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Hachette had an eBookstore which could go head-to-head with Amazon, but they won’t launch it

4344960203_da55d29ca0_m[1]As the year draws to a close many are looking back at 2014 and reflecting on the year’s events. Today I would like to take a look at an event which would have been a huge news story if it had ever happened.

As you may recall, for much of 2014 Hachette and Amazon were in a nasty contract negotiation here in the US. As we all know from following the news, Hachette fought a vicious media campaign against Amazon as a way of pressuring Amazon to give in, but what no one else knew was that Hachette had a second string to their bow.

Just so you know: I have very little evidence to back up the following post. I trust my sources, and I do have a little evidence, but you should take this report with a grain of salt.

Update: Hachette has confirmed my report, telling Publishers Lunch that:

Asked about the report, HBG spokesperson Sophie Cottrell told us, "We’re always doing internal experiments and many never see the light of day. The ebooksforall site was one of those experiments, and we shelved it months ago, in its early stages, to work on other projects."

Earlier this year Hachette secretly started developing an ebookstore called That store never launched, but my sources tell me that it would have sold Hachette titles in both Epub and Kindle formats.

Yes, Kindle. Hachette’s new ebookstore was going to use digital watermark DRM on the ebooks it sold.

Unlike encryption DRM like Adobe’s, digital watermarks are little more than tags which can be used to identify who bought an ebook and where. They are almost invisible to the end user, and that means that an eBooks For All customer could buy an ebook and sideload it on their Kindle.

In short, Hachette nearly launched a site which could have directly competed with the Kindle Store. I can’t tell you why it was not launched, but I do have some more background details.

The site was developed by an Australia-based ebook company called, which would operate the site on behalf of Hachette. The watermark DRM would have been supplied by Booxtream, which also provides a similar service to Pottermore and other ebook retailers.

eBooks For All was supposed to go live in the summer, and then in the early fall, but now that December has rolled around I figure the idea is probably dead, and thus it is safe to tell everyone about what would have been the biggest digital publishing story of the year.

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6975101363_41e1a1e961[1]At this point you’re probably thinking that this is a great story, but you also want to see some proof. Unfortunately, I don’t have much to show. Hachette hasn’t confirmed any of the details, and in fact they haven’t even acknowledged my existence.

But I do have a couple details to share. For example, there is the @eBooksForAll twitter handle, which appears to currently belong to someone called HBG Test. There are no tweets or identifying information on that account, though.

I also have a Whois history report (PDF) for which shows that the contact name is Joe Mangan, the COO of Hachette Book Group. That report also shows that the site is hosted on Hachette’s servers and uses Hachette’s nameservers. (At this time the site is just a blank page.)

Hachette apparently acquired the domain in April 2014, not too long after their previous contract with Amazon lapsed. Is it just me, or does that raise some new questions as to why the contract was allowed to expire?

Without a response from Hachette, I can’t answer those questions, so if you have the ear of anyone at Hachette please do us all a favor and ask them about this site.


As much as I would love to see this store launch (just to see what happened), I can understand why it did not.

As much as pundits may talk about publishers routing around Amazon and dealing directly with Kindle owners, there is a large group of Kindle owners who can’t be reached either because they either don’t know how to buy ebooks elsewhere and add them to their Kindle account, don’t know the option exists, or simply do not feel the effort is worth it.

This is part of the reason why Baen Books started distributing to the Kindle Store back in 2012 after over a decade of selling only through their own site, and it is also why Pottermore launched its ebookstore with close integration with the major ebook platforms.

On the other hand, there are times where you can only identify an unworkable idea after it is put into practice (this is why startups pivot). I would like to see what would happen if a major publisher followed Pottermore, but it looks like we’re going to have to wait a little longer before that happens.

images by dlofinkcogdogblog

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fjtorres December 5, 2014 um 3:55 pm

My best guess is they couldn’t secure ebook contracts with the other tradpubs, BPH and smaller alike. By then it was clear that Indie titles make up 30-40% of unit sales at Kindle so they would either have to admit indies matter of work with a much smaller catalog.

The time to do this kind of store was 2010, before buying indie became mainstream.

Nate Hoffelder December 5, 2014 um 4:16 pm

It was just going to have Hachette titles.

fjtorres December 5, 2014 um 5:34 pm

And who wants to go to go company store by company store these days?
First thing that would happen would be people complaining they don’t have any Rowling, Steven King or Jodi Picoult, just stuff from the Preston dude. 🙂

That is what killed Bookish and is going to keep the HC store in the shadows.

