Electrons get frayed at the edges . . .

The Library Journal reports that Harper Collins are considering restricting the amount of times an e-book can be loaned, on the analogy that since paper books wear out, e-books should “virtually” wear out as well . . .

This seems an entirely blinkered view that takes no account of the reality of the electronic distribution and use environment, but instead tries to push things back into old moulds and old expectations of the ways of making money.

Harper Collins issued a clarification, noting that ;

“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.”

Whatever the economics of this, there are two significant issues.  The first relates to the idea that electronic content is leased and not bought outright – something that academic libraries have had to deal with in “leasing” e-journals. Without outright ownership, what security does a library have for future access, preservation and the notion that knowledge is cumulative, rather than a temporary collection?

The other issue is in the way that some publishers seem to be responding to change.  Notice the approach – because paper books have an expected life of 26 loans, e-books will be artificially limited likewise: the price for replacement books will be pegged to the paperback price. None of this relates to actual cost, let alone new possibilities or innovations that may be possible, but to a fixation on past models, past profit margins, past returns.

All that this means, of course, is that while there might be an uneven transition to the electronic environment, with new surprising charges being proposed here and there, the future will belong to agile businesses able to embrace the new environment and innovate within it. Leadership – and profit – will inevitably fall away from those publishers clinging to old paradigms.

Bill

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About Bill Hubbard
Bill Hubbard is the Director of the Centre for Research Communications (CRC), incorporating the work of SHERPA. Bill has a background in Higher Education and IT; in particular in work aiming to embed IT into university functions and working practices. Previous work has looked at the use of Expert Systems in supporting decision making, designing information systems for managing research funding and a number of years working with the introduction of multimedia into university teaching. Bill's commercial experience includes three years as a project manager in virtual reality applications for communications, installations and broadcast, specialising in virtual heritage environments. Before this he worked as a senior lecturer at De Montfort University, Leicester, leading a BA degree course in Multimedia Design and has been an honorary lecturer in the School of Computing Sciences at the University of East Anglia. Bill speaks widely on open access and related issues - repository network development, institutional integration, cultural change, IPR and Open Access policy development. He is also involved in archaeological and heritage applications of new media and sits on the Channel 4 Award jury for new media archaeology.

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