The HC boycott: why it should worry publishers more than it is
March 9, 2011 | 10:47 am
By Joanna Cabot
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?