In 2010, when Apple launched with nothing but the 4 conspirators, you could still sort-of get by with a limited ebook catalog but by now readers are conditioned to expect an ebookstore to carry 2-3million titles. The minimum you need, if you expect to live off bestseller buyers, is the 5 BPHs. That might get you some customers from the new to ebooks and epub-only worlds. But not from Kindle buyers.

Plus, there is the pricing issue.
Unless Hachette wanted to undercut Apple, Google, and Nook (and the B&M crowd) they would have to price the books equal or higher than anybody else. And, as the conspiracy showed, if you take price out of the equation, buyers will flock to Amazon.

A Hachette only store for 2014 was way too little, way too late.

Feda December 6, 2014 um 9:36 am

I buy Baen Books from Baen directly all the time.

Geoffrey Kidd December 6, 2014 um 9:36 pm

The difference with Baen, at least for me, is that 1: they started waaay ahead of the pack with their webscriptions service back in 1999. 2: They’ve been zero-drm from the very first. 3: The prices have always been reasonable, particularly if you do as I do and buy the webscriptions bundles.
Incidentally, I’ve bought every bundle back to December 1999 and forward as far as they’re available for pre-order.

I have yet to see a bundle that didn’t have at least one book (and frequently more) which was worth the price of the entire bundle all by its lonesome.

Baen is special. Unlike the conspirators, Apple, or Amazon, it’s run by book lovers and readers, not lawyers and accountants.

puzzled December 5, 2014 um 7:01 pm

It’s clear that no one at Hatchette is doing any planning whatsoever.

When the contract expired, that was the proper time to launch the website, not to start developing it.

And couldn’t you instantly get the ebooks from Amazon during the dispute?

It’s also interesting that part of Hachette would have been happy with watermark DRM. One wonders if this is what ultimately killed the project.

Thomas December 5, 2014 um 9:53 pm

I wouldn’t be surprised if this was some sort of negotiating tactic against Amazon that Hachette never intended to really start. If they had launched it, their retail partners for physical books would have gone ballistic.

fjtorres December 5, 2014 um 11:06 pm

Well, now, HC has one operating and I haven’t heard of any launches. 🙂
They seem to be grinning and (grudgingly?) bearing it.

Bob W December 6, 2014 um 8:18 am

I agree it was probably setup as the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA).

Rob Siders December 6, 2014 um 9:47 am

How was Hachette planning to get around the part of the Kindlegen license that forbids commercial use? It couldn’t come to terms on a supplier agreement with Amazon. Is it likely they’d have gotten Amazon to give dispensation?

Nate Hoffelder December 6, 2014 um 10:01 am

Well, calibre can convert to Mobi. I bet Booxtream could use that to convert.

Rob Siders December 6, 2014 um 10:06 am

Does Calibre not use Kindlegen to do that?

Nate Hoffelder December 6, 2014 um 10:08 am

I didn’t think it used KindleGen, but I could be wrong.

Rob Siders December 6, 2014 um 11:23 am

I’ll defer. Calibre is in my toolbox, but it’s pretty far down the list, so my working knowledge would fill a thimble. Maybe.

DavidW December 6, 2014 um 9:58 am

I would not have used it. I want to go to one place to buy ebooks, and not figure out what author is with what publisher, find that store front and buy it. Fragmentation is inconvenient.

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Gary December 6, 2014 um 12:32 pm

I think that the primary purpose of a big publisher having their own ebook store is to keep other ebook sellers from straying too far from the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.

I assume that all ebooks in a "Hachette" ebook store would be sold at the MSRP. No discounts for some titles, and no extra charges for others.

Amazon, therefore, would lose price conscious customers if they tried to make up for loss leader pricing of best-sellers by marking up the price of back-list titles.

If there was a significant price difference, say a dollar or so, I would "cherry pick" my purchases, buying the loss leader titles from Amazon and other titles direct from Hachette. I already routinely check prices at 3 or 4 retailers before I buy. Checking one more store would not be a big issue.

AltheGreatandPowerful December 7, 2014 um 12:25 am

I guy from Baen to support Baen, because they do good for readers.

Hachette, on the other hand, has systematically ruined all the goodwill any of their authors might have lent them, so screw them and their store. I’d just give up on Hachette authors if Hachette was the only store I could use to get them.

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