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HarperCollins digital initiatives


Announcement in today's NY Times (link above) about HarperCollins new electronic initiatives. This is an important announcement, as it marks the first major initiative in the book industry for large-scale digitization, effectively challenging the dominance of Amazon and Google in this regard. This will not be the last such announcement. We should expect to see an entire ecosystem of suppliers and value-added marketers spring up, in large part because the numbers are so big in consumer publishing, thereby inviting investment.

One implication for the academic community is that the cost of digitization and conversion is poised to plunge, as services now can be built to industrial scale. A lot of libraries and academic publishers who have chosen to do this work internally may find themselves with substantial sunk costs and high ongoing operating expenses. This may not be a pretty picture because, as a rule, it is a lot harder to walk away from a capital investment than to make the investment in the first place.

For planning infrastructure investments, even research universities should abide by the principle to always, always attempt to piggyback on infrastructure built for consumer services because the size of that segment drives scale and scale sharply reduces unit costs.

Joe Esposito