We interrupt your regularly scheduled web 2.0 journey to ask, What is HarperCollins smoking? (Probably big, fat wads of cash. Sigh.)
In case you’ve been living under a rock — or you’re a normal person and not a librarian — you’ve probably heard that the folks in charge over at HarperCollins are basically big ol’ buttheads. (I’m not really surprised; this is the same company publishing Bristol Palin’s memoir.)
The gist of it is that HarperCollins, because they are completely lame and run by dinosaurs like this who don’t understand the 21st century–
–think it is a good idea to limit the number of times a library’s e-book can be checked out to 26 times. According to “math,” if a loan period is two weeks, that means the book would last about a year. Of course, this “math” is already faulty, because if you know how people check out books then you’ll know most people either turn in books early or late. I’d wager that a popular title, such as a Patterson bestseller, statistically has about a week’s turnaround. The damn HarperCollins e-book wouldn’t even last half a year before the library system was forced to re-purchase it. (Though apparently at a slightly reduced cost.)
Not to mention that popular authors’ titles are continuously checked out over the years. A library would end up repurchasing the same e-book much sooner and more often than it would have to purchase a print book. For a real time example, check out this video:
Seriously. What are they smoking over there? When I buy a book from Barnes&Noble, I don’t have to repurchase it a year later. In fact, I can sell that book, donate it, or lend it out. Why are e-books any different? That’s like saying that if I download a digital copy of a book to my Kindle, I’m only allowed to read it 26 times before I have to buy it again. I’m sorry, what? It’s like HarperCollins hates people who read books.
What it really boils down to (in the small, narrow minds of publishing houses like HarperCollins) is profit. According to statistics from the International Digital Publishing Forum, e-books generated $119.7 million in Q3 of 2010. And every year, the sales keep going up as more and more people purchase e-books for the ever-growing market of e-readers and devices. Publishers look at this and think, “Hot damn!” followed quickly by “Oh, damn!” when they realize that e-books sell, yeah, but they also last forever and can be shared.
So then publishers begin to worry. They think that if library e-books have an unlimited number of checkouts, libraries will buy less of them. Yes, because it’s very different with print books–we buy those at our library and they only last for, like, twenty years. So after twenty years, we replace the copy that is falling apart. Thank goodness HarperCollins was smart enough to put a cap on the amount of times an item must be checked out! Otherwise they’d be down two or three whole sales over a twenty year period! (This is clearly an exaggeration. Most books only last 5-10. Years.)
Basically, it’s greed. They’re squeezing libraries because they can. They know that our patrons want the titles — no matter the grumbling, and how righteous it sounds, we can’t seriously boycott HarperCollins — and they know they’re the only game in town.
It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy, in a way. Big publishing houses are terrified of e-books the same way the music industry was terrified of mp3s. They’re clinging to an outdated business model that, frankly, will only hurt them in the future. They make it less fiscally advisable to purchase e-books, so libraries purchase less e-books, and then HarperCollins goes, “See, look, the market for e-books is very small!”
Meanwhile, four times that number is available to torrent from the internet for free. It’s about accessibility. And if you don’t give the people accessibility, you know what you’ll get?
Piracy is only going to get easier. Digital readers are only going to get slicker. Libraries are only going to get poorer. (That last one is tongue-in-cheek. Oh Lord, please let it be tongue-in-cheek.) So unless publishers get their heads out of their collective bookdrops and wise up to the newly emerging reading paradigm, there is going to be a lot of wailing, hair shearing, and gnashing of teeth.
Right now, librarians are uniting behind a collective “wtf?” and writing open letters to publishers and posting e-book user’s Bill of Rights. It’s all kind of exciting. Hopefully HarperCollins realizes their mistake — and it is one — sooner rather than later. Like Andy Woodward says in his open letter, librarians and libraries believe in access. And you don’t screw with access.