “eBook” is still popular, but feels dated to me. In the future it will look like that font in the credits of all those Sherwood Schwartz TV shows from the ‘70s.
That said, “e-book” is certainly transitional, like “e-mail” was. I’m just waiting for the New York Times to lose the hyphen.
Okay, I’m going to spur the dictionary and Times and spell it ebook from now on, and I’m going to add it to the Real Pants style manual—“ebook: so spelled.” Now, so, are you an eBook—er, ebook—pioneer? I know you put out a collection of your own republished stories, Single, in 2006. Did that history make you the right guy for this job?
It’s true. I was playing around with e-books in that brief period in the mid-’00s when they appeared to be dead. Though my stories were literary, as they say—they had appeared in One Story and the (now defunct) Land-Grant College Review—I was inspired by sf writers like Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi to just get my stuff out there. I remember posting instructions for reading my book using the notes section of a classic iPod. (I’m sure no one did.) Then came the Kindle and the iPhone. That changed everything.
How long do the Bookperks stay at the sale price?
It varies, from one day to—more than one day.
How do you choose what books to include for each email?
We choose from a pool of available deals and curate them with readers in mind.
Can you say more about what that means, “with readers in mind”? Sometimes I get excited to see an author I’ve been meaning to read come through. I saw The Drop, a movie written by Dennis LeHane, and I knew I loved his other movies, Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, so I thought, “Why don’t I read that guy’s books.” And lo and behold, Live by Night was a Bookperk.
We have a bunch of books that are discounted to choose from and managing editor Elizabeth Semrai, who actually edits the thing, tries to put together a pleasing editorial mix, so there’s something for everyone—and maybe something you’ll be surprised by. We don’t target by genre at this point. We should and probably will, but there’s something about the mix that’s surprising, as you noted. It’s like browsing through someone else’s bookshelves.
You’re the director of audience development at Harper Collins. Can you tell me about the position, and how you came to it?
“Audience development” is a fancy new name for an ancient practice, though it genuinely is newish for businesses (like publishing) that used to only talk to other businesses (bookstores) rather than directly to consumers. That change has been underway for a long time now and as a result, publishers have a much larger direct audience, via email, social and other channels. My job is to build ways to talk to that audience on behalf of our authors and retail partners. Bookperk has been great for that, because there’s something in it for readers—book deals, sweepstakes for advance copies, other fun things for readers. It’s consumer-centric. I came from newspapers and magazines—Elizabeth did, too—so my first question isn’t how can we promote this book, but how can we create an experience that readers will want to sign up for. Then promoting the books is easy.
I just got today’s Bookperk email. Did you put that together?
That was put together by Elizabeth and my three person audience team, which handles much more than Bookperk. We handle all central email marketing, corporate social media, and creation of other marketing content—from the hc.com homepage to Buzzfeed lists.
Is your objective to earn X amount through the program, or to increase user engagement?
Can I ask you a personal question? You’re a highly praised writer yourself, as the author of Why They Cried. Has working in the book industry affected you creatively? Do you get to the end of the workday and still have more energy for books? Are you writing anything new?
I’ve had the opportunity to write full time in the past, and it’s never worked for me. I can’t write all day or even all morning. All my writing—and, true, I’m not prolific—has been done in stolen moments while I’ve had fulltime jobs. It’s just the way I’m built. But I’m always tinkering around with something, just the way I was tinkering with e-books in 2006. And as fulltime jobs go, you can’t beat working where you can get The New Republic’s centennial anthology for free.
Not to be impertinent, but what’s the future look like for ebooks?
They are here to stay, of course, and I’m enthusiastic about that. I was in graduate school in the pre-internet ‘90s and I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently in philosophy and literary criticism, the fields I studied then. It’s simply stunning how quickly you can jump from a text to Wikipedia for some background, to another book to download. This sort of “intertextuality,” as we then called it, took weeks via interlibrary loan, but now you can surf the intellectual waves at full speed. It’s fun.