Dear HarperCollins

March 5, 2011

An email that went to HarperCollins:

It was with dismay that I read of HarperCollins’ recent decision to put limits on libraries’ use of ebooks produced by the company.

I’m really puzzled that a publishing company I’ve supported for years doesn’t appear to understand how libraries are helping it financially and so obviously doesn’t care about the place a library has in a community.  This is where many of us born into the lower income brackets learn to love books—in my case, enough to pursue a PhD and become a literature professor.  The library is where we check out the books that we then decide we can’t live without, so we purchase them.  Here we discover the writers whose books we get into the habit of buying the instant they’re available.  In my case, it means that I now spend around $200 a month on books, many written by authors I discovered at my local library.  How is it that no one at HarperCollins understands the service that libraries are providing the company?

And, yes, that service extends to ebooks.  Like a lot of people who own a lot of books, I’ve realized how handy it is to carry around an electronic copy of a book I already own in paper.  The two ereaders I own make it very easy to make spur-of-the-moment purchases.  And, effortless as it is to check out an ebook from my living room, it’s just as effortless to buy an electronic copy of that book once I’ve realized that I like the book so much that I simply must have my own copy.

I’m surprised by the company’s action, because this will likely become a public relations fiasco.  Budget cuts are forcing libraries to close branches and cut back on service; that HarperCollins chose this time to squeeze more blood from the turnip is—put mildly—reprehensible.

Limiting ebook checkout to 26 on the supposition that paper books fall apart is laughable.  Paper books are much tougher than that.  HarperCollins paper books are much tougher than that.  I should know:  since the late 1980s I’ve used a number of your books in my university literature classes.

Which is why I’m rather pleased by the timing of this announcement.  We just got a notice that it’s time to order books for next fall.  I have 90 students buying several books apiece.  This semester, I’ve had good experiences with two of your titles.  Fortunately, I’ll have time to find titles to replace them—books published by other publishers.  So that’s 180 potential sales going elsewhere.

Actually, it’s even more sales going elsewhere, because now I’ll be much more careful about which publishers get my money.  I do wish your company luck; you have many wonderful authors.

I just won’t be buying their books.

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