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Libraries, Overdrive, and HarperCollins

This article at theatlantic.com talks about ebooks and their availability through the public library systems. It also talks about publisher HarperCollins' new policy for licensing ebooks to libraries. Going forward, all HarperCollins e-books will expire after the book has been loaned out 26 times, and to make it available for patrons to check out again the library would have to purchase a new license for it.

I understand HarperCollins' reasoning behind doing this. They are looking at the ebooks and seeing something that will never have to be replaced because the cover ripped off, or someone spilled their drink on it, or any of 100s of other ways to ruin a book. They think that they are losing out on huge numbers of sales of their books.

I think that they are going to lose more sales from this than they will gain. Libraries have a set amount of money to spend. They spend as much as they can on books & other media. So a library isn't going to continue to spend the same amount on books and ebooks, and then spend additional money for new licenses on the ebooks that are "used up." No, they will be spending the same amount they were before, but they'll be thinking twice about spending it on HarperCollins titles.

One misconception that people who aren't checking ebooks out of the library have is that the library just needs to buy one copy and since it's "digital" you can then have as many people as you want using it. This just isn't true. If the library wants multiple patrons to be able to read the book at the same time, they still have to purchase multiple copies just like they would for paper & ink books. I normally loathe DRM on anything digital I buy, but I agree with it 100% in this one specific instance. The Adobe EPUB eBook format that Overdrive uses is the key to making the library system work for ebooks. When you check out and download the book, Adobe Digital Editions unlocks that file for you and limits the access to the checkout time you've selected (1, 2 or 3 weeks). You can return it early through ADE when you finish it, or if you don't it will automatically return at the end of the checkout time. At that point, as soon as it is "back" at the library, if someone has a request in for it they are notified that it's available.

HarperCollins somehow came up with the circulation number of 26. They say that is the average number of times a physical book is checked out before it needs to be replaced. Most librarians I've seen commenting on this say that books last longer than that, especially when they are hardcover, which the most popular new books tend to be. HC also says that 26 checkouts will be a full year, based on a two week checkout time, and that it is actually a year & a half for libraries that have 3 week checkouts. I think setting the number at 26 is crap and completely unrealistic. Just this year I have already read 34 books. That puts my average read time for each book at just under 3 days. I have yet to keep any book for the full 3 weeks and have it return on it's own, except for one that Rick was planning to read and never finished. I was ready to return it before even 2 weeks were up.

I have been thrilled with the variety and quantity of ebooks my library has been getting. We've got over 8700 different titles now. And I really hope that they stop buying HarperCollins titles for now. I don't want the money they spend to be wasted on a book that is no good after it's been read 26 times. Not when the same money can buy a book that won't expire. When I am looking for books to check out now, if it is one that's been added to the system since the HC policy changed I'm going to have to check the publisher, and if it's HC consider how much I really want to read it. If it just sounds interesting, but I'm not sure I'll like it, I'll be passing on it. Why should I waste almost 5% of the book's life when there's probably someone else out there who is really interested in it? I should let them have it.

I know I'll miss out on books I would have loved because of this. And HarperCollins? They will lose some sales because of this. While I love getting ebooks from the library, they don't have everything I want. I'm still spending money on ebooks, just a different selection than if I didn't have the library as a source also. So if I skip a HC book from the library, I won't be getting hooked on that author. And if I'm not getting hooked on that author, I'm not going to be purchasing any of their books, now am I?

Ebooks are relatively new. Publishers & libraries are still trying to figure out what system for them works best. Hopefully it won't take HarperCollins too long to figure out that their new plan is crap!

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
illuminated_sin
Mar. 31st, 2011 06:08 am (UTC)
Wow, I didn't realize HC were doing this. What a perfectly craptacular way to manage sales of a new format of media that I'm SURE they hope will take off. :P

I agree with everything you've said. I'm very dismayed to hear about their policy, and I think I will write to them about it and complain. Have you considered writing to them and explaining how the policy discourages you from buying their books and investigating their authors, just the way you explained in this post? Once they hear from enough people that it will cost them sales, I bet they will change that 26-reads-per-license business. Especially now when library budgets are being cut tremendously in some places, this is just a stupid move for HC to make if they want to maintain sales at a decent level.
hellziggy
Mar. 31st, 2011 06:36 am (UTC)
Yes, I do plan on contacting them directly also.

Ironically, less than 4 years ago Brian Murray, their CEO, said, "'Reaching consumers on mobile devices and the Internet is increasingly important for publishers,' said Brian Murray, president of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide. 'Our digital warehouse gives us the unique opportunity to quickly offer access to our titles on the newest technology, and we encourage people to provide feedback about their experiences.'"

I'll be drafting an email and/or snail mail letter to Mr. Murray. I even plan to provide some specific examples of HC books I've purchased as a direct result of ones I was able to read for free.

His contact info:

brian.murray@harpercollins.com

Mr. Brian Murray
HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022
illuminated_sin
Mar. 31st, 2011 06:21 am (UTC)
Oh, and by the way, I also disagree with their idea that the life of an average book is 26 checkouts. I've been using the library since I was about 5, checking out stacks of books per week, and since that was long before computerized checkout systems, I can tell you that almost every book I checked out had multiple stamp slips in the back that were filled by the time I got it. Each sheet held something like 24 date stamps, too. It was common to find 3 or 4 pasted in, and the books may not have been in pristine condition at that point, but they were absolutely fine copies for circulation. The books were still sturdy enough to handle the kind of ungentle treatment some kids subject them to. I NEVER encountered one that was falling apart after it had been checked out so many times. It depends on the book and the quality of the binding, and a lot of it is just luck of the draw; some people take good care of books and others not so much. I would certainly expect there to be far more than 26 checkouts in every copy, though. That number seems abnormally low to me.
dragonsally
Mar. 31st, 2011 06:56 am (UTC)
This!

I really miss those slips in the book. I used to love the sense of history and community it gave me looking at the date stamps. And I miss the sound and smell of the books being stamped.
illuminated_sin
Apr. 1st, 2011 08:56 am (UTC)
Oh god, I'm so glad I'm not the only one! I was so sad when those date slips went away. When I was little I loved looking for books that hadn't been checked out in a long time and picking those to read because I felt they were being neglected. Without the date stamps I couldn't tell anymore and it left me feeling rather lost for a while. I loved the date-stamping checkout procedure. Each one felt like it was being branded as MINE with the thud of the stamp on it.

I get upset sometimes when I think about how impersonal libraries are now. I haven't seen or talked to a librarian in so long; I request books online, get an email when one arrives, go in, remove it from the hold shelf, scan the bar code myself and leave with it. Convenient, yes, but also...cold and detached. :-/ I feel sad that my kids will never feel the same cozy sense of belonging in the library that I was able to feel when I was their age. The regular face-to-face interaction with the librarians, the more hands-on process of book selection that was required before you could search the catalog in a computer, having to go through the card catalogs and touch card after card, made the library alive in a way it isn't today. It's a different experience altogether now. *sigh*

/nostalgic library rant
dragonsally
Apr. 1st, 2011 09:10 am (UTC)
YES YES YES.

AT least at our library the staff all know us and we chat a lot. I couldn't bear it if we had to do the check out our selves.
whimsywinx
Apr. 1st, 2011 01:40 am (UTC)
That is so short sighted. Fidiots! Grr!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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