HarperCollins limits public library check-outs

HarperCollins limits public library check-outs

I’ve written about the issue of the Kindle and public libraries several times, and there is no question that it is still one of the most common topics that comes up in the Amazon Kindle community.

However, I think it’s the concept of checking books out of the library that attracts people…not the reality.

That makes sense, of course…you can’t know what checking an e-book out of the public library will feel like until you can do it.  🙂

I think a lot of people assume that the library can lend out an e-book as often as they want…it’s just a file on a computer, right?

Well, it doesn’t work that way.  The file has limitations built into it, using something called DRM (Digital Rights Management).

That’s used to enforce the license under which the e-book is bought.

Unlike your personal license from the Kindle store, a library e-book may have a “one person at a time limitation”.

That part is similar to a paperbook: if the library wants to lend out ten copies of a paperbook at one time, that library has to buy ten copies.

That’s why you often have to get on a waiting list to get an e-book from the public library.

That would be okay, though…you could wait if you wanted, right?

Not for two of the “Big Six”: Macmillan and Simon & Schuster.  They don’t have a deal for their e-books to be in public libraries at all.

Now, according to this

Library Journal article *

HarperCollins is going to put a new limitation on library e-books.

They are going to limit the number of times the book can circulate to twenty-six.

That’s right: after the library e-book has been checked out twenty-six times, the library would have to buy another license if they wanted to have the same number.

Why twenty-six?

That’s a year’s worth of constant loaning for a two-week period.

Paperbooks in a library also wear out, of course…but this is artificial wear.  They aren’t actually wearing out…we are just pretending they do.  🙂

Seriously, though, this is a new limitation…which means a new burden on libraries.

No question, the argument can be made that, since, the e-books don’t wear out, the authors don’t get as many royalties.

Of course, that was true when e-books first started circulating from libraries as well.

I would guess that HarperCollins is only the first. 

It’s not like this is going to be front-page news or on the crawl at the bottom of your TV screen.  I think the PR hit will be a small one…twenty-six is an odd number for a report. 

Bottom line: before you make a decision to by one EBR (E-Book Reader) over another based on public library lending, go to OverDrive.com.  Look not just at the books they have, but whether or not you can get them.

One solution is for the library to just check out Kindles…I’ve talked about that before, and I think that can work very well.

What do you think about this?  Is HarperCollins protecting the authors?  Would this affect your choice of EBR?  Feel free to let me know.

* Thanks to Eclectic Reader in the Amazon Kindle community for the heads up on this article.

UPDATE: HarperCollins has released an

Open Letter to Librarians 

It talks about the reasoning behind the policy.

I’d have to say this was one of the most interesting sections:

” 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 point. Our hope is to make the cost per circulation for e-books less than that of the corresponding physical book. In fact, the digital list price is generally 20% lower than the print version, and sold to distributors at a discount. “

First, it’s possible that the price will be lower on a second purchase…but there wasn’t a second purchase at all before.  I also find the flat statement that the price will be lowered with a paperback release…I don’t see that as a guaranteed scenario, especially if mass market paperbacks are a greatly reduced market force.  Third, I don’t know where they are getting the 20% figure…or that they are “sold to distributors”.  HarperCollins uses the Agency Model: they don’t sell the book to a distributor, they pay them a commission for selling it.  That’s a technical thing, though.  They also give a special e-mail address in the letter.  I’m not posting that here, because I think it’s more fair to them that you read their letter before you get to it

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

7 Responses to “HarperCollins limits public library check-outs”

  1. Lexi Says:

    My local library does lend Kindles (K2s). They are loaded with quite a few books, a lot that were freebies at one time or another and some popular titles as well.


    It’s a good way to try out a Kindle, but the loans are only for two weeks and the content isn’t that exciting. 😦

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lexi!

      I’ve been working (off and on) on a suggested library lending plan that would make for more exciting content. 🙂 One option? Have borrowers sign an agreement and let them buy content for the Kindle. That could work well, with a carefully laid out syste.

  2. Harold Delk Says:

    HarperCollins is just your typical greedy corporation; I shall take my business elsewhere in the future.

  3. Tom Semple Says:

    I do not see a bright future for library ebook lending as it exists today. Some major publishers already do not participate, and now this. Left to the likes of Overdrive, we’ll continue to see very limited selections and availability, and it can only get worse as ereaders multiply. Libraries could begin charging for ebook rentals, but they don’t really have the infrastructure (or traditions) to do so. The only reason we have functioning lending libraries now in the US is due to specific legislation that allows them to lend books indefinitely without getting sued by publishers. But prospects for extending such protection to digital media are dim. Lending out Kindles is not an ideal workaround, and if it became very popular and effective, publishers would probably pursue legal remedies or force Amazon to tighten the usage restrictions of their content.

    I think publishers would be more comfortable with a commercial ebook lending service: subscription-based for access to some pool of backlist titles, plus one-time rental fees for a more comprehensive selection (say a 2 week rental for 40-50% less than ‘purchase’ price, with option to convert to ‘permanent’ access). I’m surprised nobody’s deployed one yet, and am not sure I’d be interested in such a service myself. But it is still early in the evolution of ebook technologies, ecosystems, and regulations.

    Have you checked out ‘OpenLibrary.org’ yet? It’s interesting, though not accessible to Kindle users (can’t even get to the web site for online reading with Kindle’s browser).

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      Thanks for a well-thought out comment!

      I’ve suggested before that what might work is needs-based lending. I got some real pushback on that, but those aren’t lost sales hypothetically and it’s positive PR. There could still be the value in “discovery”, since peope would see the books even if they couldn’t borrow them.

  4. Dick Watson Says:

    I have a Kindle and recently bought a Literati (being phased out for $40) to try out ebook library lending from my county library system. It is an excellent system for paper books, but the selection for ebook lending is very very poor and the wait times weeks. I can get a paper version much much sooner. AS far as my experience is concerned no one should by an ereader because they want to read library books

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