January 24, 2022

Hellman on "HarperCollins and the Suspension of eBook Disbelief", Weinberger Asks if HarperCollins Has Lost Its Mind or Soul

Another must read from the “Go to Hellman” blog.

Three paragraphs from the 1300+ word blog post:

The current library situation, however, does a great job of erecting an availability barrier. eBooks are so popular that in most libraries, many books have long waiting lists. Patrons are pushed towards less popular titles, which is a huge benefit for publishers, because the titles and authors that would not be selling are effectively marketed to new readers. It’s hard to argue that anything on the list of most popular ebook downloads at OverDrive has suffered even a tiny bit!


If a publisher is truly concerned with sales lost to libraries, the honest thing to do (as Macmillan and Simon & Schuster have done) is to not provide books to libraries at all.


HarperCollins may be inept, but it isn’t being evil. Pricing for digital products is really difficult. Once you drop the pretense of print, you run into new issues of fairness. Does it make sense to charge the same for an ebook to a small library that you charge to a large consortium? Of course not. Does it make sense to charge for a blockbuster what you charge for a work by an unknown author? Of course not. It’s easy to poke holes in a pricing strategy; it’s much harder to come up with a regime that works for everybody.

Here’s what we wrote yesterday about this story focusing on the fact that with the success of libraries lending e-books the publishing industry wants to make major changes to the rules without asking for feedback.

Along with the business issues HarperCollins has also created a PR nightmare for themselves.

If they would have ENGAGED the library community before OverDrive announced what was going it’s quite possible that they could have created a program that meets the needs of both their company and the library community. Simply asking for feedback and allowing the library community to be heard would have also helped to some degree.

The OverDrive letter (PDF) mentions that other publishers are considering new models for providing libraries with ebooks. We hope they consider what HarperCollins to do and listen/work with the library community prior to making any decisions.

See Also: “Has HarperCollins lost its mind or its soul?” by David Weinberger (via The Library Laboratory)

So, why do I say that HarperCollins has lost its soul instead of just criticizing it for this action? Because if you cared about books as vehicles of ideas and not just vehicles of commerce, you would have dismissed with contempt an idea that treats them as evanescent as chatter on a call-in show.

Hat Tip and Thanks: Peter B.

See Also: “DBW Library-Publisher Panel Makes the Case for Ebook Lending”
From January 26, 2011 via Library Journal

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.