HarperCollins does pretty much what we expected.

Claire Dannenbaum recently sent me this link to a summary of what’s going down with e-books at HarperCollins:  essentially, they’ve placed a 26-loan limit on their ebooks.  After a library lends an HC ebook 26 times, they have to pay for it again–at a reduced cost, but still.  They pay for the title they’ve already paid for.

HC helpfully estimates that 26 loans should provide about a year’s worth of use for a given title, and they note that they aim to charge less for ebooks than paper books.  But there are a lot of problems with this model, from my point of view.  (And from the point of view of lots of other librarians.)  As I wrote to Claire:

This further undermines the rights we’ve come to expect from owning content—the rights of first purchase.  Instead of owning e-books, libraries will effectively be leasing them, without ever having an option to buy (as I understand it.)  I find it hard to believe that 26 circs of a print copy would put it out of circulation at a public library—I suspect that print lasts a lot longer than a year and 26 readers.  And none of this even touches on the rights to share, photocopy portions, etc.  All gone with the doctrine of first purchase, replaced by perpetual recharge for “access” to content.

And I suspect there’s an additional hidden cost to libraries in this new model—tracking on whether the access we’re supposed to have is really there, contacting publishers to restore it if it isn’t, managing our own records and explaining this all to our users.

I should say, I’m not clear on whether the 26-loan renewal policy repeats, or is one-time only:  if you have a hit book that circulates hundreds of times, will you have to pay for it five, six, or ten times over?

The HC boycott is an interesting response, but it makes me wonder whether there’s any other appropriate response for this.  HC has a legal right to set the terms of their sales, I guess–and customers have a legal right to boycott.  But I wonder if the brave new world of access vs. ownership opens up legal issues over what constitutes a “sale,” and whether  companies writing their own licensing terms carte blanche (at a disadvantage to their customers) merits further legal discussion.


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