Publishers in push to sell direct online

<p>Booksellers fear publishers&#39; moves to sell direct to consumers online will further erode their own sales, as the UK&#39;s two largest players, Random House and Hachette, make forays into direct selling.</p><p>Random has just launched a new direct-to-consumer site, <a href="http://www.rbooks.co.uk" target="_blank" title="rbooks.co.uk">www.rbooks.co.uk</a>, which offers discounts of up to 20% and signed copies. <a href="http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/" target="_blank" title="harpercollins.co.uk/">HarperCollins</a> is poised to start selling directly by Christmas, while <a href="http://www.penguin.co.uk/" target="_blank" title="penguin.co.uk">Penguin</a> has just relaunched its site and will discount titles by up to 25%. All are aiming to build relationships with readers and store information about their tastes.</p><p>Meanwhile, Hachette is rolling out new-look sites across its publishing divisions from this month, which will all sell direct to consumers. Hachette is aiming to offer next-day delivery as well as &quot;added value&quot; products such as signed editions.</p><p>Peter Bowron, m.d. of Random House, said: &quot;Any channel, however small, that gives us the opportunity to present [a wider range of] books and reach consumers is an avenue that we will pursue.&quot;</p><p>Francis Bennett, head of the Bookseller Association&#39;s digital taskforce, said there was concern from retailers &quot;that publishers could potentially cut out many booksellers and have an effect on the survival of the industry as a whole&quot;. He added: &quot;There&#39;s a real fear and its origins are behind what we are doing with the digitisation taskforce.&quot;</p><p>Independent booksellers also hit out at the moves, with Warwick Books owner Keith Smith querying the need for publishers to sell direct. &quot;Publishers already have channels to consumers [through bookshops and internet retailers] so do they really need another one? It can only be competitive with other sellers and do harm.&quot; Vivian Archer at Newham Books said she did not know why publishers need to move into bookselling. &quot;Independents are getting hit all the time and when we find a way to fight back something else happens.&quot;</p><p>But Hachette c.e.o. Tim Hely Hutchinson said that &quot;at this stage&quot; bypassing the trade for anything other than schoolbooks or special editions was unlikely to be a viable or attractive option for publishers. &quot;We still feel the consumer wants to secure the full range of books and they are therefore much better served by a retailer,&quot; he said. But he added that if sales through retailers were to be eroded in the future, he could imagine publishers taking a greater slice of direct sales.</p>