You don’t have to be an eReader fan to understand the appeal of eBooks to libraries: The digital format means that titles won’t suffer from the tears, spills, and yellowing pages that physical books acquire after years of use. According to the American Library Association, 66 percent of public libraries lend out eBooks, but a new move by HarperCollins could put a wrench in that trend.
The New York Times reports that the publisher introduced a new policy for selling eBooks to libraries last week. According to the new policy, the HarperCollins’s eBooks will expire after being checked out 26 times. Effectively, this means that libraries will have to buy a new HarperCollins eBook every six to 12 months (depending on a library’s check-out period). That sounds pretty insane, doesn’t it?
Though HarperCollins is so far the only major publisher to enact such a policy, the publisher has touched a nerve with libraries throughout the country, many of which are reportedly planning to boycott the publisher. Librarians’ main contention with the policy, of course, is the extra expense which this limited eBook lifespan entails. eBooks generally cost $9.99 to $14.99—and libraries previously had to pay the fee for a title one time only.
In response to the heated discussion following its new policy, HarperCollins released a statement to librarians defending its decision. “We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors,” the company said.
We reached out to the New York Public Library, which offers eBooks to its patrons, for the institution’s take on the new policy. Chris Platt, the acting director of collections and circulation operations for the library, was not available for comment, but we were directed to his column on the issue in Publishers Weekly.
Platt writes: “When we pay for a mass market paperback reprint we know we’re paying for editorial effort and paper and ink and production work. When the relicensing of the e-book just gets us access to the same file we had before, it’s not immediately apparent to us what that revenue supports.” He continues to suggest that publishers and libraries work together to develop pricing models that profit publishers without interfering with libraries’ ability to add to and maintain their collections.
There’s certainly a long road of negotiations ahead as publishers and libraries balance the easy availability of eBooks with the need to show profits. For now, HarperCollins has its work cut out: proving to millions of eBook enthusiasts that its new policy isn’t a library-killer.