Publishers are looking to limit how libraries do digital lending. It’s infuriating. I’m going to have to go wear my unsexy mouthguard, I’m clenching my jaw to steel-bending proportions the more I read.
Digital book sales are now a significant percentage of all publisher and author revenue. As a result several trade publishers are re-evaluating eBook licensing terms for library lending services. Publishers are expressing concern and debating their digital future where a single eBook license to a library may never expire, never wear out, and never need replacement….
Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached.
In other words, the publisher sets a limit to the number of times a digital book can be lent, then when that limit is reached, that library must purchase another copy.
But wait! There’s more! That mysterious “publishers” referred to in the OverDrive email also says they want access to patron information. From the original OverDrive Update (available as a PDF on LibrarianByDay):
our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.).
Let’s not let libraries do their own jobs. That would be a terrible thing.
But Library Journal’s Josh Hadro has the megascoop: guess which publisher it was?
In the first significant revision to lending terms for ebook circulation, HarperCollins has announced that new titles licensed from library ebook vendors will be able to circulate only 26 times before the license expires.
Mention of the new terms was first made in a letter from OverDrive CEO Steve Potash to customers yesterday. He wrote:
“[W]e have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached.”
Though the letter leaves the publisher unnamed, HarperCollins confirmed today to LJ that it is the publisher referred to.
The publisher also issued a short statement: “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.”
Josh Marwell, President, Sales for HarperCollins, told LJ that the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.
Cue me saying, “Oh, Harper. What are you thinking?!”
After library digital lending was a very big topic at Tools of Change and at DBW, it seems we’d taken two symbolic steps forward in using dialogue to bridge the huge gulf between libraries/their patrons and publishers, but while our readerly backs were turned, Harper leaped backwards.
Lip service to the reader, we has some.
With libraries serving as gateways to reading addictions, and an opportunity to try books that readers might not otherwise afford, this decision seems greedy at best and dumbfounding at worst. I understand their desire to equate a paper copy’s disintegration at the hands of multiple readers with the digital copy being lent the same number of times, but the upshot of that policy is to say to libraries, “We want you, with your shrinking budgets and your closing branches, to buy more books. KThxbye!” This is not a business model that works. It’s a business model that insults readers and libraries.
What do you think? Do you think HarperCollins is taking a step toward preserving its bottom line, or is this a step toward bottoming out their own progress?
ETA: Eric Hellman has a wider-angle examination of the situation, saying, “While I don’t think it’s tenable over the long term for libraries to specialize in inconvenience, I still think it’s very important for libraries to be offering ebooks through services such as Overdrive. Even if the lending models of today turn out to be transitional, they help everyone involved become comfortable with library ebooks. Once the library ebook experience becomes embedded in our everyday lives, readers, publishers, authors and librarians will be able to recognize the novel digital distribution models that benefit everyone.”
ETA: Courtney Milan examines the news from her own reader’s perspective, saying, “Libraries are the future of reading. When the economy is down, we need to make it easier for people to buy and read books for free, not harder. It is stupid to sacrifice tomorrow’s book buyers for today’s dollars, especially when it’s obvious that the source in question doesn’t have any more dollars to give you
ETA: Literary Sluts have an excellent point: “At the end of the day, the only reason I ever recommended the Nook, Sony, or Kobo readers over the Kindle was access to eBooks through your library. I believe today’s announcement is a sign of things to come for Overdrive and that soon there will be no advantage at all to those eReaders.”
ETA: Peter Brantley has a savory idea: “I would love to see ALA and libraries do a hall of shame. For a day: pull off Harper frontlist books from shelves with PR.”
ETA: I found this amazing link: Lendle, a librarian-coordinated network of lending Kindle books to people who want to borrow them. Found via this thought-provoking blog post.