Whose E-Book Is It?
Libraryland has been a-twitter today with the news that publisher HarperCollins has put new restrictions on e-books available to libraries through OverDrive and other e-book subscriptions. In a nutshell, a book in print format normally circulates “X” number of times before the binding cracks, pages fall out, or it just gets dirty and ends up being taken out of a library’s collection. This is not the case with books in electronic format since there is nothing to tear, stain or smear with food. Thus, HarperCollins has decided that in order to make sure they get their money’s return on a title, after a certain number of electronic checkouts, the license will run out and it can no longer be downloaded and read. Okay, in a convoluted sort of way, I can understand this line of reasoning – sort of. Unfortunately, they have made this magic number twenty-six. Wow, I have no idea how they came to this conclusion! They say it’s the average number of times a book is checked out in a given year. Certainly they didn’t ask anyone at our Library. We have books on our shelves that have been taken out more than a hundred times and are still in decent shape. I don’t know of any library, public or otherwise, that only keeps books for a year. Unfortunately, we don’t own our electronic books, we just license them. We can’t stop our subscriptions and take our books and go home since there IS nothing to take. No wonder this news has caused the library blogs and listservs to go nuts today.
I then decided to look at this development from a patron’s point of view. Are they going to care how unfair this is to libraries? I doubt it. What matters to our users is that titles are there for them to download when they want them. They don’t want to hear excuses about librarians boycotting a certain publisher in order to make a point. Nor do they want us to cut down on the number of copies available of a popular title because of costs. We’ve shown our readers what is possible and many of us have been actively publicizing our e-book services. I find it very ironic that this missive from HarperCollins comes just a few months after the holidays when so many folks got e-readers as presents. Call me cynical, but I can’t believe this is all coincidence!
So, what do we do? I wish I had an answer. If one publisher is successful is putting this kind of restriction on their e-books for libraries, the other companies are certain to follow. It’s counter-productive to boycott the companies since this hurts our patrons. In this great age of instant communication, I wish every library in the country that offers this kind of service could get together to collaborate and form a united front to communicate with HarperCollins. Since I don’t see this happening, we need to get our local consortiums, user groups and librarians to deluge this publishing company with our emails and letters. With so many libraries having their source of revenue cut drastically, we certainly don’t need to be hit with these new, excessive costs and restrictions!