Saturday, February 26, 2011

What Do You Do When an eBook Won't Die?

HarperCollins recently made news for proposing a 26 checkout limit on their ebooks from public libraries.
Click here to read the article in Library Journal.
GalleyCat also covered the story.
This is crazy, right?
The blog Librarian in Black thinks so.
Same goes for BoingBoing.
Check out #hcod on Twitter for more reactions.
One one hand, basic ownership rights seem to apply. When a library buys a book, they own it, right? It isn’t the fault of libraries that ebooks never die. I like the idea that if we purchase a Beezus and Ramona ebook for my library, we own it forever. Well, ebooks are a bit different, as you don’t actually “own” an ebook – just the license for one.
But I can see where HarperCollins is coming from in terms of wanting to maintain the status quo.
I recently re-purchased almost every Ramona title for two of my school libraries. They were getting on in years, grungy, and were in need of a cover refresh. This sort of thing goes on at every library around the country. It isn’t a scam – the books break down over time or start to look dated and new copies are needed.
Now imagine if every Ramona book, at every library, never needed to be purchased again. No matter your opinion on ebooks, that’s a huge change.
But this 26 checkout business reminds me a little of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron – it feels like an artificial handicap that can’t last.
Where do you stand?
(Top Image: ‘eBook Readers Galore‘


  1. I think . . . the terms of a library license should be an either-or license: say, 10 years or 26 lendings (whatever the average life of a paper book is.) Sheesh. Why the heck don't readers think their authors should be able to make a realistic living?

  2. And let's not forget Illustrators, who like to make a living as well.

  3. A 26 checkout limit sounds like HarperCollins wants the ebook to be good for approximately one year (a maximum of 26 2-week checkouts are possible in 1 year if we go by the current “standard” checkout period is 2 weeks.) I would think print books are usually good for a lot more than 26 checkouts, surely. It seems like libraries might opt to buy ebooks with better terms, hard to say.

    Anyway, a possible solution for immortal ebooks would be for a fee to be paid to authors/illustrators for every checkout. A system to do that exists in the EU, known as The Public Lending Right (Click link to go to the PLR FAQ page.)

  4. PLR is based on an average issue throughout sample libraries, so it isn't an exact count of issues per title. And there is a cut off maximum fee due to authors/illustrators registered for the money available. Funding is lower this year, and expected to reduce over the next few years as government grants are smaller, so we all get less per book loan.
    But nearly all libraries have computerised issue systems now, I don't see why ebooks can't be loaned for a fee per issue over a set number of years license.
    It may be because the libraries wouldn't be able to predict the issue count to anticipate how much their charges would be, whereas they can tell how many paper books they can buy with a fixed budget, and make them last a bit longer when they don't have funds for new stock!

  5. Here's an article with some interesting stats:
    HCOD, Ebook User Bill of Rights and Math

    [#HCOD stands for Harper Collins + Overdrive, and is the Twitter hashtag for the discussion.]

    Anyway, she crunches some interesting numbers and comes up with stats such as:
    Public libraries in the U.S. spend a little under a billion dollars a year on print materials. This amounts to about 10 percent of the Publishing Industry’s net print sales.

    Much more in the article.

  6. Somebody on Twitter (sorry, forget who!) was talking about having live links in library ebooks that would allow the library patron who really liked a particular ebook to easily purchase it. That sounded like a pretty good idea.