To Save Free Enterprise, Books Must Die
Publishers Weakly – May 27, 2011
The publishing house Harpy (formerly Harpy & Roe, then Harpy Collie, then HarpyCollie, now just Harpy again), a wholly owned subsidiary of the international corporation headed by the egregious Rupert Merdle, has announced a new policy designed to make Harpy equally egregious.*
The new policy ensures that e-books bought from Harpy by public libraries will “expire” — disappear — after they have been taken out of the library 26 times. If a library wishes to keep the e-book accessible, it will have to buy it all over again from Harpy.
By allowing their clients to take out hardcopy books an unlimited number of times before they have to be replaced, public libraries have been cheating Mr Merdle out of thousands of dollars a year via Harpy books, thus causing a dangerous drain on the resources of his corporation.
No way to prevent this disturbing library-caused loss to healthy corporate growth has yet been discovered, because a hardcopy book once bought cannot be controlled. It can be bought and sold again and again, or, far more disturbingly, can be given, or loaned, and thus used over and over by different people, in the most blatantly socialistic fashion, without anybody making any profit out of it.
Not so, however, with e-books!
An e-book cannot be worn out, cannot fall to pieces, can go on existing as long as technology supports it and electricity is supplied, and therefore never need be bought but once — a terrifying prospect.
Publishers Macmillion and Slime & Shyster avoid the terror by not allowing any of their e-books in libraries. But they are losing potential profit from sales.
The solution of the problem lay in realising that the existence or nonexistence of their e-books is entirely up to Mr Merdle and his Harpies.
Expiration is the answer. The death of the book. Nothing could be simpler.
The public library buys the e-book, planning to slip it furtively and indefinitely often into the unwashed hands of the kind of people who go to public libraries—but now they can only get away with this 26 times. The twenty-seventh reader who put the book on hold is out of luck. The book expires. Dies. Ceases, as far as the library is concerned, to exist.
If the library wants it, they must buy it again. And again. And again.
And thus capitalism will be safe. . . until the next assault from the anarcho-socialist-librarian underworld. Even now, some egregious libraries are refusing to buy Harpy e-books, thus cheating Mr Merdle out of thousands of dollars a year – a loss unacceptable, as mentioned before, to a corporation whose resources run only to the two-figure billions.
* The word “egregious” is not a slur or insult; it is from Latin ex grege, outside the herd, and merely means “outstanding,” or anyhow it did for about 2500 years. If you want it to mean something else, feel free.
Current information on the status of e-books in libraries may be found, among many other sites, at:
Ursula K. Le Guin is a founding member of Book View Cafe. Her most recent book is Out Here: Poems and Images from Steens Mountain Country, co-authored with photographer Roger Dorband.
She contributed an original poem, “In England in the Fifties,” to Book View Cafe’s anthology Breaking Waves, which benefits the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund.