Digital Book World has a ten minute video interview with Brian Murray, CEO of HarperCollins, where he talks about how the publisher is experimenting with new business models in the digital age. It’s worth watching the full interview, but this is what he has to say about HarperCollins’ controversial library lending policy:

Libraries are a really important channel for HarperCollins. We’ve talked about discovery of books and libraries are where a lot of discovery happens in many communities across the country. So HarperCollins is committed to that library channel. The challenge is that we’re trying to balance the needs of all of our stakeholders. So librarians and their patrons are stakeholders, as are authors, and as are booksellers. As this business transitions from physical to digital, it’s forcing us to think about different business models and try to make sure that all of those stakeholders have a role to play in the future. So when we were looking at the library channel, the idea of having almost a subscription model is actually a unique business model. Right now, it is the only channel where we have offered this kind of business model. We’re struggling to find the right business model that can work for libraries. The rationale behind it was, “let’s find something that’s unique and different that libraries might adopt,” and we put it out there and we’re now listening to everyone to see what they have to say. We’re going to continue to listen over the coming months and we encourage librarians to try it to see if it works.

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  1. yes, it’s a new model. amazing that they didn’t think of this before there was such thing as an e-book. ship the book, and if the library doesn’t make its annual payment to retain it, require them to send it back. however. with the ‘subscription’ model, the library receives *additional* content in exchange for each payment. *new* content, right? *time-sensitive* content. the (understaffed) library is not generally applying the labor-intensive process of paying a supplier over and over again for the purpose of *retaining the same* content. so harper collins authors, i’m so sorry but if my library says i have to order your harper collins e-book, exactly 26 of our users will be able to check out your book, after which it will probably be allowed to expire. and consider this before you stay with harper collins. sometimes people check out a book and never get around to reading it. oh, and if the book is assigned reading for a class, those 26 checkouts could be done in a single semester. what will that do for your word-of-mouth, and overall visibility. oh. and if harper-collins can do this to libraries, they can require a micro-payment of the individual e-edition purchaser, as well, auto-charged every time you open your e-book. hey! reading could be more of a rollercoaster ride. we’ll have to memorize our content if we don’t want to have to pay again and again, and the notion that a text is ‘stored human memory’ will be completely undermined, rendering the text itself useful for instant gratification rather than for long-term reading, review and analysis for the purpose of intellectual development. the way i see it, harper-collins will be making my job a lot harder, and i will be spending my time and effort to de-stabilize both our collections, and the collection development process. to me, that’s lose-lose. if i were an author i’d do some serious homework and soul-searching before signing with harper-collins. because the author’s problem is *not* with communities sharing paid copies of their work. the author’s problem is obscurity. harper-collins doesn’t need to care about any one author’s visibility, because they have other authors to hedge their bet. publishers should rejoice the popularity of e-reading, and ride the wave *to help increase the number of people who read*. because reading as an activity — in any format — is still on the decline, and will decline further with any increase in friction between reader and text. tv is just far easier.

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