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The library debate

Today I wanted to bring up the new debate currently raging between publishers and libraries. As you may or may not know, HarperCollins recently enacted new restrictions on e-books purchased by libraries, only allowing each book to be checked out twenty-six times before expiring.  This has essentially upended library lending policies, whereby e-books were previously lent out an unlimited number of times. In the publisher’s defense, HarperCollins is attempting to update a policy first created long before e-books gained a foothold in the market, as well as avoid losing an important part of their revenue that comes with replacing old or worn physical books. But on the opposite side, libraries now face apportioning more of their already slim budgets for replacing the e-books after they expire.

The issue has stirred up resistance from librarians across the country, and for now, the debate shows little sign of dying down. I’d love to hear your take on this dispute.  Does your local library offer e-book lending? Have you ever borrowed an e-book from your local library? Do you agree with HarperCollins’s new policy? Let me know!

11 Responses to The library debate

  1. Tommy Salami says:

    I assume that is because a hardcover book or trade paper is designed to disintegrate after 26 people read it? Libraries have books nearly a century old. As long as each e-copy can only be lent out one at a time, what is the issue?
    Libraries help generate great word of mouth. A friend introduced me to Sam Lipsyte, we borrowed The Ask from our libraries, and each of us has purchased it and the other books he has written. People are loathe to drop $25 to taste-test, and you can only read so much while standing in a bookstore.

  2. I’m not well-versed in this debate, but I can’t quite figure out why they selected the number 26? If the library is paying less for the ebook to begin with, the loss is already felt by the publisher. Perhaps an analysis of replacement copies for most books needs to be done and then apply that to the ebook replacement/expiration date??? Wish I had better input, but this has me stymied!

    • I work in a library, so perhaps I can shed a little light.

      The 26 uses, I believe, is based on the idea of two-week lending periods. Thus, 26 two-week periods would let you loan the most popular titles for a year before having to replace them.

      I can certainly tell you that my library does *not* pay less for an ebook. Quite the opposite in fact, although we also tend to buy academic books, and HarperCollins’ pricing model may be a little different. But libraries often have to pay more just for the right to lend the ebooks out.

  3. Jolene G. says:

    I’ve borrowed ebooks from my local public library and my main complaint there is that the hold list is oftentimes longer than the hold list for the print book. HarperCollins’ restrictions will only compound this problem.

    As a school librarian, this is the main reason I’m waiting to dive into the ebook pool. If any of the print books I have in my school library fell apart after 26 uses, I’d rethink buying from that particular publisher.

    I agree with Tommy–libraries are great places to “sample” books, and doing anything to stand in the way of getting books (or ebooks) into the hands of readers is a poor decision, IMHO.

  4. Joelle says:

    I can see the publisher’s point about losing money by not getting replacement sales, but 26 checkouts seems very random and extremely low. It would make more sense to have it expire after a certain amount of time…say 3-5 years.

    I rarely buy a book I haven’t read from the library and I never buy cookbooks I haven’t tried. I’m sure publishers will feel that sting if people can’t try books out ahead of time.

    But most importantly, why would any publisher want to piss off librarians? They are our biggest assets!

  5. I hate just saying that I wrote a big, long post on this, but I did a week ago (just click my name if you want to see it), offering my perspective as a long-time library worker (still working on my MLIS, so I can’t officially be called a librarian yet).

    This is really going to hurt libraries, and it’ll end up hurting HarperCollins too, because if we have to repurchase popular titles too frequently, we’ll buy fewer titles all around. As an aspiring author, though, I can understand what HarperCollins is trying to do (although poorly), and I hope they’ll realize the harm they’ll be inflicting on libraries and be able to come to a compromise, such as more loans before requiring re-purchase or some sort of tiered pricing structure.

  6. Ciara says:

    I think this is ridiculous. Publishers can’t reap the benefits of new technology and not have to suffer the negative consequences. Well I suppose they CAN, but it seems really unfair and damaging to libraries. I get that publishing is a business but it just seems they want to have their cake and eat it too.

  7. Gina Black says:

    What it means is that the industry is moving in the direction of leasing rights rather than selling a physical object. Maybe that’s what will happen with the selling of books to individuals, i.e. they’ll turn into a rental that can be reactivated by an additional payment. I think this is where TV/movies are going eventually now that we are streaming our views. It’s just another aspect of the digital revolution.

  8. Kerry Gans says:

    Libraries and librarians are awesome — they do so much good for authors and publishers alike.

    That said, I do get that HarperCollins doesn’t want to miss out on money they would make for replacing physical books. So I have no problem with them setting some sort of upper limit.

    But 26? That is a ridiculously low number. Given that libraries often buy hardbacks and that readers tend to treat library books a little more gently than their own, library books last a phenomenally long time.

    What the reasonable upper limit should be, I have no idea. I think there needs to be uninterested third-party research into how many times a book is checked out on average before it needs to be replaced.

    All I know is 26 is far too low, and the value libraries and librarians bring to the publishing world should weigh very heavily in their favor. Libraries give books so much free publicity, they should be considered as part of the overall marketing scheme and given discounts and incentives accordingly.

  9. The “Virtual Library of the Pioneer Library System” made a great video that illustrates the arbitrariness of choosing the number 26. It’s on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je90XRRrruM

  10. Publishers make money out of libraries. The Public Lending Rights (and Education Lending Rights) pays them for every time a book is borrowed. It is in their interest to keep the eBooks in the library. The quantity of library borrowings makes up for slow retail sales. They can’t have it both ways.

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