Saturday, February 26, 2011

HarperCollins vs Libraries Lending Ebooks: Round One

*sigh* Oh HarperCollins... This makes me sad. :(

HarperCollins (HC) has recently decided that ebooks licensed to libraries will now be subject to a 26 loan cap, meaning that an ebook can be loaned twenty-six times, and then their license expires and the library would have to purchase a new one in order to keep lending the ebook. If a standard lending period is two weeks, that means that after ONE lending year, the ebook license would have to be repurchased -- EVERY lending year.

Apparently, this number was chosen after reviewing "a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies."

"HarperCollins is committed to the library channel. We believe this change balances the value libraries get from our titles with the need to protect our authors and ensure a presence in public libraries and the communities they serve for years to come."
(Quoted from LibraryJournal article)

*sigh* Come on guys... really? I love HarperCollins. They publish some of my very favorite authors. They publish amazing and beautiful and memorable books. But I cannot help but find myself disappointed in them for this decision. I cannot see how this would "ensure a presence in public libraries and the communities they serve for years to come."

Libraries are already underfunded and hurting. Libraries are already finding it necessary to reduce their staff, hours, branches and stock. They are already finding it hard to operate and continue to serve their communities as they have done for so long. Every few months, there's news of another library that can't stay open on its own, and (thankfully) many communities rally to donate and support them. 

Libraries are not just places to read and borrow books, movies, and music. These are community hubs that provide many different services to the residents in their area. My local library alone offers many different educational groups and forums, from illiteracy help to special needs student study groups to after-school programs to book discussions and themed book clubs. They offer assistance with searching for job openings and offer help with resumes and applications. They offer the local homeless a warm place to spend bitterly cold winter days. These are just a few of the things that my library offers... Others probably offer even more. How could they possibly continue to offer these services if they had to repeatedly "pay rent" just to keep their stock of books?

My library system does not support ebook lending now, and if instituting a 26-loan cap is the trend to come, I doubt they will be able to do so in the future. Nearly all of the library books I've ever taken out of my library were donated, not purchased. My library has books on their shelves that are decades old -- older than I am in some cases. My library barely has the funds available to purchase print books that are in need of replacement, let alone potentially renew licenses for ebooks that are undamaged and unchanged, but have just been limited by a publisher.

I do understand that print books are subject to wear and tear and eventually need to be replaced, while ebooks do not. I understand that publishers will lose money if libraries only ever need to purchase ebook copies one time and never replace them.

But there should be a reasonable middle ground. This is an industry that needs to work together and support each other. I do not want to see HarperCollins or any other publisher fail, but I do not want to see libraries fail either. A loan cap is not unreasonable, however the extremely low limit they've set is. Books last longer than one year in EVERY format.

How can this possibly be good for libraries that are already struggling? Why not set a loan cap at a realistic figure, taking into account that ebooks DO last longer than print books? Say 300 loans and then renew? That would be a new license every decade or so (depending on lending of course), which is MUCH more reasonable to me. I am afraid that to prevent themselves from having to pay repeatedly on HarperCollins ebooks, libraries will just stop offering them. :(

What do you think of this decision? Let me know in comments!


  1. Awful! This makes me sad and unhappy.

  2. I agree with you - there has to be some kind of middle ground.

    I like your last suggestion of 300 lends.

    Or - what if there was the initial cost of the license and then every x number of years there's a fee to renew the license (less than the cost of the original license).

  3. I think a "one year" lending period is ridiculous. Books last much longer than one year in a library. I'd recently heard that you could check out e-books from libraries and that made me consider an e-reader more seriously, but if they don't make it appealing to libraries, then it's not as appealing to me.

  4. Ashley, it is awful. It makes me sad and scared for libraries. Once these things start appearing, everyone falls in line lest they be left behind. What will happen then, when libraries must continually repurchase their stock? Either they'll go broke, or they'll stop offering ebooks because they are too expensive.


    Kate, that's a good idea as well. A renewal fee rather than a new license purchase. But I don't think that the renewal should be less than every 10 years in any case.


    Emilee, I agree. The 26-lend limit is ridiculously low.

    I recently got a nook, and I love it. But I would feel a little guilty borrowing an ebook from my library (if they offered them) if I knew that they had such a limited quantity of uses from each one. But then if nobody borrows them, it's wasted money... It's a bad spot to be in, and I hope that this decision is revised to be a little more kind to libraries.

  5. My library subscribes to a product called Overdrive, which provides our patrons with e-books and audiobooks. You'd think 26 checkouts would be ok.... except we share this subscription with 19 other libraries. So - how is this going to work now? We're not sure. The listservs were full of buzz about this on Friday. Very frustrating.

  6. Interesting point, Jo. I would be curious about how that would work as well. Let me know if you find out anything. :)

  7. Bear in mind that more than one person at a time can "borrow" an e-book: if 26 people download the same e-book at the same time, then it will only last two weeks. Very silly ...

  8. I didn't know that, Steve. My understanding was that while a file was "checked out" by one person, it was not available to others. I guess they probably aren't all like that, though.

  9. We use Overdrive in our library too and we license for one book - one user at a time. So many of our patrons are still placing holds and having to wait for new and popular titles. Under this borrowing model, and with these new restrictions coming from the publishing industry, I can't see public libraries keeping pace and remaining relevant in the ebook world.

    Surely there has to be middle ground in here somewhere; public libraries are in a unique position to promote and support reading and books and the publishers should WANT to be our friends, not try to cut us off at the legs. That just doesn't make sense, plus it will leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth, smacking too much of out-and-out greed.

    I'm just so relieved to see people talking about this and worrying about how it will impact their public libraries. That does my heart good! :)