Finally! A publisher has decided that the Internet is not a thief’s paradise or a money pit. HarperCollins launched a new ebook (or is it e-book) program called Browse Inside that allows users to read and search through full-text electronic versions of the latest titles for free. Reading books for free? Is Jane Friedman crazy? Oh wait, we’ve been able to read books for free in bookstores and libraries since bookstores and libraries came into existence. The Browse Inside program is a bit clumsy to navigate and pages sometimes load slowly, but I wonder if that wasn’t done on purpose to discourage users from reading the entire book online instead of buying it. In any case, this is a much-needed step in the right direction.
Publishers need to trust that their readers want to buy books, not steal them. Of course there will always be those people who try to scrounge every ounce of free-ness they can from every situation, but these people are the minority. They are the people who sit in Barnes and Noble and read entire books without buying them, but they are already a factor in books sales. So what if a few of the people who go to the HarperCollins website read the book there instead of buying it? Those people probably would not have bought the book in the first place.
Still, Jane Friedman is wary and watchful of this new enterprise. In a New York Times article on this subject, Friedman said that the company would track sales of the featured titles on Browse Inside very closely, and that “we will know very soon if we sense any kind of cannibalization.” This quotation seems to sum up the industry attitude toward the Internet. It sounds like a threat to all of those hungry little readers out there. Don’t read too much of this book online or you will lose the privilege! Yikes!
Seriously, we just want to read some books, and we don’t even mind paying for them.
Digital publishing afficianados, look for press coverage of the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference going on now in New York City. Bloggers, pros, and authors are teaming up to discuss digital technology as it relates to books!