Updated: Publishers Alienating Readers Through Libraries

Posted March 2, 2011 by Holly in News | 4 Comments

I missed the announcement last week, but apparently HarperCollins has decided to put a lending cap on e-books through library systems. e-book lending is still in its infancy, but I know many readers (read: Casee) who have discovered the service recently and are overjoyed. HC, one of the Big 6 in publishing, has decided to limit the number of times a library can lend a digital title to 26, for 2 week periods. This means that after 26 people have borrowed it, the library will have to repurchase the license. In essance, it’s like buying a print book after it has been checked out 26 times. Rather ridiculous, no?

I understand that publishers are still finding their way in this new digital age. Digital reading is taking the publishing world by storm, and concerns of piracy and pricing and digital rights management (DRM) are making an already unfamiliar situation seem impossible to deal with. But I’ll tell you this, as a reader, I’m sick and tired of being taken advantage of and made to feel like a criminal for wanting the same rights for my digital library that I have for my print library.

So we’re not mistaken here: Libraries pay for the digital books they lend. The books can only be lent one at a time, to one person, for a period of 2-4wks (depending on the library). The book cannot be lent again until that lending period expires (in most cases, even if the book is returned early). Libraries are not stealing these books, then lending the same copy out to 1 million readers at once. It’s the same concept as for print books. If they have 1 in stock, only 1 reader at a time may have it.

I’m not an idiot, you know. I see what publishers are doing, and it makes me very, very angry. As it happens, I really enjoy novels from HarperCollins (and Macmillan and Simon&Schuster, who don’t even allow digital lending through libraries). Some of my favorite authors publish with them. At the end of the day, am I going to stop reading my favorite authors because the publisher won’t allow me to borrow the digital book from the library? No, I’m probably not. So the publisher has me over a barrel. They can charge twice the amount for a digital book, or make sure it isn’t available to me at my library for free, or not release the digital book until the print version has been available for a minimum of 30 days..and it isn’t going to stop me from buying it. At the end of the day, my need to read will trump my disgust with the publisher.

But that doesn’t mean I have no voice. I do. And I’m using it today to urge all of you to write the publisher, or your favorite authors (some of who are even worse than the publishers when it comes to digital advocacy), and tell them you want their books available in the library. Share with them your love of reading, and your case for wanting the same rights for digital books as for print. Let us stand up and be heard.

(as it happens, it looks like I’m just echoing what Jane @ Dear Author had to say about this subject, though she said it better. If you’re looking for more information, check out her post, or the one Overdrive recently put up to defend its position)

ETA: It looks like HarperCollins responded to the public outcry. Today Josh Marshwell, director of sales, posted an Open Letter To Librarians on the HarperLibrary blog. I’m very disheartened by his response.  Here’s the section that most baffles me:

We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, 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. We are looking to balance the mission and needs of libraries and their patrons with those of authors and booksellers, so that the library channel can thrive alongside the growing e-book retail channel. 

 This tells me that publishers still aren’t thinking clearly about digital reading. Whether you’re an e-book reader or not, I hope you’ll agree with me that digital reading isn’t something dirty. The rights and obligations to the digital community should be the same as those offered to the print community. There’s an email address listed on that open letter..I hope you’ll utilize it. I know I plan to.

To continue the discussion please email library.ebook@HarperCollins.com

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4 responses to “Updated: Publishers Alienating Readers Through Libraries

  1. Thanks for posting this. I am disturbed and disgusted at this treatment of libraries. I know that the economy has changed spending habits, but people who love books still buy books. Libraries can be a tool for promotion for those authors and publishers who are concerned about their bottom line: they should look at it as a blessing, rather than a loss. This reminds me of a rumor going around years ago, that Disney was going to start prosecuting schools and daycares that showed their cartoons. Stupidity. I RT’d this… will start emailing now.

  2. If there is anyone who wants to decrease royalties paid to authors its the flippin’ publishers. Its disgusting how little they pay the authors.
    The main reason I just recently bought an ereader is so I can support the authors who elect to self publish.
    I’m like you, I love my books, and I don’t hesitate to buy the books of authors I love. But I love to use the library too. I read tons of books from the library and quite often go out and buy a copy for my own personal library if its something I will read again or part of a favorite series or whatever.

    This whole thing stinks of a power and money grab.

    ‘undermine the emerging e-book eco-system’ is code for ‘we are afraid to lose the means by which we strangle and rob authors.’


  3. I find the information you posted about the publishers, e-books, and libraries disturbing and will communicate my concerns as you suggested. Thank you for providing this information. (I’m still trying to figure out why I pay more for an e-book than a paperback – publishers?)

  4. Thanks for posting on this ladies! As a librarian, library user, reader, and newly e-book reader, this really upsets me. I can see where the pubs are coming from: e-books won’t wear out like print book so should libraries eventually have to renew the license, sure. But 26 circulations? THAT is preposterous! Some print books can circulate 100+ times and not need to be replaced. They need to reconsider the number of circs.

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