HarperCollins Limits Ebook Lending from Libraries

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Publisher HarperCollins made more than a few librarians angry when they announced a significant revision to lending terms for ebook circulation. According to LibraryJournal.com, the publisher 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:

“[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.”

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, reportedly said 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. This means that if a lending period is two weeks, that will equal roughly one year of use for a popular title and for a three-week lending period, that stretches to a year and a half. These sorts of license restrictions seem to come at a particularly bad time for librarians, given how strained budgets are nationwide.

HarperCollins may be the first major publisher to amend the terms of loan for its titles, but two other members of the publishing “big six”-Macmillan and Simon & Schuster- still do not allow ebooks to be circulated in libraries at all.

Sarah Houghton-Jan, Assistant Director for the San Rafael Public Library, CA, and a blogger who has long voiced dissatisfaction with the ebook status quo, responded to the news:

“Consumer market eBook vendors like Barnes & Noble and Amazon don’t let publishers get away with the amount of nonsense that we get stuck with through library eBook vendors. I fault the publishers for not realizing what a huge mistake they are making by not realizing that new formats are opportunities–not threats to be quashed. I fault the library eBook vendors for not standing firm and saying “no” to asinine demands. And I fault the library profession for, to date, not standing up for the rights of our users. Our job is to fight for the user, and we have done a poor job of doing that during the digital content surge.”

After the announcement, Galleycat.com reported that angry library patrons and librarians launched a simple website that urged readers to boycott HarperCollins over its new eBook lending policy for libraries.

The boycott site explains:

“Until this policy is revoked, join us by not buying any new books or ebooks published by HarperCollins or any of its imprints . In addition, support your local library if it chooses to participate in the boycott and write a letter to HarperCollins explaining your actions. The boycott will end as soon as HarperCollins agrees not to limit the number of times a library can loan each ebook.”

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