E-Books Through HarperCollins

HarperCollins Publisher LogoThe e-book world was shaken up by recent policy changes from HarperCollins regarding their e-book collections.  In February and March, messages from various library-related email started to fly that a major book publisher, HarperCollins, had placed a limit on the number of times (twenty-six times) an e-book could be viewed before it would be withdrawn from a library’s electronic collection.  After this number is reached, libraries and consumers would then be obligated to purchase the e-book again.

Many individual librarians have threatened to boycott HarperCollins if they do not change this new policy.  The American Library Association’s President, Roberta Stevens, issued an official press release that criticized HarperCollins for the decision, and encouraging the publisher to work with libraries to develop contemporary policies that are in the best interest of publishers, libraries, readers, and authors alike.

It is understandable that publishers want to make money from selling books, and e-books are considerably different than their print counterparts.  They do not take up valuable shelf space, they do not physically wear down as traditional books do, they do not cost as much to produce and distribute (see former post on this topic), more people have mobile devices to access e-books than ever before and are accessing e-books (see former post on this topic).

Part of the issue is the timing of this new policy.  The decision by HarperCollins comes at a time when library resources are scare, and librarians are upset that their money-strapped institutions will be asked to pony up more money for a book that they already purchased, especially without first being consulted. I also recognize that the e-book industry is changing and growing very rapidly, and that publishers want to harness control of this growth before it gets out of hand.

Also, during economic hard times, print books can last much longer than 26 uses if there is the need (and if ever there is a need, it is now).  Then ask why place a limit that exists (artificially) for print books on e-books which have extremely different limits to time and physical space (or access).

From the amount of complaints and national attention (international really) against this new pricing scheme, one should ask if this new policy is really worth pursuing for HarperCollins.  The publisher might make more money in the short-term, but may tarnish their good-standing relationship with libraries and the hard-working tax paying public that support libraries.  Hopefully, this decision does not backfire on the publisher, and that HarperCollins will visit this controversial policy at a more appropriate time.

Below is an email from Mr. Josh Marwell, President of Sales at HarperCollins Publishers.  This was distributed publicly on the Libs-Or email list:

10 East 53rd Street
New York
, N.Y  10022-5200
Telephone: 212 207-7000
Fax: 212 207-7909

HarperCollins Publishers

March 1, 2010

HarperCollins is committed to libraries and recognizes that they are a crucial part of our local communities. We count on librarians reading our books and spreading the word about our authors’ good works. Our goal is to continue to sell e-books to libraries, while balancing the challenges and opportunities that the growth of e-books presents to all who are actively engaged in buying, selling, lending, promoting, writing and publishing books.

We are striving to find the best model for all parties. Guiding our decisions is our goal to make sure that all of our sales channels, in both print and digital formats, remain viable, not just today but in the future. Ensuring broad distribution through booksellers and libraries provides the greatest choice for readers and the greatest opportunity for authors’ books to be discovered.

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.

We spent many months examining the issues before making this change. We talked to agents and distributors, had discussions with librarians, and participated in the Library Journal e-book Summit and other conferences. 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. Our hope is to make the cost per circulation for e-books less than that of the corresponding physical book. In fact, the digital list price is generally 20% lower than the print version, and sold to distributors at a discount.

We invite libraries and library distributors to partner with us as we move forward with these new policies. We look forward to ongoing discussions about changes in this space and will continue to look to collaborate on mutually beneficial opportunities.

To continue the discussion, please email library.ebook@HarperCollins.com


About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on March 14, 2011, in Consumerism, Libraries, Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The New York Times posted an article on this topic the day after I posted the above to my blog. According to the NY Times article, libraries make up 7-10% of e-book sales. However, libraries are also centers in which many people first discover and read a book, and then suggest it to others.


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