HarperCollins Continues To Focus On Digitizing Books; But Still Having Trouble Letting Go Of Control

from the experimenting-away dept

About a year ago, we were a bit surprised to see book publisher HarperCollins, who is among the publishers fighting Google’s book scanning project, decide that they were going to start a multi-million dollar project to scan their own books. It seemed a little odd considering that Google was basically willing to do the scanning for them for free. At the very least, it could have made sense to work out a deal with Google, where HarperCollins stopped trying to stop the Google scanning project in exchange for Google giving HarperCollins a digital library of their own content to do other stuff with. Since then, HarperCollins has been scanning away, and even running some experiments with ad-supported books. Today, the company announced that it’s teaming up with digital publishing company LibreDigital to offer more features and services around the digital content. It’s good that they’re digging deeper into the possibilities of digital content, but it still seems like they’re focusing on the wrong thing. Rather than looking at the new opportunities this allows for publishers, they focus on the “comprehensive control” this will allow. The lesson that should have been learned by this point is that the value in digitizing isn’t in the control, but in allowing more things to be done with the content to make it more valuable. There’s nothing wrong with HarperCollins trying to digitize works and do more with them — but doing more often means letting go of control, rather than putting more rules on the content.

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Comments on “HarperCollins Continues To Focus On Digitizing Books; But Still Having Trouble Letting Go Of Control”

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Mike Williamson (user link) says:

They'll eventually get it

My books through Baen are all available as cheap text downloads, and two of them are free as promotional material. I still derive substantial royalties from those titles and get at least one fan letter a week from someone who grabbed one free or cheap and then bought paper copies of the rest. Every Baen author reports similar experiences.

Meanwhile, HarperCollins is paranoid about 1000 word promotional blurbs, warning me to “Be sure none of the plot is given away!!!!!!” as if there’s an original plot out there, is struggling to accept that there’s an electronic world out there, and my royalties, from a much larger publisher, are languishing in the low hundreds of dollars a year.

All titles were published in the same timeframe, from 2004-2005.

You do the math.

I won’t even go into the ease of emailing MSSs to Baen, reading galleys and submitting corrections by email, as opposed to HC wanting to FedEx hundreds of sheets of paper back and forth four times…

Geoffrey Kidd (profile) says:

Re: They'll eventually get it

For treeware proofing, hardcopy makes a fair amount of sense, particularly if you want to catch stuff like hyphenation errors. In one of the Thraxas books, for example, HOW a character’s name was pronounced determined the hyphenation that needed to be used, and the auto-hyphenation on the typesetting software (Murphy lives!) got it wrong.

On the other hand, from a consumer standpoint, electronic books are easier to carry around. (I’ve got eight Baens in my Palm even as I type this, including The Weapon). And I’ve bought, without exception, everything Baen has ever put out as an e-book.

What really frosts me about HarperCollins is that they refused to publish Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Sharing Knife “because it might impact sales of the hardcover,” but were perfectly happy to publish Michael Crichton’s latest crud. FEH!

Thanks again for The Weapon, and please, keep ’em coming. I absolutely loved Humans Call It Duty in the upcoming Future Weapons of War.

earl says:

Re: Maybe I don't get it

Publishers receive the books in various formats like Quark…not necessarily a “web ready” format. For the most part once they’ve edited the manuscript and created a print ready version, they archive the book file.

It’s not like they have a big database with all the text from all the books they’ve published.

Some Dude says:

Mr. Williamson

Thanks for your post, Mr. Williamson. I’ve been a fan of Baen books since a friend lent me a few John Ringo and Eric Flint books early last year. His copy of Ghost even had a cd full of DRM-free ebooks. I’ve bought over a dozen books in the last year as a result. Baen is the first publisher I’ve heard of that not only dosn’t fight against fan fiction, but actually supports it. From everything I’ve seen, Baen treats their customers and their authors well, and as long as they continue to do so, I’ll be buying their books. I am not familiar with your work, but I can assure you, I’ll be looking it up.

OffBeatMammal (profile) says:

fractured market only hurts adoption

FictionWise, Sony Reader, eBooks, Google, HarperCollins

If I go into a bookstore and buy a paperback I know I can read it on any technology platform I want (at home, on the bus, in the office….except perhaps underwater) and I can lend it to a fried, trade it in a 2nd hand book store or keep it for ever

But if I want a decent eBook experience I have to pay for a reader software that is possibly limited to a hardware platform (what if I want to read using my PocketPC on the bus, my UMPC on te bus and my iMac at home) or a dedicated device (yet another thing to carry) and I loose all the flexibility that the paper copy costs me.

Yet in many cases the electronic version costs the same as the paper one.

Go figure!

Penelope Trunk (profile) says:

Who is the market, anyway

Amidst all the digitizing of the books, someone needs to address the fact that mainstream book publishers aren’t totally convinced that people in their 20s buy books – in any format.

Almost all nonfiction books aimed at young people are paperback originals becuase publishers don’t want to risk paying a lot to publish a book geared at a market they don’t know how to sell to.

So it seems like before publishers get gung-ho about digitizing the baby boomer liteary canon, publishers should figure out what the next generation wants to read — digitized or not.

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