The HC boycott: why it should worry publishers more than it is

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Boycott websites and on-line petitions are springing up all over the place over the recent decision Harper Collins made to start limiting library ebooks to 26 loans. I’ve heard my share of conspiracy theories over this one, all of which are a moot point in the face of the reality that this move (and the backlash) may hurt Harper Collins more than they realize, because it’s true, they are the only game in town as far as the authors they represent, but not all of those authors are equally name-brand status. Think about it: how many authors are on your must-buy list? And how many of your yearly books read does that represent? For someone like me who reads about 100 books a year, the name-brand must-reads account for less than five books. Even if Big Pub ‘protects’ themselves from all of those five, I certainly will have plenty else to read!

And I don’t think I’m alone either. Here are the reading habits of some other readers I know:

1) My sister. Well, to start with, she has a Kindle and I have a Kindle, so even over-looking the whole DRM removal or not issue, it’s painless for her and I to share. That widens her pool of available ‘reading choices without shelling out money’ considerably. The other thing about my sister is, she is a series completionist. So she might buy ten books in one month, but they’ll all be books by one author for one series. In a year, then, she’d have the same book habits as me: 3 or 4 must-read authors, and a vast pool of ‘whatever else I get my hands on that looks interesting.’

2) My parents. I’ll knock Dad out of the running first because for him, popular culture tanked after about 1965 and all he’s been reading on his Kobo are public domain classics he remembers from his boyhood. As for Mom, she is a tech-phobe and her Kobo is still registered to my account. In the year she’s had it, there are a grand total of TWO books she has specifically requested. The rest of the time, she’s been happy to read whatever else I happen to put on the Kobo for her. And she still borrows from friends and from the library. Her husband is even worse from a commercial standpoint because he has NO book preferences of his own. Between Mom’s Kobo and the paper books she brings into the house, there is always something to read when he feels like reading. He’ll read whatever is there.

3) My admin at work. She follows the best-seller lists. She got a Sony reader for Christmas and immediately bought the three Stieg Larssen books. Once those were done, she was happy to read the Sony store freebies until a new blockbuster came her way. She reads for about twenty minutes a day, before bed. She’ll get through a book a month. If you assume that half of these dozen books a year will be the freebies, you’re looking at six new release purchases…

4) My geek friends. I have a few geek friends with ebook readers. All of them know how to strip DRM and share amongst themselves if they want to. All of them know how to find stuff on torrent sites. And all of them enjoy sci-fi and patronize the Baen store and other DRM-free indie sources.

So, you lock down everything so that Jodi Picoult/Stephen King/John Grisham is putting out, and what does that leave you with? You’ll protect your big names at the expense of all your other authors, because most people—absent the two or three ‘names’ they follow—probably don’t care as much as you think. One mystery novel by a published author they have never heard of is going to be pretty much the same as another, and if you take one of them away they’ll just find something different to read. Or they’ll ask their Kindle-owning sister to share something she’s enjoyed. Or they’ll look at what the wife has lying on the coffee table and see which looks interesting. Or they’ll go to the library or used bookstore for paper. In any case, no more money for you for that read. But hey, you protected Stephen King, so it’s all good, right?

5 Comments on The HC boycott: why it should worry publishers more than it is

  1. I have about 8 must-buy authors, but only half put out a book each year. For these must-buy authors, however, I buy the hardcover because I want to keep them in my permanent collection. I had started to buy both the hardcover and the ebook versions, but agency pricing put a stop to that, the exception being Baen where I will still buy both versions.

    One other twist has occurred in my ebook reading habits. I now focus nearly all of my purchases on Smashwords. “Purchases” includes the free ebooks. In fact, over the past two days I have purchased more than 40 ebooks at Smashwords — all free when the discount coupons were applied. Many of the ebooks were from authors I wanted to try but whose pricing I felt was too high for an unknown so I hadn’t yet tried them. (Yes, I know about the sample system and I have tried it several times.) In the end, the Agency 6 are moving me far away from their books to the books I can find on Smashwords.

  2. I read a lot, although somewhat less than 100 books a year. My reading goes in spurts: I’ll discover a new author and read all his or her backlist, then go for awhile until another author strikes my fancy. I have three must-read authors, and two of them publish through Baen.

  3. Last year I read approximately 130 ebooks. I’ll pretty much read anything, so I only have one must-read author and she doesn’t publish through HC. I’m finding lots of good indie books, plus I supplement with library books. Not buying from the Agency 6 is not a hardship.

  4. The seed change for me has been the availability of books. Gone are the days when I would be worried about going to the bookstore and not finding enough books to get me through the next couple of weeks. The biggest part of the change was the advent of on-line bookstores and the big brown truck – even more than the changes brought by e-books. I now have at least a years worth of books I want to read and the number is growing faster than I can read the books. And I have yet to delve deeply into Smashwords or Baen.

    If a publisher prices a book thinking I will pay dearly today for that privilege, I just move that book to the back of the list and will check again later (actually I have the computer do the checking for me). I hate to admit it but there is more pride involved than money. I just hate to feel like a sucker. So many books. So little time.

  5. Our public library ebook consortium has decided to not buy Harper Collins ebooks. It is not a boycott decision but a financial decision. We will get better bang for our buck elsewhere.

    I buy pbooks for our library. While I will still buy Picoult, King, etc., I am paying attention to who the publisher is for debut and mid-list authors who aren’t in demand at my library and passing on HC titles. I’d rather spend my library dollars elsewhere.

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