HarperCollins' Murray on 'frenemy' Amazon

HarperCollins' Murray on 'frenemy' Amazon

HarperCollins Worldwide c.e.o. Brian Murray has described Amazon as a "frenemy", and said he is pleased that other e-book retailers are "nibbling at their toes".

The executive was speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference on Wednesday (11th December).

Asked if he viewed Amazon as a friend or a foe, Murray said: "I like to think of them as a 'frenemy'. They are a terrific partner, they've been a leader in terms of driving efficiencies, first in print and now in digital. They're so successful, they are the largest player, and they are certainly out to make changes.

"[Amazon] can be very difficult to negotiate with, but they're very important partner of ours. We work with closely but also monitor them closely. They certainly keep us on our toes."

Murray added that five years ago, it seemed like the online retailer would entirely dominate the e-book market, but said that he was pleased to see other retailers in the market. He said: "We have five major global e-book retailers, that’s a much healthier position to be in and gives me a lot of confidence. Amazon is very strong obviously but its nice to know Google and Apple are nibbling at their toes."

In his talk, Murray was bullish about opportunities for publishers, saying that: "This digital ecosystem that has developed is good news for publisher and authors… The book industry is not going the way of the music industry. If that was true we would have seen erosion and consistent falls in revenues… E-book growth rates are very high and are offsetting declines in the print business. Top line sales are growing steadily, overall profit is increasing."

He added: "There are two underlying themes which give me confidence and excitement about future the book business. One is increasing demand in the consumption of books, and the second is the way digital leads to improving margins." He said HarperCollins had made numerous efficiencies in its print model, reducing the number of its warehouses and introducing more print on demand technology."

When asked about the possibilities of consolidation, he said it was difficult to comment on the future, but said that the purchase of Christian publisher Thomas Nelson had been a positive step for the company. He said: "I can't speculate about the future —I would go back to point at Thomas Nelson and say there were significant synergies in those fixed costs. A lot of basic operating benefits that came from that." When asked if merging with English-language publishers or international partners was more appealing, he said: "They are both interesting, international has potential for us, but as Thomas Nelson showed us, there are opportunities when we look at the English language."

Murray, who joined HarperCollins in 2007, also commented on the recent changes to NewsCorp, which has seen the publishing and newspaper business split off from the entertainment arm of the original company.

He said: "There's definitely synergies with our parent company, there's tremendous overlap. Especially between newspaper buyers and book readers—in terms of advertising and digital prospects there's an audience that we share. As a smaller, tighter NewsCorp operation its easier to realise these synergies. We are working more closely than we were before."