HarperCollins & the future of ebooks in libraries

I’ve been thinking about the whole debacle over the past few days, and imagining what living models would work best for libraries, publishers, and authors. I am thinking specifically of popular works, as they are a different breed and have different uses than academic works.

The problem is that we keep trying to treat ebooks like they are the same kind of scarce as paper books. They aren’t the same thing at all. The scarcity is manufactured, and unnecessarily so.

I think the best solution for popular ebooks and libraries is a subscription or lease model. Give libraries unlimited simultaneous access to ebooks. Let the libraries regulate who can access them. Charge a flat rate or per use rate or whatever will make a profit on the whole without breaking library budgets.

I realize that authors are paid based on how many volumes sold, and I will leave it up to the lawyers to determine how many subscription uses are equivalent to a sale.

The benefit to libraries is that as the popularity of titles wane, they aren’t stuck with a bunch of unwanted ebooks. The benefit for publishers is that their entire catalog, front and back, is readily available to readers, lengthening the long tail of sales.

And that’s the aspect of library books that isn’t given as much weight as it should. Granted, I am a book person, so perhaps my experience is skewed. However, there a several series and authors that I collect in hardcover now that I was introduced to through my library. I am a cheap reader, so buying in hardcover is something I reserve only for things I really enjoy and plan to hold onto for a long time. I’m not going to buy a hardcover of something unknown, particularly not at list price. I think too often publishers don’t take advantage of the marketing opportunities that libraries provide.

Edited: Wrong publisher. D’oh.