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The Publisher of Tolkien Has Taken a Business Lesson from Sauron

February 27th, 2011 by · No Comments · opinion

If there is a crime here, it is that HarperCollins is guilty of attempted infanticide by their move to strangle ebook library lending in its cradle. Granted, it is the only publisher to ask for such restrictions but I’m certain the other ones are watching the outcome to this controversy very closely. Otherwise, this whole situation really turns into something out of The Godfather; it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

The “just business” aspect is the key here, the thing I believe that people are forgetting in their rush to lament a mere easily reversible announcement. HarperCollins is a publishing business where they have owners (News Corporation, in this case) to answer to for profitability. As much as one would like to romanticize publishing, at the end of the day the amount of money made has to be greater than the amount of money spent. In moving to limit ebook circulations in order to compel libraries to buy new licenses as well as check up on who is borrowing their books (something we do anyway, but whatever), they are carving out their own path to the ebook library market and working towards what they consider to be in their best business interests. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

I don’t think I’m alone in this viewpoint, but I think librarians (and especially public librarians) forget that do have power in a situation like this. It’s easily overlooked but extraordinarily simple: if it’s not a good deal, don’t buy it. This absurd and juvenile notion that we have to provide everything our patrons could possibly ask for is folly and a recipe for making extremely bad business decisions of our own. In not buying products from a publisher, database provider, or other library vendor, we are voting with our money. Just don’t buy it!

We have a fiduciary duty to spend the money libraries are given in the best interests of the communities that we serve.  I think the only thing that pisses off a taxpayer more than being taxed is the idea that their money is being spent unwisely. As librarians, we pride ourselves on the Return of Investment (ROI) that libraries generate for their communities; we even go so far as to use it in our advocacy materials. Why ruin it with a bad deal that is not in our favor, not in our patrons favor, ruining a perfectly good ROI, and is, well, just plain stupid?

This goes beyond buying HarperCollins material through Overdrive. When will the fear of being caught spending money foolishly override the fear that we are not being ‘good’ librarians if we don’t provide every kind of service or material possible? Sometimes, there are deals that we just need to walk away from. This is one of those times. Because the last thing I want to hear is the people who go forward and eat this crap sandwich is lamenting how awful the taste is.

No thanks. I’m a crap free diet.

P.S. I’ve written about something like this before; it was happening in the UK.

More reading on this:

Publishing Industry Forces OverDrive and Other Library eBook Vendors to Take a Giant Step Back (Librarian by Day)

The Publisher That Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (theanalogdivide)

Friday Alert: HarperCollins in cagemathc with Macmillan to see who can alienate readers better (Dear Author)

HarperCollins Seeks to Limit Digital Lending, Access Patron Data, Generally Piss Off Readers (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)

Congratulations HarperCollins – you just guaranteed Amazon and Kindle will win the eBook & eReader war (Literary Sluts)

HarperCollins Puts 26 Loan Cap on Ebook Circulations (Library Journal)

On eating your corn seed (Courtney Milan)

And for good measure read this:

OverDrive and the Library eBook Convenience Paradox (Go to Hellman)

HarperCollins to Libraries: we will nuke your ebooks after 26 checkouts (BoingBoing)

Library eBook Revolution, Begin (Librarian in Black)

Let’s Play Rent-A-Book! (David Lee King)

Update update: Read this brilliant take.

HarperCollins and the Suspension of eBook Disbelief (Go To Hellman)

reposted with permission from Agnostic, Maybe

(image via Flickr)

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