What is HarperCollins thinking?

This is not the way I wanted to start my Saturday morning, annoyed over an article about a favorite publisher. According to BoingBoing and Library Journal, HarperCollins is changing the rules for library e-books.  From now on, HarperCollins e-books will only be licensed for 26 checkouts; after that, it doesn’t say, but I’m assuming the library will have to re-purchase the book. I love this quote from the Library Journal article:

Josh Marwell, President, Sales for HarperCollins, told LJ that the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.

Really? You think that’s an average for a book in circulation? So when I’m 53rd on the waiting list for a new book on the shelves, I should expect to be getting a brand new book, since the first 2 will have worn out? That’s just crazy.

I am a huge supporter of my local library — it is one of my favorite places on earth. As a kid, the library and the Bookmobile (remember those?  god, I am old) were my windows to the world. I am not in favor of anything — ridiculous circulation limits, government regulations, idiot right-wingers who want to ban books — that limits their ability to put books in the hands of people who want to read them. Growing up, my parents’ checkbook could never have kept pace with my voracious appetite for books and I know a lot of other families are in the same situation. And since libraries are now the source of so much more — books, dvds, audiobooks, music — families depend on them even more.

Not only is this a blow to libraries and their patrons, it’s just bad business. Take a look at the record industry and their problems with pirating. That came about because the music industry was not forward thinking; when it became possible to give their patrons music in digital form, the record labels balked, insisting that we buy music according to their outdated formulas and rules. Instead, people figured out ways around the rules and because the record labels were thinking about how to keep their music out of the hands of listeners, instead of how to get it to them in the format they wanted, they dug a huge hole.

This is what publishers are doing with ridiculous DRM restrictions and disappearing e-books: they are focusing on keeping books out of the hands of readers, instead of focusing on how to get the books into the hands of readers in a way that makes everyone happy. Have the folks at HarperCollins met any college-age computer geeks? Let me tell you, there is no DRM-type mechanism you can come up with that they cannot break over a weekend of pizza and Caf-Pow. If you make it simple for people to get e-books at a reasonable price, that’s what they’ll do. (You can count on people’s inherent laziness sometimes.) But taking it out on libraries? The great meeting place for the people who really want your products? That’s just bad business.

EDIT: Now I feel just a bit guilty.  I got home from grocery shopping to find a big package of books from HarperCollins. I love HarperCollins – I really do – I just think this is a really, really unfortunate decision on their part, and I hope they reconsider.

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