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A Better Idea for eBook Libraries

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I understand the publishers' concern: buy an eBook, it lasts forever. It never needs to be restocked, and can be duplicated and backed up really easily. Previously, they had a reason to expect repeat purchases from libraries as they replaced stolen or damaged books. eBooks potentially cause their income from libraries to drop by a substantial enough amount that they would need to find new revenue streams in order to continue operating at the level they currently manage.

HarperCollins' idea, to make eBooks expire after 26 loans so the library must buy another copy, is frankly ridiculous. They say themselves that this approach was chosen based on the life-cycle of print books:

Josh Marwell, President, Sales for HarperCollins, told LJ that the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.

jTheir response is to try and emulate that to keep the purchase/re-purchase model going. A better response would be to look at what they're providing in an eBook, what their costs are, what their likely losses are (people loading eBooks get the exact same experience as those who purchase them, on the whole), and make a proposition based on that.

So here's my suggestion:

  1. Figure out what a library would usually spend to keep a book in their library each year.
  2. Round that figure down a bit (makes it more compelling for purchaser, and takes into account that your own costs are at least a little lower).
  3. Charge libraries a yearly (or, if you like, monthly) fee to be able to offer that eBook.

The fees would likely be higher initially, for the newest releases, and would drop over time in a predetermined manner. This has the added benefit for both parties that it makes it simpler for both of them to do their accounting, since they’ll know what their costs are ahead of time, rather than having their accounting subject to the whims of library borrowers.

How about that?

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