Our View: Publishers should rethink business model

It is not news that many daily newspapers are struggling to find strong financial footing in the age of the Internet, when news junkies have gotten used to getting their news when they want it, where they want it … on their smart phones or computers rather than on a printed page. So too, however, is the book publishing world with the rise of Kindles, Nooks, tablet computers and large-screen smart phones that allow owners to carry around full libraries of digital books, e-magazines and downloaded movies. While it all sounds great for voracious readers who are looking to avoid the hassle and cost of buying and storing their book lists and movie racks, there is a storm brewing on the digital front. Book publishers make their money off printed books, which have set shelf lives, wear out and get replaced. Digital books do not degrade over time, unless of course, technology makes the format obsolete. The rising shift from printed books to digital ones is pitting publishers against libraries who stock their “shelves” with the new formats to respond to customer demands for e-materials.

To make their financial books balance, publishers are either charging more for digital versions than their printed formats in hopes of getting their profits upfront or “renting” the materials to libraries through licensing agreements. The rationale for the higher cost is that the books do not degrade, despite the fact that there are little actual “publishing” costs associated with e-materials. The American Library Association has been in negotiations with publishers about this issue, but talks have gone nowhere. Libraries around the country, including the Pierce County Library System, have mounted campaigns to get readers involved in hopes that political pressure will get publishers to talk about the future of e-materials. “The major publishers (Hachette Book Group, Macmillan Publishing, Penguin Group and Simon & Schuster) are not selling to libraries – including Pierce County Library – or they are selling e-books at inflated prices or with heavy restrictions,” the campaign states. “Pierce County Library is confused and frustrated by publishers’ unwillingness to allow libraries to participate in the e-book marketplace. Publishers have not provided a clear answer to their blockade of libraries or holding them hostage to outrageously exorbitant prices, 100 to 300 percent higher than list prices or burdensome restrictions.”

One solution that seems to be reasonable is the Harper Collins business model concerning e-books. The publisher sells libraries e-books that have been encoded to shut down after 26 uses. The system saves on printing paper copies while also creating a way for publishers and writers to make money off their labor through resale of the same books that was routine in the world of printed word, when book pages faded, covers were torn or bindings became waterlogged. The potential of e-books on society is huge and should be of concern to everyone since digital materials can now mean information can be accessible to everyone, anywhere, at anytime. Thwarting the populace drive for e-materials seems short sighted since access to such materials will prompt higher demand. Publishers and writers can then lower their prices and retain their profits through the lower production costs and higher demand. They should not be greedy now at the expense of lost sales in the future. 


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