(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Mike Williamson, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 5:04am

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Skippyboy, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 6:04am


    To poster #1 - You ROCK!

    Nice to see an author who "gets it". Thanks for your insight.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 6:26am

    Re: They'll eventually get it

    Nice advertising. I cruised to your website and then to amazon reviews for freehold. I like what I saw. I'll be picking up a copy sometime soon. Does it have distribution in big bookstores?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Nathan, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 7:07am

    Maybe I don't get it

    Shouldn't HarperCollins already have their books in a digital format? After all, didn't they use this digital format to print them in the first place? Or do they still have a bunch of monkeys setting type on their hand-cranked printing press?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 7:42am

    Re: Maybe I don't get it

    They dont think they can sell it to consumers without changing it around and wrapping it with drm. And probably debating royalties with publishers. It would be too easy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    earl, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 7:42am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Some Dude, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 8:13am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Some Dude, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 8:17am

    Re: Mr. Williamson

    Oops. I'd originally said I wasn't familiar with your work, didn't realize you'd written The Hero. I really enjoyed that one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Geoffrey Kidd (profile), Jan 12th, 2007 @ 8:55am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    wifezilla, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 10:22am


    Thanks for the lead. I am off to the free library :D

    Now, if I could only find an ebook reader that didn't cost a fortune and have a lot of useless features, I would be happy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Geoffrey Kidd (profile), Jan 12th, 2007 @ 11:45am

    Re: Thanks!

    I've used a Palm or its successors since 2000 with no problems. And since Baen doesn't load their stuff with Consumer Rights Aren't Permitted, I can roll my own format that works for me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 12:15pm

    Wow, Eric Flint's letter explaining the Baen Free Library makes me want to go out and buy a bunch of Baen books, cuz these people really get it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    OffBeatMammal (profile), Jan 12th, 2007 @ 12:18pm

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Jesper, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 12:20pm


    @Geoffrey Kidd

    Things like proofreading, hypenation errors and layout checking was some of the reasons God and Adobe invented the .pdf-format.

    I get the point of not sending word files back and forth, but when it comes to proofreading .pdf does every a hardcopy does, only better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Penelope Trunk, Jan 14th, 2007 @ 5:37pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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