Amazon's move into publishing a "concern"

Amazon's move into publishing is a "concern" and the business is close to being in a monopolistic position, according to the c.e.o. of HarperCollins.

Victoria Barnsley was the latest book trade figure to appear on BBC Radio 4's The Future of the Book segment on "The World at One". In a wide ranging interview, she said she felt hardback prices would increase as they increased in quality, digital fiction sales would be 50% of the category's total within two years, touched upon the News International phonehacking row and said the agent Andrew Wylie has apologised to her following a recent row where he accused the publisher of acting in a "shrill and punitive way" towards authors.

She described Amazon as a "very very powerful global competitor" of HarperCollins. She said: "I think Amazon's foray into book publishing...is obviously a concern....They are this weird thing. We can them 'frenemies'. They are also a very important customer of ours and they have done fantastic things for the book industry. I have mixed views about them but there's no doubt they are very very powerful now and in fact they are getting close to being in a monopolistic situation."

She described agents' attempts to secure greater digital royalties for their authors as a "big bone of contention" between both parties. She said: "We would argue that we actually invest a huge amount in authors, invest a huge amount in marketing and reach. It is a bone of contention. I don't think we should be [in dispute] because what we add is of enormous value, which, say, the digital technology companies don't give." Barnsley also predicted digital fiction sales would be half of its total revenue within two years.

The HC c.e.o. agreed with comments made by Waterstone's m.d. James Daunt on World at One yesterday about the physical quality of books. Speaking on the show, he said he felt publishers had been "lax" in their approach to physical publishing.  Barnsley said: "In this digital space you are going to see digital books replacing, by and large, the paperback. That means our hardbacks are actually going to have to become better in the sense of their design qualities, their production qualities. So I think you are going to see hardback books becoming more beautiful. Maybe increasing slightly in price because of that but these will be the things people want to give or collect or put on their shelves. The disposable product is really the e-book."

Barnsley was also asked about the News International phonehacking row, which has hit the headlines again today. Barnsley said: "I don't think it has really affected our business at all. There might be one or two authors who feel uncomfortable but certainly we haven't seen any sign of that yet. I think we are judged by our own great publishing. That's what matters."

She was also asked of comments made by Andrew Wylie, who said in an interview last month he felt the News International controversy would lead to HarperCollins being examined more closely. He accused it of acting in an "unusually shrill and punitive" way towards authors. Barnsley said: "What he was objecting to, we have had some business disagreements. There have been some contractual issues, we have been enforcing some contracts recently, we have a big commercial disagreement. Andrew has apologised to me and as far as I am concerned we can move on."