Joho the Blog » Has HarperCollins lost its mind or its soul?

Has HarperCollins lost its mind or its soul?

HarperCollins has changed its agreement with the main distributor of e-books to libraries: e-books will now become inaccessible after 26 checkouts.

I understand publishers’ desire to limit ebook access so that selling one copy doesn’t serve the needs of the entire world. But think about what this particular DRM bomb does to libraries, one of the longest continuous institutions of civilization. Libraries exist not just to lend books but to guarantee their continuous availability throughout changes in culture and fashion. This new licensing scheme prevents libraries from accomplishing this essential mission.

It’s beyond ironic. Until now, libraries have in fact had to scale back on that mission because there isn’t enough space for all the physical books they’ve acquired over the years. So, they get rid of books that have fallen out of fashion or no longer seem important enough. Now that the digital revolution has so lowered the cost of storage that libraries can at last do far better at this culture-building mission, a major publisher has instituted the nightmare culture-killing license.

So, why do I say that HarperCollins has lost its soul instead of just criticizing it for this action? Because I don’t see how this scheme could make sense to a publisher unless the publisher had given up on books as a primary way we build a culture together. 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.

7 Responses to “Has HarperCollins lost its mind or its soul?”

  1. HarperCollins has not lost their mind. They’ve always been about the money. Huge publishing houses like that are only about books when they’re making money. If they’re not making money then they’re trash or not made by them. They’re only about making money, always, and from what I can tell, always have been.

    I agree with the issue at hand, however. How can you stop a library from distributing books? This is where traditional publishers really get under my skin. On one hand, they claim that ebooks aren’t really significant and they actually go as far as not calling them real books. On top of that, they claim traditional books are superior. On the other hand, they’re book stores are rapidly closing and they don’t want distribute their ebooks through libraries, presumably because of lost revenue from an inferior product. Nope didn’t lose their mind. Always only about the money.

  2. Publishers were a necessary evil when books required printing; with the move to ebooks they should go the way of dinosaurs and travel agents.

  3. Harper Collins has a soul?

  4. I’ve met a fair number of people who work for book publishing houses. They are undoubtedly all doing it in part because it’s a job, as is the case for almost all of us, including me. But, in my experience, they chose the book publishing industry because they think books are important to our culture and our democracy.

  5. That sounds pretty awful. I suppose they may be thinking (or maybe they’ll say they were thinking this after reading it!) that a paper book deteriorates and has to be replaced eventually after some number of check-outs, so they make a follow-up sale, or sales. They may think that number is 26. I am being generous towards them, but the idea seems wrong.

  6. Well, now that I went and read the article you linked to at BoingBoing, I see that one factor HC mentioned was the imagined lifespan of a book. I’m sorry I didn’t go there first.

  7. “Books”? You mean <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12596528"reading containers?

    Around a hundred years ago, some publishers tried to make licensing stick, putting a notice in the flyleaf very much like the software licenses that we have all become used to — the publisher retained the right to the content, the book could not be sold or lent to third parties, etc. Attempts to enforce such strictures were thrown out of court, but those were more progressive times.

    By the way, Jason Epstein has a fascinating review of the changes in the publishing industry over the past sixty years, as well as his guesses for the future, in a recent NY Review of Books.

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