HarperCollins’ Library Smack Down

In case you weren’t on the cutting edge when this watershed event happened, here is a link, and my summary.

According to Josh Marwell, President of Sales at HarperCollins Publishers, in his Open Letter to Librarians yesterday;

Our prior e-book policy for libraries dates back almost 10 years to a time when the number of e-readers was too small to measure. It is projected that the installed base of e-reading devices domestically will reach nearly 40 million this year. We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors. We are looking to balance the mission and needs of libraries and their patrons with those of authors and booksellers, so that the library channel can thrive alongside the growing e-book retail channel.

Twenty-six circulations can provide a year of availability for titles with the highest demand, and much longer for other titles and core backlist. If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book’s life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price point.

As you can well imagine, the outcry was deafening – and 100% critical – from librarians. Everything from “I’m neither buying nor reading a book published by HarperCollins until this library-crippling move is renegotiated or dropped completely.” to “This is a book-destroying policy.” and “What the h*** is an “emerging ebook ecosystem” anyway?” with an unequivocal boycott –

I am a chief librarian for a large library within a much larger library system, and I plan to boycott HarperCollins e-book titles because of this. In fact, I will seriously reconsider purchasing anything from HarperCollins. Committed to libraries? This is an absolute joke.

The impact of this publisher’s policy is that libraries are now OFFICIALLY second-class citizens in the publishing chain. THERE – HarperCollins finally said it!

Despite assertions by Mr. Marwell that “HarperCollins is committed to libraries and recognizes that they are a crucial part of our local communities.”, libraries are just NOT crucial to HC’s marketing channel, and represent too much competition for their commercial distribution and sales of eBooks. Forty million eReaders out there is TOO tempting to retain a facade of cooperation with libraries. (Anyone else get an image of Gollum and the ring – My Precious!)

To reinforce the dire nature of this situation, on Monday (Feb. 28), Random House made the statement that they would join five other major publishers in adopting the “agency model” that was adopted last spring after the introduction of Apple’s iPad.

“The agency model guarantees a higher margin for retailers than did our previous sales terms,” Random House, publisher of Stieg Larsson, George W. Bush and John Grisham, said in a statement on Monday. “We are making this change both as an investment in the successful digital transition of our existing partners and in order to give us the opportunity to forge new retail relationships.”

Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, said he could not confirm that an agreement to sell books through Apple had been made. Tom Neumayr, a spokesman for Apple, declined to comment.

Mr. Applebaum said that the decision “will be to the greatest long-term advantage for the sale of our books across the widest retail landscape.” [Emphasis added.]

OverDrive has been forced to comply with publishers’ new limitations. In its February 24 letter to Library Partners, 2011 OverDrive Initiatives and Key Priorities (made available by LibrarianByDay), CEO Steve Potash wrote;

Next week [February 28, 2011], OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached.

How long before all major publishers follow suit both in distribution and limitations to library circulation, so that libraries, that are already critically underfunded, are no longer a threat to the commercialism of digital media publishing?


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2 responses to “HarperCollins’ Library Smack Down

  1. golddog

    Perhaps HarperCollins, Random House, and other publishers need to be reminded they are in the business of selling books, not leasing them. At the end of a 1-year lease, a landlord or, in this case, a booklord would like to renew the lease and charge a new fee. But publishers have always sold the book–whether hardbound or paperback. The book then becomes the property of the consumer (whether Joe Public or a library) and the publisher has no right to assess a new fee at the end of a year, or at any subsequent period of time. Yes, the publisher, and the author, retain the right to the intellectual property they helped create. Purchasing a book, whether traditional in format or an eBook, does not give the new owner any right to modify the intellectual content; but it does give the new owner property rights just as a new home buyer has the right to sell his home at some future date–and NOT to pay the realtor or the mortgage bank another fee at the end of each year of ownership. So, do publishers want to blur the line between bookselling and book leasing just because of the emerging new e-format? Only greed would prompt them to do so!

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