On February 24th it was announced that the publisher Harper Collins was going to put a cap on how many times an e-book could be distributed through a library system. The magic number is 26. After the magic 26th time the book will vanish and the library will need to purchase it again if they wish to continue circulating that title. And the uproar in library land is quite visible but will that change anything?
Harper Collins comes to this magic number by deciding that after 26 check-outs of a print library book another needs to be purchased. According to the uproar this is often not the case. And what say we about the ancient library book? On occasion we will purchase a new one because the current print book has gotten rather…musty. Will the next move be to vanish books after they have been owned for a certain period of time? Nothing has yet been mentioned regarding that matter but it is certainly going to be a consideration for publishers in the future.
So what’s the big deal? Software has licensing agreements that change depending on the institution that purchases them, right? Yes but usually it is only the trials that self destruct. In fact, what electronic media do you know of that self destructs after you have legitimately purchased it? I understand that the publishers need to make money and they feel that this will be an added revenue stream but you would think that they would know by now that libraries have limited budgets with which to buy books. A more diverse collection of Harper Collins books will not be purchased if the library has to keep re-ordering the most popular ones. If I was in charge of collection development this would steer me away from Harper Collins except when absolutely necessary. I would actively search for comparable titles from other publishers. And frankly, as a consumer I become fond of certain publishers formats particularly in the non-fiction arena, so if I have less accessibility to a publisher I have less knowledge of their style and when I make my next purchase this renders me likely to purchase with someone else.
Let it be known that not all publishers are on the library e-book bandwagon. Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not sell e-books to libraries. Why? They are “searching for a legitimate business model” which in my eyes means that they do not see the financial value in allowing people to check-out their books on-line. Although they obviously see the value in allowing people to check out their paper books because they are available in libraries. I would contend that those who download library books are much more likely to browse off and purchase a book that they would rather not “wait in electronic line” for or electronically “turn back in” (the DRM’d library e-book can only be used for a certain period of time, like checking out a physical book). Additionally those that have readers like the Kindle that are not compatible with the library e-book software are also likely to wander off to purchase an e-book from the library site that they can read on their device instead of their computer.
In the meantime there is talk of boycotting Harper Collins e-books. But I wonder, are libraries boycotting Macmillan and Simon & Schuster paper books because they are not selling their e-books to libraries? I don’t think so. If hurting their bottom-line is the tactic should it not be some kind of united front? Or, perhaps would it be useful for those publishers to sit down with the innovators of library land and explain the problem and work out a way to make things feel reasonable. Some kind of tiered pricing perhaps.
Just like the software, music and movie business, we will see how this shakes out.