Library Journal reports that HarperCollins has issued new terms to Overdrive for how many times a library e-book can be loaned out. Library Journal reports that HarperCollins has declared a library-purchased e-book may only be loaned 26 times before it must be re-purchased. This bears a certain similarity to agency pricing in that not just Overdrive but any library e-book provider dealing with HC will be required to abide by those terms.

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."

What presence? The presence that budget-crunched libraries can’t afford to purchase again once they’re loaned out 26 times? Great move, HC!

Of course, the idea is that printed books wear out after a certain number of lendings (30-35, says this librarian). And since the publishing industry never tires of thinking up ways to make e-books act more like print, this sort of thing probably should have been expected sooner or later. Needless to say, librarians and their partisans are upset, and a Twitter protest is going on under the hashtag #hcod.

It’s unclear whether, like agency pricing, this practice is going to spread to the other publishers. I wonder if any of them will realize just how bad this is making HarperCollins look. I mean, come on, libraries are having enough budget trouble already, and it’s not like you’re going to make a huge amount of money off of them in any case. And they expose people to your books who might decide they like them enough to buy them in another form. Do you really want to go this way, HarperCollins? Seriously?

(Found via ReadWriteWeb.)


  1. And so it begins.

    If librarians had taken heed of the writings of Eric Hellman and above all Tim Spalding they would have seen this coming. Reading some librarian blogs suggests that many are unhappy about present restrictions and seem to believe in some DRM free, frictionless lending future. This is Cloud Cuckoo Land stuff. Extinction is a very real possibility and perhaps this will induce a sense of urgency.

    They need to realize that publishers care nothing for them and that (most) authors are frankly indifferent. Very few authors will be anti library in public given hostility from readers but it is not an issue that engages them. It is the inversion of piracy, which engages their passions and which most readers don’t really care about.

    Better arguments backed by empirical data would also help, as I’ve noted before, see
    That it will increase piracy is not one of them. (Am I the only one getting very bored with the threats of piracy all the time? One wishes such persons would just get on with it already!). Ideas of how to monetise themselves is a must since I fear that a tax supported system is most unlikely to survive.

  2. If web sites actually wanted to do something to support libraries, they could simply refuse to review or discuss HC books. Unlikely, but effective. Web reviews are a major source of advertisement and if HC is hit in the pocketbook, it will actually pay attention.

  3. I am a librarian and understand that publishers need to make a profit and because of that I understand what HC is trying to do with it’s new pricing model. I just want to point out that setting the limit at 26 checkouts for eBooks is unrealistic if they are thinking that is the number of uses we get from a print book. I just looked at our circulation records for some items published by HC and found many items that have circulated very close to 100 times. I even found some that have circulated over 100 times and are still items that we will circulate.

  4. The publishers and Overdrive are also screwing libraries on pricing. For example, it was recently reported in USA Today that a siingle license for the ebook version of John Grisham’s “The Confession” costs $28.95 but the hardcopy version costs approximately $17.37 — 40% less. Now if you are going to charge so much more for an ebook, one would think that the license would be at least proportionally longer too. Alas, greed knows no bounds.

  5. This is absolutely outrageous. Libraries are already paying significantly higher prices for OverDrive eBooks than for hard copies.

    Yes, publishers are facing difficult times. But they need to recognize that libraries are their allies in promoting books and a culture of reading.

  6. If you are going to offer a book for free, then offer it so; offer a few stories free and charge for the rest. The general eBook crowd seems to like this, as much as they hate DRM. As indie writers/publishers my husband and I figured out long ago that the “limited deal” tactic does not work, nor does the idea of lending. A brief visit to 4shared will tell you that.

  7. Am I the only person who thinks this is reasonable? As long as the publisher makes its terms clear and equitable, why should a library expect that a digital purchase (often sold at less than the hardback equivalent) should last through an infinite number of check-outs when the hardback is expected to wear out and be replaced after a smaller number. If people wanted to argue that 26 is too small, that the average library book hardback is checked out, say, 35 times, I think that might be a helpful discussion. If we assume that publishers must only license a book to a library with an infinite number of check-outs, can we really also argue that eBooks should be priced at a reasonable level?

    The fact that libraries are currently underfunded is, of course, a tragedy but it isn’t HarperCollins’s fault and I certainly don’t see why they, or their authors, should be expected to single-handedly resolve this social issue.

    Rob Preece

  8. I have repeatedly opined that if eBooks can be borrowed painlessly over the internet for free, then the publishing business model is dead. (I apologise if I am repeating myself, but no one has ever responded with any real counter argument.

    In the last 100 years the Publishing industry has had no other choice but to sit back and endure the Library system. There was little they could do to stop it because once they sold a book it was beyond their control.

    They also soon realised that having to physically visit a Library repeatedly was a natural barrier to Library use that, combined with some other limitations, restricted Library reading to a bearable level for their commercial interests.

    And that is not to deny the value of libraries in promoting reading and hence purchasing.

    But let’s face it, if Library use had exploded to, say, 75% of the population at some time in the middle of last century … could the Publishing industry have survived ?

    What about now ? No physical restrictions. No social stigma. What is a reader’s motivation to pay full price as opposed to borrow ?

    If everyone starts borrowing how can publishers and editors and writers make money ?

  9. Howard, I think you visit some of the same book review sites I do (Dear Author and SBTB). In the comments section on articles about this, poster after poster has remarked on how many books they’ve purchased after borrowing a book by that author from the library. Libraries are gateways to new authors, which means more purchasing rather than less.

  10. Hi becca – I take your point but I cannot see it happening like that. Did those people have the option to borrow those additional eBooks ? or were they not available ? Do blog readers tend to be a lot more likely to buy because they are deeply supportive of the writers ? I don’t know the answers.
    But I do feel strongly and confidently that if most eBook become available for online borrowing, the economic basis for the business collapses. Why on earth woth the average reader who is not as loyal and generous … buy a book when they can borrow it ? I don’t see anyone offering an answer.

  11. Howard: I’m a Nora Roberts fan. I buy her books as soon as they come out, and have quite a collection. I discovered her through reading one of her books at the library. I’d never have paid for it initially (I didn’t read romances in those days), but once I’d gotten hooked, I wanted to own them so I could re-read them at any time. There are lots of people like me, who first meet an author in a library book, and go on to become collectors.

  12. Howard: you said:

    But I do feel strongly and confidently that if most eBook become available for online borrowing, the economic basis for the business collapses. Why on earth woth the average reader who is not as loyal and generous … buy a book when they can borrow it ? I don’t see anyone offering an answer.

    don’t you see how how this benefits publishing? many people try out a book at the library, to see if they like it, and then go on to purchase more books by that author, and frequently their backlist. Libraries can make new customers for publishers.

  13. But then how does a company such as Netflix make money? I pay @ $10.00 per month for unlimited viewing of movies and television shows, and the movie studios seem to be doing just fine. How is the publishing business all that different than the movie business? Yes, I know that I don’t own any of these movies, but with DRM in books we really are just leasing ebooks even after having “bought” them.

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