Librarians launch boycott in battle over e-books

HarperCollins has a lot of librarians up in arms over their new policy: ebooks can be leased by libraries, but not purchased outright. After 26 loans, the ebook “expires”, and is no longer available to the library. The library would have to purchase a new lease on the ebook in order to lend it out again.

This is an ugly quandary. Libraries are trying to jump into the ebook fray, trying to provide users what they want and need, trying to do more with less, and trying to stay relevant in a digital age. If publishing houses set restrictions that make it impossible, fiscally and practically, for public libraries to provide ebooks, it may make a profound impact on their ability to serve their respective communities, as the demand for ebooks rises. And the last thing public libraries need, while already forced to beg for funding, is to even appear less relevant.

At the same time, publishing houses have their point of view on the issue. From HarperColllins’ Library Love blog:

“Selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors.”

It also says, “If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book’s life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price.”

Librarians are protesting online and with proposed boycotts of HarperCollins products, including print materials. For more information on the story, read here on USATODAY.com.

6 thoughts on “Librarians launch boycott in battle over e-books

  1. I have no idea what to think about this. I mean, borrowing a book from a library, you know it’s going to wear out eventually and the library will have to buy a new copy. But an e-copy won’t get ripped pages or fall in the bathtub. I have no idea what an equitable solution is.

  2. I know, even for me it’s a tough call. Paper books wear out eventually but — a hardcover book can go 30, 40 years. 26 uses of an e-book could be over in six months or so. On the other hand, publishers have to make money *somehow*. On the other hand, I think e-books are overpriced, considering the overhead savings to said publishers. I just don’t know, there’s got to be a happier medium somewhere.

  3. I saw some interesting stats on an article about this controversy, that most public libraries rarely end up replacing hard covers or even paper backs, unless lost. That usually they end up purchasing a bunch for initial demand but once that is past they can keep the best of the bunch around and that once demand has tapered off there’s rarely enough demand to wear the books out.

    The article was trying to claim that Harper Collins was overblowing how much profit they made in library replacement purposes, so take it with that grain of salt.

  4. I’ve been wondering about the actual replacement rate for books. I never worked in a public library so I can’t say for sure, but I’ve never been under the impression that it was a huge budget item.

  5. I can say that given the number of very old, first printing paperbacks I’ve seen around NICE libraries around here, it’s not generally a big budget item 😉

    Also, it’s sometimes half-impossible to replace them anyhow. Most publishers aren’t going to run another printing unless they know there is still big demand. Not everything is Harry Potter 😉 In fact, I own book 1 and book 3 of a YA series printed in recent years, and cannot purchase book 2 in hardcover or paperback because they never ran another printing after the initial printing. (I’ve read book 2, my mom had it in her classroom library.)

    It’s my general experience, reading midlist authors, that by the time book 3 of a trilogy is published, book 1 is almost definitely out of print, and book 2 can be out of print.

  6. Exactly. I’m almost swayed by the publishers’ arguments, but then I think of every dog-eared library book I’ve ever had in my hands. Or, when I find a book in the catalog but it turns out the library’s only copy is missing and there’s no way to replace it because it’s long out of print. I’ve had that happen to me several times.

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